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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Formula 1 wants to race in Saudi Arabia

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For Formula 1, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is ​​playing with fire. Despite a rocket attack by Yemeni Houthi rebels on a plant belonging to energy giant Aramco near the track in Jeddah, racing series bosses are sticking to the second round of the season.

“The race weekend program will go ahead as planned,” the Saudi Motorsport Company confirmed shortly after impact in Friday practice. The fire at the oil factory of Formula 1 main sponsor Aramco was visible from afar overnight.

The war that Saudi Arabia is waging against the Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen has suddenly come very close to the racing series. Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for the conflict that triggered one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of the moment.

The organizers announced that all necessary measures will be taken to guarantee the safety of the race. “We are delighted to be able to welcome fans to a weekend of first-class motorsports and entertainment,” the statement said.

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“We have received assurances that this place is safe,” World Federation chief Mohammed Ben Sulayem said. This was preceded by urgent talks with the security authorities and the Saudi government. “They assured us that we are protected here,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. So it was unanimously decided to continue.

But obviously it wasn’t that easy. The drivers discussed what had happened until late at night. An increasing number of pilots are said to have expressed serious safety concerns. Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and sporting director Ross Brawn spoke longer with the drivers and then the team bosses returned. There was even talk of a possible boycott before the drivers were persuaded to keep driving.

“It’s not normal,” said Red Bull Motorsport director Helmut Marko. Just a few weeks ago, the racing series canceled the contracts with Russia for the planned Grand Prix in Sochi and St. Petersburg due to the war in Ukraine. “Who could have imagined that such a war is possible in Europe. Where is it safe and where is it no longer safe?” said Marko, also under the impression of what happened in Jeddah.

The guest performance in Saudi Arabia was previously criticized.

The special appearance in Saudi Arabia was criticized beforehand. The kingdom is accused of serious human rights violations. The country just executed 81 people in a single day. World champion Lewis Hamilton described reports of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia as “slippery”.

The sport was in the background before the chilling images of Friday. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was fastest in practice, closely followed by Red Bull driver Max Verstappen. For qualifying on Saturday (6pm/Sky), another close duel is expected between world championship leader Leclerc and world champion Verstappen for pole position. But most conversations in the paddock are initially about completely different topics. (dpa)


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