until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The assurances that convinced F1 teams to race in Saudi

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Formula 1 team bosses have offered the first explanation of how the Saudia Arabia authorities convinced them it was safe to continue racing this weekend.

A missile attack on an Aramco oil facility close to the circuit left the F1 paddock in a state of serious concern on Friday, with lengthy meetings required to convince teams and drivers to go ahead with the event.

The strike was part of a coordinated attack across the country from the Yemen rebel Houthi group, which is in a lengthy war with a Saudi-led coalition that has left Yemen facing arguably the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Despite a warning from the Houthi rebels that its retaliatory attacks in Saudi are escalating, F1 has decided to press on with this weekend’s race after lengthy meetings on Friday.

The Race understands that this was based on assurances from the authorities that national intelligence indicated there are no civilian targets, only state infrastructure and specifically Aramco facilities.

Plus, heightened security is already in place around the event following the recent Houthi attacks that is believed to include an extensive anti-missile defence system.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Practice Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Aston Martin team principal Mike Krack said on Saturday: “We had quite a few high-ranked authorities yesterday and they explained to us the situation.

“They explained it to us in a very credible way and this made all the 10 of us that were in the room confident that they take their responsibility very seriously.”

Williams CEO Jost Capito said a defence expert from another country was also present in the meeting, had “looked into that independently and confirmed that everything is in place to have a safe event”.

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner added: “They explained very credibly what is in place.

“There is stuff in place which protects us obviously. But for me to explain that, I’m an amateur in it.

“The credible explanation of what they do, and that their families are here with them, that gives me the assurance that I’m safe and that my team is safe.”

These reassurances came during a meeting between team bosses and drivers with senior F1 and FIA figures including F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

That ended with a public declaration the teams had unanimously agreed to race but the drivers then held a separate hours-long discussion.

Eventually, they were also unanimously convinced to take part in the rest of the event although there has been some dispute over whether all actually agree or have been pressured to continue.

The Aston Martin, Haas and Williams team bosses said that if their drivers refused to take part they would have been allowed to withdraw.

“You cannot force someone to drive who doesn’t want to drive or is uncomfortable to drive,” said Krack.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

“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 want to do.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that it would be wrong to state his drivers were “100% happy and feel fully relaxed” but they understood why it was right to stay.

“Certainly, they’re still concerned, but they’re listening to the assurances that we gave them,” said Binotto.

“They understood the importance to stay here and somehow try to race because that’s the best choice we can do.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

“I think it’s been important for them to meet and discuss and raise their voice, they’re the stars of the sport and it’s important for them to make sure they’re listened to.

“While it’s never great if something may come out on the negative side of a meeting, but the fact is they met and we had the opportunity to argue or to listen or to get assurances.

“So that meeting was a positive one.”

Every team boss that has spoken so far has indicated no team members have asked to leave in the wake of Friday’s attack.

But Krack said his attitude towards releasing anyone uncomfortable “applies also to the team”.

“We were very clear about that, when we brought everybody together,” said Krack.

“There is no difference in this case whether it’s a driver or a team member, because they are all valuable.”

Steiner said: “I would do the same but I would try to convince the team member which doesn’t want to stay that they are safe, one way or another, because I think by talking you can do a lot.

“And with the assurances we got, I feel very safe.”

This stance was shared by the team principals at Ferrari and McLaren who said no team members had requested to leave.

“No-one from the team approached me so far wanting to leave,” said McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl.

Saudi Arabian GP F1

“It was very important yesterday and this morning to make sure the team is well informed, including the information that we go, and that’s how we go into the rest of the weekend as a team.”

Binotto said: “Nobody has left, nobody wants to leave.

“Before coming we tried to get our own information to make sure that everything was secure.

“We got into contact with local authorities, with the Italian consulate here, just to make sure everything was under control.

“Our people know that we are taking care and would not make any crazy things.

“As for the drivers, it’s important to listen and to come back to them, and explain to them, and make sure their decision is a proper one.

“I’m pretty sure at least the way these things are going, the people in the team trust us and they are relaxed and feel really safe.”

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