Copy of 934601-01-02-1648280267264
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen attends the presser ahead of the 2022 Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Image Credit: AFP

Jeddah: Formula One appeared on schedule to race tomorrow at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after nearly four hours of meetings over attacks on the kingdom by Yemen’s Houthis rebels.

The 20 drivers on the grid met several times Friday in talks that stretched well past 2 a.m. at the track discussing safety concerns after an attack on an oil depot located about 11 kilometers (seven miles) from the F1 circuit.

The Houthis rebels acknowledged the attacks and Saudi Arabia state TV called it a “hostile operation.” The Jiddah oil depot erupted in flames when attacked during Friday’s first practice session. It caused a raging fire that rattled the drivers enough to hold extraordinary talks regarding F1’s presence in Saudi Arabia.

Many drivers expressed their concerns about racing in the region and Saudi Arabia’s human rights records when F1 ran its inaugural event at the circuit last December. Now back at the track a little over three months later, tensions are heightened amidst the attacks.

There was no immediate statement from F1 or the FIA, the governing body, but also no indication tomorrow’s race would be canceled. Conversations between drivers, team principals and F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali centered on safety and security conditions.

Friday’s second practice was delayed 15 minutes because of an earlier driver meeting that included Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the newly-elected FIA president.

Third practice today

Race promoter Saudi Motorsport Company said earlier Friday that the weekend schedule had not been changed and a third practice and qualifying were still slated for today. Drivers were only leaving the track mere hours before they were due to return.

“We are aware of the attack on the Aramco distribution station in Jeddah earlier this afternoon and remain in direct contact with the Saudi authorities,” the SMC said in a statement. “The race weekend schedule will continue as planned. The safety and security of all our guests continues to be our main priority and we look forward to welcoming fans for a weekend of premium racing and entertainment.”

Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari driver who won last week’s season-opening race in Bahrain, led both practice sessions. Drivers had seemed unaffected by the nearby explosions during first practice, but soon began a series of meetings to determine the fate of the race.