Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff suggests that it is “acceptable” to race in a city where violence is taking place, and insists that Formula 1 can help make Saudi Arabia more liberal in certain regards.
During Friday practice for the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, a fire broke out at an Aramco facility around seven miles from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit as a result of a missile attack, leading the drivers to convene for almost five hours to discuss their thoughts on the matter.
Eventually, they came to the consensus, along with F1 management and team principals, that it was safe for the grand prix to go ahead, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner affirming that the sport cannot be “bullied” by acts of violence.
Wolff discloses that, having frequently visited Tel Aviv in Israel, people simply learn to acclimatise themselves to the risk of such violence.
“You can have that opinion, and when you consider the various political conflicts with more severe situations for the population that have been going on in the Middle East for a while,” said Wolff.
“I love going to Tel Aviv but if you live in Tel Aviv you are pretty used to situations where drones are being flown over and it goes in both directions.
“There wasn’t any attack into Saudi Arabia that caused any civilian casualties as far as I have been told for a long time so that is why we just need to understand that this is culturally very different to how we see our western cultures.
“For us, is it acceptable to race 10 miles from where there is a drone rocket going in a petrol tank? Certainly not. But for here, within their culture, these things happen here.”
Wolff elaborates that, by staying in the country and providing entertainment, F1 can help effect tangible change in the Kingdom.
“I don’t want to say I’m not racing because I’m generally someone that wants to give people the benefit of the doubt, I want to give people the chance to better themselves,” he explained.
“Does Saudi Arabia and some of the Middle Eastern countries share the same values, the same culture as we do in Europe? They don’t.
“Are they where we want them to be? No.”
The 50-year-old affirms that actions speak louder than words, and that simply boycotting a country is not going to improve the situation.
“Can we put the spotlight on this place by racing here in Formula 1, by making those things visible and therefore making it a better place? I still think so.
“I would rather come here and make the spotlight shine in the region, so it needs to be in a better place rather than saying ‘I am not going there, I don’t want to hear anything about it’.”
Mercedes struggled in Jeddah as Sir Lewis Hamilton failed to make it out of Q1 for the first time since his crash in Brazil in 2017, but he recovered to 10th while team-mate George Russell ended the evening in fifth.