The 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will proceed as planned despite Friday’s missile strike on an oil facility around 10 kilometres away from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Moments before the first practice session of the weekend was set to come to an end, colossal plumes of smoke were seen in the distance emanating from an Aramco plant, and reports circulated that it had been hit by a missile.
Saudi Arabian Motorsport acknowledged that there had been an “attack” after Yemeni Houthi militants claimed responsibility for the incident.
“We are aware of the attack on the Aramco distribution station in Jeddah earlier this afternoon,” they said in a statement.
However, they assured that paramount was the safety of everyone in the paddock, and they affirmed that there was no risk attached to continuing with the weekend’s action as scheduled.
“The race organisers remain in direct contact with the Saudi security authorities, as well as F1 and the FIA to ensure all necessary security and safety measures continue to be implemented to guarantee the safety of all visitors to the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as well as all drivers, teams and stakeholders,” they added.
“The race weekend schedule will continue as planned. The safety and security of all our guests continues to be our main priority and we look forward to welcoming fans for a weekend of premium racing and entertainment.”
After completing running in FP2 despite the raging inferno within reasonably close proximity to the circuit, the drivers convened for their weekend briefing, and were joined by key members of Formula 1 management.
Among them were F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, and he exited the meeting to equivocate to the media the sport’s intentions to proceed with the scheduled running of the race.
“F1 has been in close contact with the relevant authorities following the situation that took place today,” said an official F1 statement.
“The authorities have confirmed that the event can continue as planned and we will remain in close contact with them and all the teams and closely monitor the situation.”
1996 world champion Damon Hill voiced his concerns on social media, criticising the blasé attitude the pinnacle of motorsport appeared to be taking towards an extremely serious situation.
“How incongruous is this? Nothing to be alarmed about. Race on. Will be interesting to see how this is dealt with. F1 literally playing with fire,” he tweeted.
With team principals and members of management all having left the meeting after reaching a “unanimous” decision to remain in Jeddah, the drivers stayed on into the night for over four hours as they deliberated over the best course of action, and their resolute handling of the situation prompted some bosses, among them Christian Horner, Toto Wolff and Mattia Binotto, to return as the possibility of no further racing this weekend intensified.
The team principals once again departed and headed for race control, leaving the drivers to continue what appeared to be developing into a protest against the race, in an attempt to swing the opinions of those with jurisdiction over the running of the event.
The drivers then left, with most of them leaving out the back to avoid the media, while George Russell, head of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association [GPDA], headed over for a further meeting with Domenicali and the team principals, and Red Bull boss Horner later equivocating to the awaiting media that “we’ll be racing.”
For now, despite the violence and following an assurance from the Saudi authorities that the rebels are not interested in attacking the paddock, the green light has been given for the second round of the 2022 season to go ahead.