A missile attack on an oil facility near the Jeddah circuit on Friday afternoon, coming less than a week after a similar assault at Saudi targets, prompted unease within the paddock about potential risks of the grand prix being a target.
F1 chiefs held a series of meetings throughout Friday with the local authorities to get clarification of what happened at the Aramco facility, as well as better understand what safety precautions had been put in place at the Corniche circuit.
Following a preliminary meeting with drivers and team principals ahead of second free practice, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali hosted another meeting on Friday night alongside FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem to update everyone on the situation.
The 40-minute meeting ended with agreement among the team principals that the race could go ahead, based on promises that F1 had been given about security in Jeddah.
Speaking to the media immediately after the meeting, Domenicali made it clear that F1 was taking the safety situation seriously – and had been given guarantees about protection around the venue.
“We have received total assurances that, for the country, safety is first, no matter the situation – safety has to be guaranteed,” he said.
“They [local officials] are here with their families, actually here at the track, so they have in place all the systems to protect this area, the city and the places we are going.
“So we feel confident and we have to trust the local authority in that respect. Therefore of course we will go ahead with the event.”
Smoke in the sky of Jeddah
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Sulayem added that the risks of the event being attacked by the Houthis was minimal because they did not target civilians.
“We had meetings with the head of security, and meetings with team principals and meeting with the drivers,” said Sulayem.
“And who are they targeting? They are targeting the infrastructure, not the civilians and not the track.
“Of course we checked the facts from them and we had assurance from them that this is a secure place, the whole place will be secure and let’s go on racing.
“For sure all their families are here. We are only looking forward but with an assurance that nothing is going to happen.”
An airliner is silhouetted by a fire in Jeddah beyond the circuit
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
Team principals expressed their support for F1’s decision to go ahead with the event afterwards, although there were hints that not all drivers were comfortable with the decision.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky: “It was a good meeting. The drivers are going to talk now in the drivers’ meeting and we, the team principals, have been assured that we are protected here. This is probably the safest place you can be in Saudi Arabia at the moment. That is why we are racing.”
Asked if support for the event going ahead was unanimous, Wolff said: “Between the team principals, yes.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner added: “I think the sport has to stand together collectively. Any act of terrorism cannot be condoned and the sport should not be bullied into a position and a situation like that, it just isn’t acceptable.
“Stefano and the president are dealing with it and there have been all the assurances from the organizers and we will be going to race.”