F1 drivers want talks on Saudi Arabian GP future after missile attack

Formula 1 drivers have called for talks about the future of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix following Friday’s missile attack on an oil facility nine miles from the Jeddah circuit.
Circuit atmosphere - fire following a missile strike on an Aramco oil facility.
Circuit atmosphere - fire following a missile strike on an Aramco oil…
© xpbimages.com

Drivers were locked in a four-hour meeting late on Friday night before they were eventually persuaded to proceed with this weekend’s race in Saudi Arabia following the Houthi missile strike on a nearby Aramco depot. 

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas provided some detail of the discussions which stretched into the early hours of Saturday morning and confirmed that drivers did question whether the event should go ahead. 

It is understood the 20 drivers came close to boycotting the race during the meeting until the Saudi Arabian government and security services offered assurances that the race was not at risk of being targeted by a similar attack. 

“We drivers, we were all concerned if it’s safe for all of us to be here racing, and we got decent explanations on things,” the Finn said. 

“Also we went through all the options like, ‘what if we don’t race?’ for example, that will still mean the teams would have to stay here for a couple of days packing stuff. And it’s not like you can create suddenly new flights to get home.

“We’re already here, so our best option was to finish the race. They’ve increased all the safety facilities and all this defence, so everyone agreed that we might as well do the race and hope for the best.”

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Alfa Romeo F1 Team.
Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Alfa Romeo F1 Team.
© xpbimages.com

F1 has signed a lucrative 10-year deal to race in Saudi Arabia, with this weekend’s grand prix just the second event to be staged in the country since making its debut on the calendar in December last year. 

Bottas said he “preferred not to answer” whether he was happy to continue racing this weekend but revealed F1 had “promised” drivers that it will reconsider the safety and security of all its events going forward.  

“Obviously last night was quite late and in some places you don’t need to have that discussion,” he said. “So it’s a unique grand prix.

“At least Formula 1 promised us to reconsider all the events for the future, including this one, to make sure that we go to the right places, that they can guarantee our safety 100% always when we go there.”

Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) director George Russell said the drivers will be seeking further clarity after this weekend’s event. 

“I think the clarity was needed, the conversation was certainly needed," Russell said. "And I think it was good, we were all standing united, firstly, between all the drivers, and then together with Formula 1, and ultimately, we trust in Stefano, Formula 1 as a whole. 

“We wouldn't be here if we didn't think it was right to be here. So obviously, that’s going to need some clarity after this race weekend where we go from here. But from what I understand, everything was under control in this specific region, and what happens outside of the region, you cannot control.” 

And the Mercedes driver was not alone in wanting to revisit the topic. 

(L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and team mate George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
(L to R): Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and team mate George…
© xpbimages.com

“I don't want to go too much into details on this subject now, but it's definitely a discussion that we should have after this race, once everything calms down and we'll look back at it, and then we'll see,” said Charles Leclerc. 

Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz agreed, adding: “I think there will need to be discussions after this race. Because clearly what has happened in the last 24 hours is definitely a point of discussion and consideration that we need to take going into the future.”

While McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo said the drivers were a key factor behind the decision to go racing in Saudi Arabia, he stressed the situation needs to continue to be assessed. 

"I think it's something that we have to, let's say, keep assessing," he said. "We were very much part of a discussion and it wasn't a one-sided discussion yesterday evening.

"That's probably the best way to say it. We were very much involved in what the outcome ended up being, which is what we all agreed on.”

Asked if the events of Friday had raised question marks over Saudi Arabia’s place on the calendar, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told Sky Sports: “No, I think it is not a matter of question marks, it is a matter of understanding the situation for sure.

“We are not blind but we don’t have to forget one thing, this country, also through Formula 1, we believe [it] is doing massive step forward.

“You cannot pretend to change a culture that is a millennium [old] in a blink of an eye, the resources they are moving in place to move forward, you see here women couldn’t drive a couple of years ago. They are achieving it, they are changing a lot of laws to make sure this is happening. 

“Of course there is tension, things to improve, we don’t want to be political on that, but I believe we are playing a very important role in the modernisation of this country, we are focusing on making sure this is at the centre of our agenda.”

Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Formula One President and CEO.
Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Formula One President and CEO.
© xpbimages.com

Read More