Saudi Arabian Grand Prix going ahead despite rebel attack

Drivers and team bosses discuss safety concerns after an attack on Saudi Arabia by Houthi fighters in Yemen.

F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Qualifying
Charles Leclerc has topped the final practice times for Ferrari ahead of the race in Saudi Arabia on Sunday [File: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images]

The Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix will continue as planned on Sunday despite an attack by Houthi rebels in Yemen on an oil facility that set off a huge fire visible from Jeddah’s street circuit.

Flames ripped through the Aramco oil refinery on Friday and drivers set to participate in the race even smelled the blaze during the opening practice run.

“Formula 1 and the FIA [International Motoring Federation] can confirm that following discussions with all the teams and drivers, the 2022 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will continue as scheduled,” the racing body said in a statement on Saturday.

“There has been extensive discussion between all stakeholders, the Saudi government authorities, and security agencies who have given full and detailed assurances that the event is secure.”

Drivers held nearly four hours of meetings with team bosses and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and Managing Director Ross Brawn into the early hours of Saturday on whether to go ahead with the race.

“Ready and totally focused for tomorrow’s qualy!” Mexican driver Sergio Perez of Red Bull tweeted after the long meetings.

Domenicali earlier insisted the weekend would continue as planned.

“Formula 1 has been in close contact with the relevant authorities following the situation that took place today,” an F1 spokesman said after the second practice session on Friday night. “The authorities have confirmed that the event can continue as planned.”

‘I smell burning’

Domenicali and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the newly elected president of the sport’s ruling body the International Motoring Federation (FIA), met drivers and team bosses to try to reassure them.

“We have received total assurance on safety and security here, for the country and for the families,” Domenicali said.

World champion Max Verstappen was one of the first drivers to be aware of the drama unfolding while he guided his Red Bull team through the first practice session.

“I smell burning – is it my car?” said the Dutchman on his team radio.

Saudi Arabia’s civil defence brought under control on Saturday a fire in one of two fuel storage tanks that were hit in the attack, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel reported.

Efforts were continuing to extinguish the fire at the second storage tank, the channel added.

Friday’s attack was part of a wave of assaults before the seventh anniversary of a Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention against the Houthis in Yemen, a country in the grips of what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The coalition fighting the Iran-aligned rebels confirmed the Jeddah oil plant attack.

“They are trying to impact the nerve-centre of the world economy,” the coalition said in a statement. “These attacks have no impact on life in Jeddah.”

Early on Saturday, the coalition said it carried out retaliatory attacks against Yemen’s capital Sanaa and the port city of Hodeidah.

Meanwhile, on the race track, Charles Leclerc topped the final practice times for Ferrari ahead of Verstappen.

The 24-year-old Monegasque driver and early-season leader of the embryonic championship clocked a best lap in one minute and 30.074 to outpace the Dutchman by nearly two-tenths.

Carlos Sainz was third in the second Ferrari and Sergio Perez fourth, with a determined Lewis Hamilton fifth ahead of his new Mercedes teammate George Russell after a day of bumping and sliding on the high-speed circuit.

Source: News Agencies