FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem is confident that the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix venue will be safe this weekend, despite missile attacks by rebels on a nearby Aramco fuel facility while Formula 1 bosses are adamant the sport won’t be bullied over the incident.
Drivers and teams became aware of a problem during FP2 yesterday when huge plumes of smoke and fire erupted from the crippled fuel silos, within view of the Jeddah Corniche, that raged into the night.
If the rebels were seeking the attention they got it, as the sporting side of the weekend became secondary, overshadowed by the confusion sowed by the nearby explosions.
The message was clear from the rebels had they wanted to target the track and F1 they could have done so, as the much-vaunted Saudi defence systems failed to intercept the missile fired into the Aramco facility.
Dubai-born president of the sport’s ruling body, FIA, Ben Sulayem said: “The question is: who are these rebels targeting? It is the economic infrastructure not civilians and not this track.
“We have high-level assurance that this is a secure place and nothing is going to happen,” stated Ben Sulayem.
Aramco is a sponsor of the Aston Martin team and has a highly visible branding presence not only for their Jeddah home race but also at several venues where F1 will visit.
Horner: F1 will not be bullied
Red Bull team chief Christian Horner on Friday backed the decision to continue with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix despite a rebel attack on a nearby oil depot, insisting: “F1 will not be bullied”.
“The sport has to stand against this. No terrorism of this kind can be condoned. The sport must not be bullied in this way,” said Horner.
Despite their many disagreements in last year’s tense and dramatic world championship, Horner and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff were united that the show must go on.
“We had a good meeting and we — the team principals — are all agreed on this to go ahead. This circuit is probably the safest place in Saudi Arabia at this moment,” said Wolff.
The two heavyweight team bosses of the paddock were speaking at the end of the day’s practice sessions on the high-speed Jeddah street circuit.
The Yemeni rebel attack on the Aramco facility set off a huge fire near the track during the televised practice sessions, part of a wave of assaults on Aramco facilities.
As smoke billowed, the second practice was delayed as F1 management, team bosses, drivers and race promoters discussed the attack.
Domenicali: We have received total assurance on safety and security here, for the country and for the families
Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali added: “We have all put safety first to protect this area and the city where we are going. This is a protected area and so we feel confident to trust the local authorities in this respect and we stand together in deciding to go ahead with this event.”
Meanwhile, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko also supported the decision to continue:”If safety is guaranteed, we must go ahead. The Saudis have a defence system and, for some reason, the drone (missile) wasn’t intercepted.
“The rebels know they get a lot more publicity at a Grand Prix – that’s part of the concept. You shouldn’t let terrorism completely intimidate you in normal life. We should take a look now, and if security is guaranteed for the next two days, then we should go ahead,” insisted Marko. (Reporting by AFP & Wires)
Yemen’s Houthis said they launched attacks on Saudi energy facilities on Friday and the Saudi-led coalition said oil giant Aramco’s petroleum products distribution station in Jeddah was hit, causing a fire in two storage tanks but no casualties https://t.co/tOcT9voccqpic.twitter.com/GIx1qU6HNZ