Tension Rules the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Weekend on and off-Track
Poleman Sergio Perez and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme. F1 Saudi Arabia GP; Jeddah Corniche Circuit, March 26, 2022. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images).

The second edition of the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will go ahead as planned, despite security concerns following an attack on an oil facility close to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Friday. On Saturday, qualifying stole all of the lights.

Early on Saturday, ahead of the third free practice session, the FIA and Formula 1 released a statement asserting that “following discussions with all the teams and drivers, the 2022 FIA Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will continue as scheduled.”

Following the widely reported incident that took place in Jeddah on Friday, there has been extensive discussion between stakeholders, the Saudi government authorities, and security agencies who have given full and detailed assurances that the event is secure.”

On Saturday, final practice and qualifying resumed, back to on-track action.

Seven-time world champion MercedesLewis Hamilton knocked out in Q1 for the first time since the Brazilian GP in 2017 was the first surprise of an action-packed qualifying session.

Furthermore, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi brought about the first red flag of the session in Q1 as he crashed at Turn 13.

I’m fine. Yes, fully checked out at the medical center, all good, no issues for me. But it was strange; I just seemed to lose the rear under braking. First time I had that limitation all weekend. Very strange, I have to understand why,” Latifi outlined.

During Q2, Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher hit hard against the concrete wall at Turn 12, causing a second red flag; the rest of the cars headed back to the pits.

He was removed from the car conscious and immediately taken to the medical center in an ambulance.

As soon as the team informed that the driver “appears physically fine” but is “likely to be taken to hospital for a precautionary scan,” there was relief in the paddock as there was no question he had experienced a heavy shunt.

Minutes later, the FIA officially reported about the incident: “Assessment at the Medical Centre revealed no injuries, and he has been transferred to King Fahad Armed Forces Hospital, in Jeddah, for precautionary checks.”

The session would resume with four minutes remaining for drivers to attempt to qualify into Q3.

Oracle Red Bull Racing Sergio Perez, 32, took his maiden pole position in Formula One under the floodlights, setting a flying lap (1:28.220s).

In his on-track interview, “Checo” said: “It took me a couple of races! But what a lap man, it was unbelievable!”

He leads Scuderia Ferrari pairing with Charles Leclerc in second place - only 0.025s behind, and Carlos Sainz in third, who will share the second row with Perez teammate and defending champion Max Verstappen who qualified in fourth place.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon rounds up the top 5 ahead of Sunday’s race.

AN ALARMING FRIDAY AS IT HAPPENED

On Friday, Formula One began its racing weekend in Jeddah as usual, with the first free practice session of the day, topped by Bahrain GP winner Leclerc.

Ahead of the second practice session, a cloud of dark smoke - a result from the fire emerging from the Aramco oil refinery, sited only 10 kilometers from the track, was visible from Jeddah’s street circuit.

The fire caused by an attack by Yemeni rebels on the oil storage facility was reported by several news agencies around the globe.

Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, stating: “We did several attacks with drones and ballistic missiles in Saudi Arabia, including an Aramco installation in Jeddah (and) vital installations in Riyadh.”

Meanwhile, at the F1 paddock, an emergency meeting was held to address the incident between race organizers and Formula One management, resulting in FP2 being delayed by 15 minutes.

Afterward, Formula One issued an official statement, stressing: “Formula 1 has been in close contact with the relevant authorities following the situation, which took place today. The authorities have confirmed that the event can continue as planned, and we will remain in close contact with them and all the teams and closely monitor the situation.”

Action resumed on track, hoping safety is the primary concern under such unusual circumstances around racing.

Before hitting the wall at Turn 4 with his Ferrari F1-75, Leclerc set the fastest time in FP2 ahead of Verstappen.

Once the session finished, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem updated Team Principals during a meeting that lastest 40 minutes, concluding the race weekend could go ahead safely.

Speaking to the media, Domenicali remarked: “We have received total assurances that, for the country, safety is first no matter the situation - safety has to be guaranteed.”

On Friday night, drivers reunited for nearly four hours, holding further talks, to discuss whether to continue to race would be the right decision to take.

Saturday morning, the GPDA F1 driver’s association released an official statement through its Chairman, Alex Wurz.

Yesterday was a difficult day for Formula One and a stressful day for us drivers. On seeing the smoke from the incident, it was difficult to remain a fully focused race driver and erase natural human concerns.”

Consequently, we went into long discussions between ourselves, our team principals, and with the most senior people who run our sport. A large variety of opinions were shared and debated.”

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.”

Scuderia Ferrari’s Team Principal Mattia Binotto also commented on the tense situation experienced Friday night: “Certainly, [the drivers] were concerned. It’s not normal facts happening just close to the circuit.”

Adding: “I think they are still concerned, but they are listening to the assurance that we give them, the understanding of the importance, to stay here and somehow try to race because it’s the best choice we can do.”

On a further note, AFP News Agency informed that Yemen rebels had announced a three-day ceasefire after the Saudi attacks, citing a spokesman.

Following an update, the AFP reported Huthi political leader, Mahdi al-Mashat, had announced the rebel group’s “readiness to turn this declaration into a final and permanent commitment.”

The Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will run at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on Sunday.

Cecilia demartini
Sports Pundit staff writer @ceci_2812
Cecilia is a writer and journalist, passionate about motorsport and tennis.Her articles are published in newspapers and international online publications.

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