JEDDAH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian authorities would have called off the Gulf kingdom’s Formula One race if there had been any security threat to the event after an attack by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on an oil storage facility near the track in Jeddah, the country’s sports minister said.
The Houthi group on Friday said it had launched attacks on Saudi energy facilities.
One of the targets was a petroleum products distribution station owned by state-run oil giant Aramco located about 10km to the east of the track.
The strike, which followed similar attacks last Sunday, raised questions about whether the race should go ahead.
But F1 and local organisers said the grand prix would be held as planned.
“If there is a threat, then rest assured we will cancel the race, but there is no threat and that’s what we discussed with everyone,” Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal told reporters on Saturday.
“Of course, the security and safety for everyone is a bigger issue than just hosting a race, even if it is the size of Formula One, so the security of the city, the security of the kingdom is the top priority.”
Saudi state media on Saturday said fires at two storage tanks at the Jeddah facility, smoke from which was visible from the race track, had been extinguished.
The Houthi group has since said it was suspending missile and drone strikes for three days.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said on Friday the sport had been given safety assurances.
The fact that senior Saudi figures and their families were at the track further underscored the security of the event, he added.
Drivers, who considered a boycott during a four-hour meeting, said in a statement on Saturday that authorities had assured them security was being ramped up to maximum.
But no details of the measures taken were given.
“I really don’t have any details, I am not one of the security agencies,” said Prince Al-Faisal.
“…if I had I would share them and I’m sure they don’t share the details of these things because you know it’s going to go out.
“But for sure, there are communications between Formula One and our security agencies to ensure that everyone’s security is number one priority and we link that together with them.”
Formula One has a 15-year contract with Saudi Arabia, and the race is set to move to Qiddiya, a planned entertainment resort about an hour’s drive from capital Riyadh, in the future.
Drivers and team principals have called for discussions following Sunday’s race.
“Whatever they want, we are here to host Formula One as best as it can anywhere in the world,” said Prince Al-Faisal.
“So we will definitely have an open discussion with them to see what their feedback is to discuss with them and what their concerns are about, so we will show them everything.”
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Ed Osmond)