Saudi Arabian GP to go ahead despite missile attack

Despite a missile attack just 15 miles from the Jeddah Circuit on Friday, the F1 confirmed Saturday morning that the Saudi Arabian F1 GP 2022 will continue as scheduled for the rest of the weekend . 

This past Friday, the city’s air defence alarms went off as a missile hit an oil station 15 kilometres from the racetrack. Coincidentally or not, the owner of the facility is Aramco, the main sponsor of the Formula One World Championship and a jewel in the country’s crown. 

Images of the explosion and the huge plume of smoke that ensued quickly made their way around the world through social networks. Also, and given the proximity of the racetrack to the site of the impact, a strong smell of burning fuel invaded the venue during the first free practice sessions. 

The Saudi Arabian monarchy is keen to put on a progressive image of the country to the world and the Formula One Grand Prix is an instrument to that effect. The event, however, the second of its kind in just four months, has become a target for Yemen’s Houthi insurgent military group. 

The targeting of international sporting events by terrorist groups is a common practice as these give global visibility to the group’s demands. The last edition of the Dakar and Formula E, also in Saudi Arabia, also became the objectives of rebel groups. 

Everything under control? 

The paddock grew increasingly concerned over the serious attack and any future developments during the opening tests for the Saudi Arabian F1 GP, and team principals, the FIA – with its Arab president at the head – and drivers met with national authorities before starting the second round of free trials.

At the meeting, several drivers expressed their desire to leave the Persian Gulf nation as quickly as possible. Country officials, for their part, reassured all parties that everything was under control and the second round of free trials resumed with a delay of just fifteen minutes.

Despite the reassurances, the tension were still rising within the paddock. Many were of the belief that there was no point in celebrating the event at all under such conditions. 

Second meeting: The uneasiness persists 

With teams still uneasy about pressing on with the GP, another meeting was called at the racetrack itself after the end of the second set of tests to further assess the gravity of events. The underlying but obvious concern was the very safety of the Formula One entourage itself. 

Concluded the encounter between team representatives, incluiding of including MercedesFerrari & McLaren, race organizers, country officials and members of the FIA, all parties agreed to go ahead with the race. It is no secret that there are powerful interests behind this decision such as the safeguarding of the investments made by promoters, or the protection of the Emirati nation’s image in the world. 

The drivers give the go-ahead 

The true protagonists of the event, the drivers, still had doubts late Friday. At the end of the day, competing in the fastest and one of the most dangerous track in the calendar with their minds troubled about their own safety is not the best way to face such a challenge. 

Their meeting would last five hours, and well into the night. Their initial position leaned towards the suspension of the race. In an unexpected change of heart, however, they decided to go ahead with the competition. 

It seems that the promise of the ‘infallibility of the Arab anti-missile shield would have been decisive for that last-minute verdict. It is worth remembering nonetheless, that just a week ago, on Saturday the 19, another rocket and a manned plane hit their targets in Jeddah. The question remains: Why Formula 1 insists on competing in a country that poses such safety risks? I think we all know the answer to that. 

Images of Saudi Arabian F1 GP 2022: Ferrari.

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