Formula 1 bosses, team principals and drivers discussed whether or not to race in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend after a missile attack nearby to the street circuit
Mercedes superstar Lewis Hamilton was joined by three other F1 drivers in leading the crunch talks regarding whether or not to race in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
On Friday during the opening practice session, a missile struck a nearby Aramco oil depot in Jeddah. The incident led to thick black smoke to dominate the air, which rose over the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
It was quickly reported that the Grand Prix could be called off due to safety concerns, but it was then decided for the race to go ahead. The decision came amid a number of drivers expressing concern about their safety although they were reportedly convinced to compete after team principals and F1 bosses – including CEO Stefano Domenicali and Ross Brawn – assured them.
This is reportedly due to the possible consequences of not racing and whether that would impact the speed at which F1 figures could leave the country. Sky Sports’ Craig Slater revealed Hamilton was a leading voice in the discussions that led to confirmation of the race, alongside Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Mick Schumacher.
“I know that Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and the young Mick Schumacher were leading the debate,” Slater said. “I can’t say they have come to a unanimous decision that it should go ahead but they have come to a joint decision that the race should carry on and that’s why we are where we are now.
“There would have been the potential for them to pull out, they have that influence. The race obviously couldn’t go ahead without the drivers.
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“Lewis Hamilton was very influential in the decision over the Australian Grand Prix not going ahead at the height of the Covid pandemic, so they do have that influence. There may be divergent views amongst the drivers but it is going to go ahead. There is extra security around the track and at the hotels today.”
The startling incident comes after a number of drivers – including Hamilton – called out the Saudi Arabian state officials over their human rights record. It is a topic that has been discussed a number of times recently, regardless of the advances the country has made in recent years.
“Ultimately, it is the responsibility of those in power to make the changes and we’re really not seeing enough. We need to see more,” said the seven-time world champion. “We try and do what we can and it’s important we try to educate ourselves and with the little bit of difference we can try to make make sure we are doing something.
“There is not a lot I can say that will make any difference. It’s mind-blowing to hear the stories. I’ve heard there is a letter been sent to me from a 14-year-old on death row. When you’re 14 you don’t know what the hell you’re doing in life. But we don’t decide where we go [to race].
James Moy Photography/PA Images)
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“I think we do have an opportunity to try; we are duty bound to try and do what we can while we’re here.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell echoed the sentiment, adding: “It’s clearly concerning to see what is going on in some of these places.
“But I do hope that racing in some of these countries can raise awareness and have an impact and if we can look back in 30, 40 years’ time and see that the sport has had a positive impact on society in some of the countries then we should be incredibly proud of that.”
The 22-race 2022 campaign – which is expected to return to 23 races in the near future once a Russian Grand Prix replacement is found – continues this weekend with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 27.