F1 race in Saudi Arabia to continue despite nearby attack

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Formula One has said its race in Saudi Arabia will go ahead as planned this weekend despite attacks on the kingdom by Houthi rebels from Yemen.

The announcement came a day after rebels attacked an oil depot some 11 kilometers (seven miles) from the F1 circuit. The 20 drivers on the grid met several times Friday night in talks that extended well past 2 a.m. to discuss safety issues.

“Formula 1 and the (governing body) of the FIA ​​can confirm that after discussions with all teams and drivers, the 2022 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix will continue as planned.” F1 said in a statement on Saturday morning. “Following the widely reported incident that took place in Jeddah on Friday, there have been lengthy discussions between all stakeholders, Saudi government authorities and security agencies which have given full and detailed assurances that the event is secure.”

F1 added that it had been agreed “with all stakeholders to maintain a clear and open dialogue throughout the event and for the future”.

There was a third and final practice session later on Saturday which was due to start at 5pm local time, with qualifying due to start under the floodlights at 8pm.

The top three drivers address the media after qualifying and team managers have been appointed for their media duties as scheduled in the early afternoon.

Houthi rebels acknowledged Friday night’s attacks and Saudi state television called them a “hostile operation”. The Jiddah oil depot caught fire when it was attacked during Friday’s first training session. This sparked a fire that shook the drivers enough to hold extraordinary discussions regarding F1’s presence in Saudi Arabia.

Many drivers expressed concerns about racing in the region and Saudi Arabia’s human rights records when F1 staged its inaugural event at the circuit last December. Back on the trail just over three months later, tensions are rising amid the attacks.

Conversations between the drivers, team principals and F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali late Friday night focused on safety conditions.

Friday’s second practice session was delayed by 15 minutes due to an earlier drivers’ meeting which included Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the newly elected FIA president.

Race promoter Saudi Motorsport Company said earlier on Friday that the weekend schedule had not been changed and that a third practice and qualifying were still scheduled for Saturday. The pilots did not leave the track until a few hours before their return.

The attack targeted the bulk plant in northern Jiddah, the same fuel depot the Houthis had attacked five days earlier. The factory is just southeast of the city’s international airport, a crucial hub for Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca.

The plant stores diesel, gasoline and jet fuel for use in the kingdom’s second largest city. It accounts for more than a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also provides essential fuel for the operation of a regional desalination plant.

The Houthis have twice targeted the factory in northern Jeddah with cruise missiles. One attack took place in November 2020. The second attack took place on Sunday as part of a wider Houthi barrage.

An Associated Press photojournalist covering Friday’s first practice saw smoke billowing in the distance to the east just after 5:40 p.m. local time. As the flames rose, the tops of the bulk plant tanks were clearly visible.


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