(GMM) The smell of oil dollars was mixed with Formula 1 exhaust fumes on Friday after a missile and drone attack on a nearby oil facility operated by race title sponsor Aramco.
Dramatic scenes as emergency F1 meetings convened and re-convened unfolded late into the night in the Saudi capital Jeddah – but ultimately the team bosses announced that the event is “safe”.
“We have been told that our safety is not at risk,” said McLaren’s Andreas Seidl.
Mercedes’ Toto Wolff added: “We team bosses were assured that we are protected here.”
Red Bull’s Christian Horner said: “There are guarantees from the organizers. We will drive.”
And F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali commented: “We all agreed that safety is the first thing, and – no matter what happens – safety is guaranteed to us.”
Some marvelled in horror that, after two years of covid-related safety restrictions and with F1 having axed the Russian GP over the Ukraine situation, the sport could essentially ignore a war on its own doorstep.
“The problem is much deeper,” read an analysis by Germany’s Sport1.
“Autocratic countries transfer millions to Formula 1 to whitewash their image through sport. The amount that Saudi Arabia is paying for its ten-year contract is said to be $900 million.”
Ralf Schumacher, who is understood to be leaving the country, said on Sky Deutschland: “Formula 1 has a long-term contract and doesn’t want to risk it.
“It’s about political influence and a lot of money.”
1996 world champion Damon Hill thinks F1 is “literally playing with fire”, and even before the attacks, Valtteri Bottas was making clear that he didn’t really support the decision to be in Saudi Arabia.
“It almost feels like we don’t really have a choice where we race,” said the Finn. “If we could choose, maybe we would change the calendar a bit.
“I think we end up going to places and trusting Formula 1.”
That trust, though, is now hanging by a thread – and many sections of the media are not playing ball in simply supporting and repeating F1’s ‘safe’ soundbite.
“The credibility of the FIA and F1 evaporated like black smoke into the air and the drivers ate their words about ‘No war’,” Mikko Hyytia, writing for MTV Sport, said.
“It is clear that Aramco, one of F1’s main partners whose distribution center was hit on Friday, pulled the strings very hard behind the scenes.
“But where do you draw the line? Where has F1 taken us in its lust for money?”
The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf noted: “Formula 1 proves again that big money doesn’t always make you happy.”
Regional political expert Sebastian Sons, a scientist at the Bonn research institute CARPO, doubts the Iran-linked rebel groups will actually aim fire at the Jeddah circuit.
But he also thinks F1 has been put at the mercy of Saudi interests, “because Formula 1 is politically extremely important for Saudi Arabia”.
“Formula 1 has to think about whether the staging of a Formula 1 race in such a situation makes basic sense,” he added.