Saudi GP promoter pledges race will go ahead as planned

ยฉ XPB 

The local race promoters of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix have vowed that this weekend's event will go ahead as planned, despite a dramatic missile strike on a nearby oil facility close to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Smoke could be seen billowing into the sky while Friday's first free practice was underway, and flames were still visible after sunset as FP2 got underway.

โ€œMax [Verstappen] radioed us," Red Bull motorsports consultant Dr Helmut Marko told Sky Germany. "He thought his car had caught fire because there was an intense burning smell."

It later transpired that a terrorist group had launched a rocket attack on an Aramco oil depot in the city, six miles from the track. Aramco is a major sponsor of Formula 1 with a ten-year deal signed in 2020, and is also the title sponsor of the Aston Martin F1 team.

โ€œWe were informed a drone had been sent from Yemen. The Saudis have a defence system and for some reason the drone was not intercepted," Marko explained. โ€œI think the timing is deliberate. The rebels know they will get much more media coverage at the Grand Prix, thatโ€™s part of the idea.โ€

Team principals and drivers were called to a briefing with F1 bosses and FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem to update them on the situation before the start of FP2, which resulted in a 15 minute delay to the beginning of the session.

They were reassured that all necessary steps were being taken to maintain the security and safety of the event and everyone attending and that the Grand Prix would go ahead as planned.

"We are aware of the attack on the Aramco distribution station in Jeddah earlier this afternoon," read a statement from the Saudi Motorsport Company.

Circuit atmosphere - fire following a missile strike on an Aramco oil facility. 25.03.2022 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah

"The race organisers remain in direct contact with the Saudi security authorities, as well as F1 and the FIA, to ensure all necessary security and safety measures continue to be implemented."

The statement added that everything would be done "to guarantee the safety of all visitors to the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as well as all drivers, teams and stakeholders.

โ€œThe race weekend schedule will continue as planned. The safety and security of all our guests continues to be our main priority and we look forward to welcoming fans for a weekend of premium racing and entertainment.โ€

Formula 1 bosses endorsed the statement from the promoters and understood to have told the teams and drivers there were no plans to change the schedule.

However some drivers were still reported to be wary about heading out onto the track in the circumstances. Media sessions with drivers and team bosses were all cancelled following FP2 and everyone was remaining tight-lipped about the situation.

However Marko said it was right to continue with the weekend's event. โ€œWe must not allow terror to intimidate us completely in everyday life," he insisted. "If security is guaranteed for the next two days, we should run."

Team bosses and drivers are being given a further briefing about the evolving situation at 10pm local time following the end of today's track activity.

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