After receiving “detailed assurances” about their safety, Formula One drivers took to track in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. This was one day after the attack by Houthi rebels on Yemen’s kingdom.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s Championship leader, was in fine driving form again. He led the third practice session to give it a sweep before qualifying under floodlights later.
Leclerc won the season opener in Bahrain last Sunday and finished just ahead of Max Verstappen, the world champion, and Sergio Perez, his Red Bull teammate. Lewis Hamilton, seven-time champion, was 11th.
However, the focus was on F1’s decision to continue racing despite the attack at an oil depot that is located approximately 11 km (seven miles) away from the track.
After Friday night meetings with security officials and government officials, team principals insisted that Jiddah is safe for them to drive on.
“We had quite a few high-ranked authorities yesterday. Mike Krack, Aston Martin’s CEO, said that they explained the situation. They explained the situation in a very credible manner and it has made all 10 (team principals), confident.”
Jost Capito, Williams boss, stated that an independent observer provided additional reassurance.
Capito stated, “There was also another defence person, not from this country but from a completely different country who looked into it independently and confirmed that everything is in order.” Without revealing its identity.
Guenther Steiner, Haas’ team principal, said that a similar attack to Friday could make them reconsider.
He said, “Obviously, I have to affirm that we would reconsider our position.” “If anything happens, we will cross the bridge when it is possible. I still feel safe.”
Friday’s attack occurred during the first practice. The 20 drivers held talks past 2 a.m. in order to discuss safety issues.
The Grand Prix Drivers Association stated in a statement that they had long discussions with themselves, our team principals and the most senior figures who manage our sport. “A wide range of opinions were discussed and shared.”
Ferrari principal Mattia Binotto stated that it was important to listen to drivers, but that the decision was right to go on.
It has been a long, difficult night. But let’s first look at the facts. He said that we know it isn’t the first time this has happened in this country or in this region. “Leaving the country would have been a bad decision.”
Binotto stated that Ferrari’s entire team was happy to remain.
He said, “No one has ever left and no one has requested to leave.”
Andreas Seidl, Steiner (McLaren), Capito, Steiner and Krack stated that no team members or drivers asked to leave, but they would not have been stopped.
Krack stated, “We were very clear about this when we brought everyone together.” “It doesn’t matter if it is a driver or a member of the team, they all have value.”
Later Saturday, the top three qualifying drivers were due to speak to media.
F1 and FIA, the governing body of F1, stated that the grand prix would continue as planned “following discussions between all the teams and drivers.”
The statement stated that “There has been extensive communication between all parties, the Saudi government officials and security agencies who gave full and detailed assurances about the event being secure.”
The Houthis admitted the attack on Friday night and Saudi Arabia’s state TV said it was a hostile operation. Friday’s practice session saw an attack on Jiddah’s oil depot. The fire caused chaos that rattled drivers and forced them to hold extraordinary talks about F1’s presence Saudi Arabia.
Many drivers voiced concerns about racing in the region, Saudi Arabia’s human right record and F1’s inaugural event at the circuit last November. Tensions are rising amid the attacks, which have been reported back to the track just three months after the initial event.
Late Friday night, drivers, team principals, and F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali discussed safety and security issues.
Friday’s second practice was delayed by 15 minutes due to an earlier driver meeting, which included Mohammed Ben Sulayem (the newly elected president of the FIA).
The attack on the North Jiddah Bulk Plant was the same fuel depot that the Houthis had attacked five day earlier. It is located just southeast of the city’s international airport. This facility is a vital hub for Muslim pilgrims headed to Mecca.
It stores jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel for the kingdom’s second largest city. It stores more than 25% of Saudi Arabia’s fuel and supplies the fuel necessary to run a regional desalination station.
Two times, the Houthis attacked North Jiddah’s plant with cruise missiles. One attack came in November 2020. As part of a larger barrage by Houthis, the second attack occurred Sunday.
Officials said that a Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran backed Houthi rebels launched an attack on Yemen’s capital, as well as a Red Sea port, Saturday. Following the rebel attack on Jiddah’s oil depot, the Houthis seized Sanaa and Hodeida.