Saudi Arabia: F1 drivers concerned but willing to race after oil tanker attack

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F1 drivers and teams have agreed to race the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend despite several recent attacks on sites close to the race.

Drivers returned to the track for the final practice session after hours of talks late on Friday and safety assurances from the Saudi government.

F1 drivers concerned but will race in Saudi Arabia

“Drivers are not 100 percent happy (or) fully relaxed,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. 

“They are still concerned but they have listened to the reassurance and they understand it’s important to stay here and try to race.”

Press interviews were cancelled on Friday during the talks over the race’s future. 

The pilots’ union, the Grand Prix Drivers Association, said it was a “difficult day for Formula One and a stressful day for us Formula One drivers”.

“Perhaps it is hard to comprehend if you have never driven an F1 car on this fast and challenging Jeddah track, but on seeing the smoke from the incident it was difficult to remain a fully focused race driver and erase natural human concerns,” a statement said.

During “long discussions”, Saudi government ministers “explained how security measures were elevated to the maximum” to allow the race to go ahead.

The attacks on targets including oil facilities, an electrical station and a water plant came as crude prices soar on supply fears following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, has rebuffed calls to pump more oil in a bid to stabilise markets, sticking instead to the steady increases agreed by the OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia.

Formula One is one of a number of high-profile events brought to Saudi Arabia in recent years, drawing accusations of ‘sportswashing’ — using sports events to distract from criticism of the country’s human rights record.

It is not the first to witness violence. In December, a French driver was seriously injured in a blast at the Dakar Rally hosted by Saudi Arabia. French investigators blamed an explosive device planted on his car.

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