the paddock under high tension

The Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia will take place this Sunday despite the attacks on the country on Friday. The drivers were convinced to race after long and intense negotiations.

And suddenly, racing against the clock seemed secondary to Formula 1 drivers. As they were about to commit to a second hour of testing on Friday, the 20 drivers on the grid saw their session delayed by explosions at the edge of the track. Striking on screen, the images were all the more so through the visors of the protagonists. “It might be hard to understand if you’ve never driven an F1 on the fast and tricky Jeddah circuit, but seeing the smoke from the incident made it hard to remain a fully focused racing driver and erase natural human concerns“said the interested parties in a press release from the pilots’ association.

Claimed by the Houthi rebels, the coordinated attacks notably targeted oil infrastructure located on the edge of the circuit, accentuating the proximity of the paddock to danger. “It was a difficult day for Formula 1»very stressful for us pilotscontinue the latter in the press release. Then arose the legitimate question of whether or not to hold the second Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia, which appeared on the calendar last year on the brand new asphalt of Jeddah. The presence of everyone during the third free practice session – again dominated by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc – therefore provides the expected answer.

Meeting until 2:30 a.m.

And yet, nothing was gained with regard to the echoes of Jeddah, where one evoked the will of a majority of pilots not to take part in the second round of the season. “The drivers are not 100% happy and completely relaxed but they have heard the assurances and understood that the important thing is to stay here to race, justifies Mattia Binotto, the owner of Scuderia Ferrari. It is important that they give their opinion but also for us to listen to them..”

This is what it seems was done late into the night from Friday to Saturday, after four hours of intense negotiations between the stakeholders, where Lewis Hamilton and Pierre Gasly were the most vociferous according to the journalists present. on the spot. The latter was also the only one to speak at the end of the meeting, around 2:30 am. “It was important to discuss the situation, everyone has given their opinion and we are aligned“, summed up the Norman, laconic. An uncertain gait that betrayed a strong tension in the paddock.

Before Saturday morning finally falls the press release from the pilots. “A wide variety of opinions were heard and debated and, having listened not only to F1 decision makers but also the Saudi government, who assured us that security measures have been raised to the maximum, we have taken the decision. to take part in practice and then qualifying today before the race tomorrow.”

Aramco, giant targeted by attacks but major partner of F1

A decision taken, it seems, in concert, even if the intervention of the team managers, who arrived after the pilots, was decisive. “The circuit is probably the safest place in Saudi Arabia right now“said Toto Wolff, the influential boss of Mercedes. “We were assured that the security of the country was the main objectiveengaged Stefano Domenicali, the director of Formula 1, surrounded by Saudi officials in front of the press. Our safety is the priority, families are there. Everything has been put in place to secure the area.”

Guarantees… to guarantee the holding of an important grand prix for the Formula 1 ecosystem despite criticism linked to its dangerousness, as evidenced by the violent crash of Mick Schumacher in qualifying. Targeted by the rebels, the oil giant Aramco has been a major sponsor of F1 since 2020, but also the title sponsor of the Aston Martin team. There is no doubt that the economic stakes were worth their weight in gold when it came to maintaining a grand prix which was nevertheless seriously threatened, especially since Saudi Arabia signed the lucrative contract in the history of the discipline for this grand prix. . Philosophers, the drivers will therefore try to refocus fully on the track this Sunday: “We therefore hope that the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be remembered as a great race rather than for the incidents that took place this Friday.»

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