IIn the end, F1 and the FIA issued a joint statement late Friday evening confirming the race weekend will go ahead as planned after drivers were dissuaded from staging a boycott. A statement released on Saturday morning said Saudi government authorities and security agencies gave “full and detailed assurances that the event is secure” after Friday’s terror attack on a local oil facility.
Tom Cary reports further from Jeddah:
Smoke was still billowing from the Aramco facility a few miles off Jeddah’s Corniche circuit on Saturday morning after a long night of crisis talks ended with drivers finally agreeing to take part, but only after four hours of discussions and the intervention of senior F1 personnel.
The BBC reported that the drivers had effectively been blackmailed – reminding how difficult it could be to leave the country if they refused to race. Earlier on Friday, sporting general director Stefano Domenicali confidently said the race would go ahead despite targeted strikes by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on state oil facility Saudi Aramco, which caused a massive explosion during the first practice around 5:30 p.m. local time. (2:30 p.m. GMT).
FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, speaking to the media, added that Saudi officials had assured them it would be safe to continue the race, with the rebels “targeting [Saudi] the infrastructure, not the civilians, and, of course, not the runway.
Obviously, this is by no means a desirable situation. It’s not really the case that the show “must” go on, but it goes on anyway. Although we don’t know what was said in the talks last night, you can imagine the severity and seriousness of the talks between the drivers, team principals and F1 chiefs.
The hope will be that all will be well for the next two days and that the race becomes the thing that people will – and want – to talk about. But none of this is guaranteed and the situation seems to have turned into a predicament at best.