JEDDAH (Reuters) – Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will go ahead after teams received safety assurances and drivers met for more than four hours following attacks on an oil facility near the Jeddah street circuit on Friday.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis said they launched attacks on Saudi energy facilities and the Saudi-led coalition said state-owned oil giant Aramco’s petroleum products distribution station was hit, causing a fire in two tanks but no casualties..
“We have received total assurance that the country’s safety is first,” Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali told reporters after a meeting with drivers, teams and local authorities.
He said senior Saudi figures were also at the track with their families.
“So they have in place all the systems to protect this area, the city, the places where we are going. So we feel confident and we have to trust the local authority in that respect,” added the Italian.
The president of the sport’s governing FIA, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, speaking alongside Domenicali, said the attacks had targeted economic infrastructure and not civilians.
“We have the assurance from a high level that this is a secure place, the whole thing will be secure and let’s go on racing,” he said.
The first indication of the attack came when a huge plume of black smoke rose over Jeddah to the east of the track as cars went around the street circuit during Friday’s first practice, which went ahead as planned.
A subsequent qualifying session for feeder series Formula 2 also went ahead on schedule.
But the start of the second session of F1 practice was delayed by 15 minutes as teams and drivers were called in to meet with Domenicali.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said teams had unanimously agreed that the race should go ahead.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said the sport had to stand together.
“Any act of terrorism cannot be condoned,” the Briton told Sky Sports F1. “The sport shouldn’t be bullied into a position and a situation like that just isn’t acceptable.”
The drivers’ meeting at the track ended at around 0230 local time on Saturday with Mercedes’ George Russell then heading to race control.
“We’ll be racing,” Horner assured reporters.
The Iran-aligned Houthi movement has been battling a coalition led by Saudi Arabia for seven years.
The group had fired missiles and drones at Saudi energy and water desalination facilities last Sunday, the energy ministry and state media said.
In December, an explosion went off under a French vehicle involved in the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
French prosecutors have opened an investigation into the incident with a source telling Reuters in February that investigators had found traces of explosives in the wrecked vehicle.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said that an initial investigation into the blast had not raised any criminal suspicions.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Toby Davis, Ken Ferris and Sam Holmes)