The huge plume of smoke from the missile attack still hung in the sky near the Formula 1 track in Jeddah the next day. But after heated discussions, probably also over a driver boycott, the organizers of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix saved his race on Saturday morning. Worried drivers were persuaded, the world association Fia and Formula 1 bosses announced: Everything is going according to plan.
Comprehensive safety guarantees from the Saudi government are the reason for the decision, the FIA and the racing series announced on Saturday. Shortly after, the drivers’ union also announced its willingness to participate in the second race of the season this Sunday (7:00 p.m. / Sky). As of 2:30 am local time, all parties had reached an agreement on Saturday morning.
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Sports took a backseat. That changed in qualifying when Mick Schumacher had a serious accident. The 23-year-old crashed sideways into the Haas barriers at high speed. The car shot across the track and then came to a stop badly damaged.
The rating was immediately suspended. According to his racing team, Schumacher was conscious shortly after the crash and was able to get out of the car. Haas later announced that he had not been seriously injured. However, Schumacher was taken to the athletics hospital for further tests.
The day before, the crash of a rocket had been felt in the paddock when it hit an oil plant belonging to the main sponsor of Formula 1, Aramco, a few kilometers away. Houthi rebels attacked several targets in Saudi Arabia on Friday. The background is the war in Yemen, which the arch-conservative kingdom has been waging for seven years with a major military effort against the Houthi insurgents. The result: the poor house of the Arab world is hit by one of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophes in the world.
The discussion lasted four hours.
“Yesterday was a difficult day for Formula 1 and an exhausting day for us Formula 1 drivers,” said the GPDA drivers’ representation. “It was hard to remain a fully focused runner and turn off all natural human concerns after seeing the smoke from the incident,” he said.
After the two practices on Friday, the pilots discussed for more than four hours how to proceed. Sometimes Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali, sporting director Ross Brawn and some team bosses were there too. A “wide range of opinions” was discussed, he said.
Officials also reportedly explained to the pilots the possible consequences of an early departure. The racing series is said to collect signing fees totaling $900 million for the ten-year deal with Saudi Arabia. The promise of a maximum increase in security measures eventually led to a solution, the GPDA said. The tone of the statement leaves it open whether all drivers really fully support the decision.
Former driver Ralf Schumacher decided otherwise and set out on the journey home. Commentator and sky expert Sascha Roos returned to Munich on Saturday morning. The TV station had given all of its employees the option to stay in Jeddah.
The new head of the world association, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, had previously claimed that Formula 1 was not the target of the attacks. “They are targeting the infrastructure, not the civilians and of course not the runway,” said the 60-year-old from Dubai. This has been verified.
With this assessment, Sulayem is probably right. The Houthis, heavily armed by Iran, repeatedly attack Saudi Arabia with armed drones and cruise missiles. Favorite targets are infrastructure facilities, especially production facilities and warehouses for the oil industry, which is the main source of income for the Gulf monarchy.
An embarrassment for the Saudi crown prince
Every successful attack is also a disgrace for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who rules the country de facto. Because he obviously he can’t protect Saudi Arabia. Now the war in Yemen has also reached the racing series. And the outrage is great. The US government and the Foreign Office in Berlin have condemned the latest attacks by Houthi rebels. “These new attacks violate international humanitarian law and undermine regional stability by causing further escalation. Attacks on civilian targets cannot be justified by anything,” the federal government announced.
For Formula 1, however, the events once again raise the question of choosing their partners. Just a few weeks ago, the racing series canceled its contracts for races in Russia due to the war in Ukraine. Other Grand Prix hosts, including Bahrain, Azerbaijan, China and Qatar, have also been criticized for their human rights violations for years. The same applies to Saudi Arabia. Despite all the social reforms decreed from above, the monarchy is ruled with an iron fist by the royal family. Rigorous measures are taken against any form of opposition. Human rights groups repeatedly denounce torture and ill-treatment in prisons.
In their announcement, the Fia and Formula 1 indicated that the Jeddah events will continue to be discussed: “It has been agreed with all those involved to continue a clear and open dialogue during the event and in the future.” (dpa/Ch.B.)