Lewis Hamilton led driver protest during heated F1 meeting over Saudi Arabia’s Grand Prix safety issues



JEDDAH – Formula 1 woke up Saturday morning somewhere else. The events the night beforewithout precedent in the sport, left in their wake a feeling of unrest, even rupture.

Assurances about the safety of drivers and Formula 1 personnel following a missile attack on a nearby oil rig during the weekend’s first training session did not convince the drivers, some of whom are said to be in open revolt during a four-hour meeting. to pacify them.

A statement from the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA) betrayed only a few of the emotions and concerns that erupted. Some drivers, allegedly incl Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen, expressed their disagreement, saying it was unsafe and irresponsible to continue. It is understood that the drivers felt bullied by the F1 hierarchy and that the consequences were threatened if they did not fulfill the obligation to drive.

Their unrest was shared elsewhere. The infidelity that the organizers would put the demand to race over the safety and well-being of all involved characterized the fold. Friday’s terrorist attack was claimed by the same Houthi rebels who sent a missile into another Jeddah target six days before. The Saudi hosts insisted that, based on intelligence from the security services, there was no risk to the Corniche Circuit site.

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With a war raging for more than six years 500 miles south of Yemen, it was understandable that the demonstrable ability of a rebel terrorist group to carry out missile strikes on real estate in Jeddah had greater weight among the drivers than abstract promises from hosts . Not to worry. Germany’s Sky media team was actually offered the chance to leave the country. Some accepted.

That the show continues against the will of some is deeply worrying for the sport and must raise doubts about the future of the grand prix in Saudi Arabia. To race in a country with a condemnatory human rights record was always a risk, but F1 sold the idea to its stakeholders on the grounds that grand prix racing may be an engine for change. For the privilege of influencing social and political transformation, F1 is paid £ 50 million a year by the hosts. They apparently did not take into account the threat of missile attacks during race weekends.

The significance of the race for the hosts is obvious. To cancel would be to lose face and credibility. The whole point is to project a sense of normality and equivalence. Saudi Arabia, like any other country where cars are driven, is safe, secure and civilized. The missile attack ten miles east of the orbit told a different story, not to mention an execution number of 100 in the month of March alone.

The leaders of the F1 families reiterated the same message of diversity, inclusion, duty, the importance of doing good work and bringing positive change to the region. GPDA fell behind the message with this statement.

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“Yesterday was a difficult day for Formula 1 and a stressful day for us Formula 1 drivers,” said the GPDA.

“Maybe it’s hard to understand if you’ve never driven an F1 car on this fast and challenging Jeddah track, but when you saw the smoke from the incident, it was hard to remain a fully focused racing driver and erase natural human worries.

“A wide range of opinions were divided and debated, and after listening not only to the Formula 1 powers but also to the Saudi government ministers explaining how the security measures were raised to the maximum, the result was a decision that we would practice “and qualify today and run tomorrow. We therefore hope that the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix in 2022 will be remembered as a good race rather than the event that took place yesterday.”

It took four hours to reach that conclusion. And the parts that were left out, and expressed real concern, spoke louder than the choreographed feeling that was left. It all felt a bit on message, like an account on social media in the name of one football player written by another.

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