Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has supported the decision for the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to go ahead as scheduled despite missile attacks on a nearby oil facility.
Shortly before the end of the first practice session on Friday, large plumes of black smoke were seen in the distance emanating from the Aramco oil refinery 10 kilometres away, and Houthi militants have since taken responsibility for the attack.
After FP2, the drivers convened in the briefing room as is customary, but they then stayed there for over four hours discussing the situation as fears grew that the Jeddah Corniche Circuit could itself come under fire.
Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told media after consulting with the drivers that he had been told by local authorities that it is safe for the event to proceed.
“We have received total assurance that the country, safety is first,” he told reporters.
“Safety has to be guaranteed; they are here with their families, actually here at the track so they have in place all the systems to protect this area, the city, the places where we are going, so we have to feel confident and we have to trust the local authority in that respect, and therefore of course we will help with the event.”
FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem emphasised that the militants’ target is “not the civilians and of course not the track.”
“We had the assurance from high level that this is a secure place, the whole team will be secure and let’s go racing,” he added.
“For sure, all the families are here, we are looking forward but with an assurance that nothing’s going to happen.”
The team principals were involved in the conversations with the drivers, and Red Bull boss Christian Horner maintains that the pinnacle of motorsport cannot allow itself to be pressured by violence.
“The sport has to stand together collectively,” he told Sky Sports.
“Any act of terrorism cannot be condoned and sport shouldn’t be bullied into a position.
“A situation like that just isn’t acceptable. Stefano and the president, they’re dealing with it, there’s been all the assurances from the organisers and we’ll be going racing.”
His Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff shared this sentiment, affirming that the racetrack is not a target of the attacks.
“We had a good meeting and we – the team principals – are all agreed on this to go ahead. This circuit is probably the safest place in Saudi Arabia at this moment.”
George Russell, head of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association [GPDA], left the briefing room to continue his discussions with Domenicali and the team bosses while the rest of the drivers left to go back to their hotels, and the GPDA have now released a statement confirming the drivers’ participation in the event.
“Yesterday was a very difficult day for Formula One and a stressful day for us Formula One drivers,” read the statement.
“Perhaps it is hard to comprehend if you have never driven an F1 car on this fast and challenging Jeddah track, but on seeing the smoke from the incident it was difficult to remain a fully focused racing driver and erase natural human concerns.
“Consequently, we went into long discussions between ourselves, with our team principals, and with the most senior people who run our sport.
“A large variety of opinions were shared and debated and, having listened not only to the Formula 1 powers but also to the Saudi government ministers who explained how security measures were being elevated to the maximum, the outcome was a resolution that we would practise and qualify today and race tomorrow.
“We therefore hope that the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be remembered as a good race rather than for the incident that took place yesterday.”