Formula One says their competition in Saudi Arabia will continue as scheduled on Sunday, despite attacks on the state by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – Formula One says their competition in Saudi Arabia will continue as scheduled on Sunday, despite attacks on the state by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The announcement comes a day after rebels attacked an oil depot about 11 kilometers (seven miles) from the racetrack. F1 said it had received “detailed assurances that the event was safe.” The attack happened when the first exercise was taking place, and 20 drivers met Friday night for a discussion that was extended before 2 p.m. to discuss safety concerns.
“Yesterday was a difficult day for Formula One and a stressful day for our Formula One drivers,” the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association said in a statement on Saturday. “We have had long discussions with ourselves, with our team leaders and with most of them. Elderly people who run our game. Different opinions were shared and debated. “
Ferrari team captain Matia Binotto said it was “important to listen to the drivers” but the decision to continue was the right one.
“It’s been a long night but let’s focus on the facts first. We know this is not the first time this has happened in this country and in this region, “he said. “Leaving the country would not be the right choice.”
In an earlier statement, F1 and the governing body FIA confirmed that “after consultation with all parties and drivers, the” Grand Prix “will proceed as scheduled.”
“Following the widely reported incident in Jeddah on Friday, there has been extensive discussion among all stakeholders, Saudi government authorities and security agencies who have given full and detailed assurances that the event will be safe,” the statement said.
F1 added that it has “agreed to maintain a clear and open dialogue with all stakeholders for the event and the future.”
Saturday was a third and final practice session to begin at 5pm local time, and the qualifiers will begin under floodlights at 8pm.
The top three drivers spoke to the media after qualifying and the team principals were scheduled for their media duty in the afternoon.
The Houthis acknowledged the attack on Friday evening, and Saudi state television called it a “hostile operation.” The Jeddah oil depot caught fire during the attack on Friday’s first practice session. This caused an exciting fire that disturbed the drivers enough to have an extraordinary discussion about the presence of F1 in Saudi Arabia.
Many drivers expressed concern about racing in the region and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record when F1 ran its inaugural event on the circuit last December. Now back on track more than three months later, tensions have risen in the attack.
Conversations between driver, team leader and F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali until late Friday night centering on safety and security situation.
Friday’s second exercise was delayed by 15 minutes because the former driver’s meeting included newly-elected FIA President Mohamed Ben Sulayem.
Race promoter Saudi Motorsport Company said early Friday that the weekend schedule had not been changed and that the third practice and qualification was still scheduled for Saturday. The drivers were leaving the track just hours before returning.
The attack targeted the northern Jeddah bulk plant, the same fuel depot that the Houthis attacked five days earlier. The plant is an important hub for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, just south-east of the city’s international airport.
The plant stores diesel, petrol and jet fuel for use in the second largest city in the state. It supplies more than a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s total supply and provides significant fuel to run a regional desalination plant.
The Houthis have twice targeted the North Jeddah plant with cruise missiles. An attack came in November 2020. The second attack was on Sunday as part of a wide barrage of Houthi fighters.
An Associated Press photojournalist covering the first practice on Friday saw smoke rising in the distance eastward after 5:40 a.m. local time and about 20 minutes after the first practice ended. The tops of the bulk plant tanks were clearly visible as the flames rose.
“Seeing the smoke from the incident, it was difficult to have a fully focused race driver and remove the anxiety of normal people,” the drivers’ association said.
Also in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels has carried out airstrikes in the Yemeni capital and a strategic Red Sea city, officials said Saturday. Overnight airstrikes in Sanaa and Hodeidah – both occupied by Houthis – followed by rebel attacks on oil depots in Jeddah.
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