Fire at Aramco oil plant after attack, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2022

‘Leaving Saudi Arabia was not the right choice’ – F1 team bosses defend decision to race after attack

2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Formula 1 team principals have defended the series’ decision to continue with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix following the missile strike in Jeddah yesterday.

Yemeni rebel group Houthi hit an Aramco oil plant around 10 kilometres from the circuit while first practice was taking place.

Afterwards, both F1 and the FIA said the event would go ahead. However, drivers raised concerns in a meeting which went on until the early hours of Saturday morning at the track. They were eventually persuaded to go ahead with the weekend.

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl said it had been necessary to hear the views and address the concerns of the 20 drivers.

“It was very alarming news yesterday afternoon when we saw the incident,” he said. “Therefore I think it was important yesterday evening to take our time also together with the drivers, the drivers between themselves and together with the FIA, Formula 1 and the authorities here in order to get a good overview in a transparent way also of what happened and what we can expect in terms of safety and security moving forward.

“That took a bit of time, but it was important to invest that time and have this open and transparent dialogue. In the end with all the assurances we have had with the authorities here we cane to the decision that the right way is to continue in the event as planned and we feel comfortable with that.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto responded to a suggestion drivers may have been coerced into competing and warned they may have difficulty leaving the country if they did not.

“I don’t think that’s the point,” he said. “The drivers met together. Certainly they were concerned, I think we after the attack yesterday no doubt all of us were concerned because these are not normal facts happening just close to the circuit.

“But the concerns need to be translated into considerations and discussions. We as team principals had assurances from F1, from the Saudi government, authorities and security agencies that everything would be safe and under control.

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“That was needed to be explained to the drivers and explained to them the situation, make them understand that as a matter of fact we are safe and secure. After that long discussions, which is important to have in a transparent way, they simply understood and supported the fact that it’s important to stay, to remain, and to continue the weekend and drive here in Saudi for the weekend.”

Binotto said staying in the country was the correct thing to do. “I think by leaving the country would not have been simply the right choice,” he said. “I think that there was no right reasons, being here, to leave the country for the fact that happened after all the assurances we get.

“So I think they met, they had their own concerns, they raised them. All together we tried to get the right assurances and got the right explanations for them as well.”

Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack said there was no way the team would have insisted one of their drivers take part in the weekend if they did not want to.

“Obviously you cannot force someone to drive who doesn’t want to drive or is not comfortable to drive,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “We were not in that situation but if we were, we would respect the opinion or the concerns of the driver. We would obviously try to talk, try to understand, try to find an agreement.

“But I think ultimately you need to respect what these people wanted.”

Pietro Fittipaldi was on standby to replace either of the Haas drivers had they chosen not to participate, said team principal Guenther Steiner.

“If a driver doesn’t want to drive we would put Pietro in,” he said. “He cannot wait. That would be the solution.”

The teams were reassured by assessments of the security arrangements by defence experts.

“We had quite a few high-ranked authorities yesterday and they explained to us the situation,” said Krack. “They explained it to us in a very credible way, and this made all of us – all the 10 of us that were in the room – confident that they take their responsibility very seriously.”

Williams team principal Jost Capito added “there was also another defence person in there – not from here, from a different country – who looked into that independently and confirmed that everything is in place to have a safe event.”

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2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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10 comments on “‘Leaving Saudi Arabia was not the right choice’ – F1 team bosses defend decision to race after attack”

  1. It wasn’t the right choice…. It was there only choice & a choice which was largely taken out of their hands.

    I gather that reports that leaving the country may not be as easy if they didn’t race was indeed one of the things that the race promoters informed them could be a possibility.

    Also heard that drivers who went into the meeting with a more neutral view came out feeling like that shouldn’t be there.

    1. Drive to survive

  2. Agreed – there is no way F1 should be racing here.

    If a missile landed a few miles from Silverstone would we expect the British GP to go ahead?

    It’s nothing to do with safety just the money and fear of how hard it could be to leave if the race were cancelled.

    Unfortunately in the short term I do think they need to “perform”. Now they are here there is no real alternative.

    But the is NO way SA 2023 should take place. No way.

    1. “If a missile landed a few miles from Silverstone would we expect the British GP to go ahead?”

      I think it surely would.

      For decades now the reasoning in Western countries has been to not give in to terror. Giving in to terror and cancelling events would send the wrong message.

      1. @uzsjgb It’s actually quite instructive that the ‘not giving in to terror’ line hasn’t been used. Why? Because arguing that the Houthi attack on the oil plant was an act of ‘terrorism’, rather than warfare, would be to side entirely with the Saudi regime. And clearly Formula 1 as a whole is reluctant to adopt that line, essentially backing a despotic regime, suggesting a preference for some kind of ‘neutrality’ instead, despite accepting the invitation to run a GP in the country.

  3. Coming to Saudi Arabia was not the right choice.

  4. I realize that this article of course only presents selected parts of what the principles have said, but with that caveat I find it disturbing that they only talk about the drivers’ situation. A team principle must be responsible for the security and well being of all team members. If I was a lowly mechanic on one of the teams, these statements would grate on my ears in no small manner.

  5. Many of the team principals don’t have any.

Comments are closed.