F1 under attack: Lewis Hamilton calls for the Saudi Grand Prix to be called off but organisers insist it WILL go ahead… despite Yemeni terrorists attacking an oil depot that led to Max Verstappen thinking his Red Bull car was on fire
Max Verstappen asked if his car was on fire after a blaze broke out near Jeddah
Smoke clouded the track, said to be from an Aramco oil depot, 12 miles away
The fire comes only days after an attack on an oil depot in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Red Bull star Verstappen smelt smoke and questioned his team about the odour
Second practice began at 8.15pm after a delay due to an emergency meeting
F1 organisers have since confirmed that Sunday’s race will go ahead as planned
Lewis Hamilton campaigned for the £50million Saudi Arabia Grand Prix to be called off on Friday night after Yemen’s Houthi rebels landed a missile on an oil refinery 12 miles outside the track.
The drivers were locked in a three-and-a-half meeting in the paddock, breaking up at 2.30am local time, discussing whether the race at Jeddah should go ahead on Sunday.
They invited in Stefano Domenicali, F1’s chief executive, for some of the time and Hamilton sat on a desk arguing his point.
Later, the team principals were called in to speak to Domenicali, with Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell representing the GPDA position.
But when that further gathering left the paddock, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirmed: ‘We’ll be racing.’
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff left minutes later and used the exact same phrase.
Lewis Hamilton campaigned for the £50million Saudi Arabia Grand Prix to be called off
Max Verstappen asked if his Formula One car was on fire after smelling smoke from a big blaze just 12 miles from the Jeddah circuit in Friday practice ahead of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
The fire was at an Aramco oil depot near Jeddah – Yemeni terrorists have claimed they launched a missile strike, causing the blaze – and comes days after another depot was attacked
World champion Verstappen said he smelt a ‘burning feeling’ as smoke billowed over the track
The 24-year-old Dutchman was assured by engineer Gianpiero Lambiase that it was not his car
Missiles arrived at Formula One’s front door on Friday as smoke billowed out across the Jeddah circuit during practice. A giant plume of dark smoke filled the air at about 5.45pm as the attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels hit its target.
World champion Max Verstappen reported to his Red Bull team over the radio as first practice drew towards a close: ‘I smell a bit of burning. I am not sure if it is my car, or another car.’
Earlier in the evening, Domenicali insisted they would not cancel the lucrative race.
After the second of two crisis meetings finished at 10.40pm local time, the Italian said: ‘We’ve had a discussion with the drivers and team principals together with the Saudi authorities and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the president of the FIA, and the governor of Jeddah.
‘We have received total assurance that the country’s safety is first. No matter the situation, safety has to be guaranteed.
‘They are here with their families, actually here at the track, so they have in place the systems to protect this area, the city and the places where we are going. So we feel confident to trust the local authorities in that respect and, therefore, we will go ahead with the event.’
But Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion who is working for Sky, said: ‘How incongruous is this? Nothing to be alarmed about. Race on. Will be interesting to see how this is dealt with. F1 is literally playing with fire.’
Black smoke from the explosion was seen at the F1 track behind cars during practice on Friday
The GP will happen on Sunday as organisers confirmed the race would take place as planned
Bizarrely, the drivers’ media sessions after practice were dropped. F1 insisted it was at the behest of the teams because time was getting on. It was an unprecedented move and one that, intentionally or not, prevented the star performers from calling for the race to be canned.
Sportsmail understands the drivers were divided on the best course of action.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said earlier on: ‘It was a good meeting. We have been assured that we are protected here and it’s probably the safest place you can be in Saudi Arabia and we are racing.’ Asked if it was a unanimous decision, Wolff added, tellingly: ‘Between the team principals, yes.’
F1 has a 15-year deal with Saudi worth an annual £50m hosting fee, an arrangement only eclipsed by Qatar’s even greater extravagance.
Jenson Button, world champion in 2009 and here with Sky, said: ‘The attack sounds like it is on their oil reserves which is nothing to do with us. But, of course, it is unsettling, especially for the families of people who are here in the paddock. So I am hoping for once my wife isn’t watching.’
The fuel depot was also attacked on Sunday, in response to Saudi Arabia leading a coalition battling the Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital of Sanaa in 2014. Saudi has been internationally condemned for airstrikes that have killed scores of civilians.
Soon after the bombing a statement from the Saudi Motorsport Company read: ‘The race weekend scheduled will continue as planned. The safety and security of all our guests continues to be our main priority.’
The last race to be cancelled was the Australian Grand Prix in 2020.
As for practice, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished both sessions on top, ahead of Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton was ninth and fifth.