The second round of the season sees Formula 1 head to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix over the last 15 months.
Last year’s race saw a thrilling fight for victory between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. But the weekend was tainted by some serious accidents and a major security concern that briefly brought the race itself into question.
This year, the prospects of another close battle for the win seems less likely, while the circuit itself has received some key modifications in a bid to improve safety. What kind of a race weekend awaits in Saudi Arabia?
Last year’s race weekend in Saudi Arabia was demonstrated how international sport can never be divorced from the realities of geopolitics, no matter how much money is involved.
During the opening Friday practice session, the Jeddah skyline was conspicuously tainted by a rising plume of dark smoke in the distance. Ten kilometres away from the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, a missile had exploded at the North Jeddah Bulk Plant, causing the fire responsible for the smoke. The FIA later confirmed that “Yemeni rebel group Houthi” had “claimed responsibility” for the attack.
The attack brought the security of the race weekend into immediate question. Race organisers assured that the security of drivers, teams, fans and all visitors to the venue was guaranteed for the remainder of the weekend, while Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem jointly stated they were satisfied that the event would be able to go ahead without further concern. However, drivers were not entirely convinced and an extraordinary meeting of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association was held in the paddock long into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Eventually, the drivers agreed to race. Chairman Alexander Wurz issued a statement on drivers’ behalf, explaining the group had expressed “natural human concerns” over the attack so close to the circuit.
“A large variety of opinions were shared and debated and, having listened not only to the Formula 1 powers but also to the Saudi government ministers who explained how security measures were being elevated to the maximum, the outcome was a resolution that we would practice and qualify today and race tomorrow,” Wurz stated.
Saturday and Sunday both came and went without further security concerns,…
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