F1 will go ahead with its race in Saudi Arabia this weekend, despite a missile strike hitting an oil depot less than 10 kilometres from the circuit.
The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association met for over four hours last night to deliberate on whether to race or not. Ultimately, they were convinced at 1:30am - but reports suggest there may have been some external pressure.
The missile strike and the ensuing fallout casts a cloud over what was already a dark weekend for Formula 1.
F1 Saudi Arabia: Race to go ahead despite safety threats
F1 made its first visit to Saudi Arabia last December, with the sport rightly coming under criticism for their promotion of the country.
The countless human rights issues in Saudi Arabia, as well as their ongoing military involvement in Yemen, led to suggestions that F1 was enabling “sports washing” of the Saudi regime.
The darkest moment of F1’s partnership with the country came on Friday. Ahead of the second practice session, a missile reportedly struck an Aramco oil depot nearby the circuit.
"I smell a bit of a burning feeling..."
Red Bull's Max Verstappen reported a smell of burning over the team radio prior to confirmation of a missile attack in Jeddah. pic.twitter.com/c1W9zLvKWC
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) March 26, 2022
The second practice session was delayed as the facts of the situation were established.
After that practice session, the drivers met with team principals and the FIA to discuss their views on going ahead with the race weekend.
After that meeting, the drivers met away from the influence of other figures within the sport. Sky Sports report that the drivers were apprehensive about continuing the race weekend.
The statement from F1 which confirmed the race weekend would go ahead said that the sport’s authorities had been given “full and detailed assurances” about their safety at the track. What such assurances entail is still unclear.
Joint statement on the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pic.twitter.com/xsyYpvVmhB
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 26, 2022
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff described the race track as “the safest place” in Saudi Arabia, and said that the team principals had unanimously agreed to go ahead with the race weekend.
Both Wolff’s comments, and the statement from the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, would suggest that the drivers were not happy to continue with the race, but were convinced to by external factors.
Well written and heartfelt statement from the GPDA after confirmation from F1 that the race in Jeddah will go ahead as scheduled . pic.twitter.com/7bY1OuXyN1
— David Croft (@CroftyF1) March 26, 2022
Alarmingly, there were suggestions that political pressure came on the drivers to finish out the race weekend.
BBC reports suggest that the drivers were warned of potential issues with exiting the country if they decided not to race.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will go ahead after missile attack.
Highly revealing excerpt from BBC piece…https://t.co/S3BA3NyHx1 pic.twitter.com/tEqDicXGZ0
— Richard Chambers (@newschambers) March 26, 2022
Formula 1 has made questionable decisions when curating their race calendar in recent years.
Saudi Arabia is but one of the ethically rephrensible countries added to the sport’s calendar in the past decade, with races in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Azerbaijan, and Russia taking place just last year.
Though plenty of the races on the calendar take place in questionable locations, the race in Saudi Arabia is arguably the worst of the lot.
Lewis Hamilton was among those who spoke up ahead of the race about the fire human rights conditions in the country.
The missile incident on Friday night was just another reason to make F1 fans uncomfortable with racing in Saudi Arabia.
Naturally, the reaction on social media was dictated by shock and horror at the decision to continue the race weekend amid such tense and dangerous conditions.
All just feels like a mess. There's lots I don't understand enough about but I know I want drivers, teams, media, spectators and staff to be able to be safe and assured.
There's a lot of pressure being applied so just feels like a horrible cloud over the rest of the weekend
— Chain Bear (@chainbear) March 25, 2022
Call it tf off
— Jess McFadyen (@JessMcF1) March 25, 2022
Today is going to be fascinating. The drivers were remarkable last night in taking a stance and not wanting to race but emerging picture is ultimately they were put under too much pressure from bosses. You could see the tension among team principals. #F1 #SaudiArabianGP
— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) March 26, 2022
Cash has always been king, folks. It’s the way this sport has been going for a while. This is what we support. 🤷🏾♂️#F1 pic.twitter.com/PqRDP9e3sz
— Dre Harrison (@Harrison101HD) March 26, 2022
the statements from the FIA/FOM and the GPDA have quite radically different tone
GPDA saying "the outcome was a resolution that we would practice and qualify today and race tomorrow" is definitely not "everyone was convinced"https://t.co/BhQMXN0Tfv
— Hazel Southwell (@HSouthwellFE) March 26, 2022
SEE ALSO: Ferrari Drivers Slam Safety Conditions At Saudi Arabian F1 Track