F1 drivers don’t want to return to Saudi Arabia after missile incident

The second edition of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix It went ahead against all odds, despite the missile that hit a refinery 15 km from the circuit on Friday and the threat of mutiny that the pilots staged, in a tense summit that lasted until 3 in the morning. Finally, their complaints dispersed like smoke from the fire at the facility. aramcoChampionship sponsor. the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his brother Khalid, president of the Saudi Automobile Federation, pushed for a career. After committing to F1 for an agreement of no less than five years, with a canon of between 60 and 100 million, it was not a question of running out of a grand prize.

F1 is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the plan promoted by the country under the slogan ‘Vision 2030’, which seeks to turn its cities into capitals of sport and leisure. For critics of the regime, what he wants is to clean his external image with a check book. And apparently it works. The Dakar Rally and Formula E have long-term contracts and the Saudis want to have a MotoGP Grand Prix in the future as well. Starting in 2025, they hope to have their mega project ready in the capital Riyadh, which they will turn into an international motoring center. There will be located a luxurious complex and the Qiddiya permanent circuit, which will take over from the urban layout of Jeddah Corniche.

economic power

In a world dominated by economic interests, nothing seems to stand in the way of the ambitious plans of the Saudi royal family. And much less a group of pilots who do not even agree when it comes to getting involved in the gestures that their motto ‘We race as one’ asks for. The new president of the FIA, Mohamed Ben Sulayem and that of F1, Stefano Domenicalimanaged to put down the revolt led, they say, by Hamilton, Russell, Stroll, Gasly and Alonso, who wanted to go home after the missile. They were convinced that their safety would be guaranteed. They didn’t need to be reminded of the financial impact the cancellation would have. The teams ‘bought’ this argument, but with the commitment that opening a “transparent discussion & rdquor; about the future of the Grand Prix in Arabia.

“It is good that we race this weekend and that everyone in the paddock is safe. But right now we only think about going home & rdquor ;, said Hamilton. The drivers and team managers insist that they do not draw up the calendar nor do they have a say in the matter, but they suggest that F1 and the FIA ​​are responsible for finding the balance between ethics and the economic factor. A position that collides directly with the reality of the championship: 12 of the last 28 Grand Prix have been held in the Middle East (14 in Europe), nine of them in the Arabian Peninsula.

A ‘social’ mission

“No one can question our morality & rdquor ;, proclaims Stefano Domenicali, who sets out the reasons for closer ties with countries where the rules of the game in terms of human rights, racial or gender discrimination are not respected. The Italian, spokesman for the Liberty group, considers that “what we are doing will have a positive impact at a political level. We must not forget that Saudi Arabia is making a big step forward thanks to sport. The women here couldn’t even drive and now we find them on the grids and in the stands cheering. We play a role in the modernization of the country & rdquor ;.

Jost Capito, Williams’ boss, recalls that “the situation here has been like this for many years. I think there was a missile attack during the Formula E race early last year. The discussion about coming should have taken place before, and now it will be after.” Also the director of Haas Guenther Steiner recognizes that the debate is open: “The FIA ​​and the FOM will discuss it and it will be decided if it is right or wrong to race in this country & rdquor ;.

Andreas Seidl, from McLaren, is closer to Domenicali’s arguments: “I feel comfortable being part of Formula 1 as a global sport, having the opportunity to help bring about positive change in the countries we go to, where there are different cultures. I think we should not back down or close ourselves off from these countries because of the criticism we are receiving & rdquor ;.

a country of youth

Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz is also trying to convey an idea of ​​social change. “We are investing in many sports in the kingdom. 70% of the population is under 40 years old and we need to involve them more. In 2017 we had 32 sports federations, and today we have 92, which shows our great investment in sports, not only in motor Just four years ago, women weren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, so you can see that the development goes much further. It’s about giving young people a chance, about being present in the international arena.” , underlines.

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However, this expanded exposure on the world stage brings increased scrutiny of a traditionally closed country: “Everyone is welcome. We have our culture and our habits, as in any country, and we respect them in every way. We are looking forward to hosting many more events in the future & rdquor; comments Prince Abdulaziz, who recalls that the arrival of Formula E in 2018 prompted the creation of the tourist visa: “Until then it did not exist. In three months, the Ministry of Tourism adopted the system that we put in the sports sector. And today, more than 50 countries have the possibility of having a visa.”

From his perspective, F1 does have a great future in Arabia: “I think we entered at the right time. Formula 1, with the new management, has changed its philosophy about what this competition is. We see them active on social media “We watch the Netflix series, which has attracted a lot of people to racing. This is our focus: to get young people, the next generation, into F1 as fans or into motor racing in general.”

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