The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: A Disgrace

Written By Sasha Macmillen, edited by Scar Stewart



An Aramco Oil Depot in Flames in Jeddah on Friday (Image:Reuters)

DISCLAIMER: The following article, specifically the political discussion, is not a criticism of the people of Saudi Arabia, I am merely pointing out the clear political and safety issues associated with the grand prix.


As the chequered flag fell on Sunday night in Jeddah after an enthralling race, the minds of fans across the globe expressed joy at the spectacle they had witnessed. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc’s late tussle provided excellent entertainment, with some near-comical moments too as they squabbled over DRS. This was a needed win for Formula One, after a weekend marred by a number of issues relating to racing in Saudi Arabia, and questions arising concerning the track itself.


The Track


The track raised issues right from it's initial reveal. Most fans were excited, but also concerned about the tight, fast flowing nature of the track, especially with concrete barriers everywhere. Most of the criticism surrounded its lack of overtaking opportunities, but this was quickly overshadowed by its dangerous nature. It is simply inconceivable to have such aggressive barriers alongside flat out sections, where cars travel at speeds upwards of 170mph. Mick Schumacher's violent accident during qualifying on Saturday was unfortunately the necessary warning as to the dangers of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. The lack of visibility around flat-out bends, part of the track's nature, translates to a huge possibility of a multi-car pile-up. Drivers will not see oncoming danger until they arrive at it, when it's too late.



Mick Schumacher's qualifying crash was a warning of the track's danger (Image: Getty Images)

Max Verstappen has been particularly outspoken in his criticism of the circuit, stating: "I guess they have $90 million reasons why", referring to the cash paid to Formula One in exchange for Saudi Arabia hosting a Formula One Grand Prix.


The Politics


Stefano Domenicali's usual response to questions concerning human rights is: "Formula One is here to make a positive impact". The intention may be there, but what power does a sport have over a totalitarian regime? Formula One is simply used as a toy to market Saudi Arabia to hundreds of millions worldwide.

This is marketing a government that has been known to bomb Yemeni civilians, allows capital punishment for minors, and murders opposition journalists. The previously mentioned are not disputed, but facts proven by multiple news outlets and governments. Formula One should never promote or be associated with the actions of a state with such a blatant disregard for human rights, no matter what claims of a positive impact.



There is certainly no shortage of Aramco visibility in F1 (Image: Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images)


As for Formula One's net zero climate campaign, currently set with a target of 2030? One of the sport's main sponsors is Aramco, who also sponsor Aston Martin. Aramco is a state-owned oil company, the biggest in the world, therefore making them one of - if not the biggest polluter. Such a huge promotion of a company closely linked with immoral practices in Saudi Arabia, as well as an obvious carelessness for the developing climate crisis, is utterly unacceptable.


The Safety


The 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix only took 15 minutes of its first practice session to be mired in controversy. Houthi rebels successfully carried out a missile strike on an Aramco oil facility in Jeddah, mere miles from the circuit. The drivers were, at a time, allegedly unanimously agreed on not racing the grand prix, yet had their minds changed by Formula One's higher management and team principals, only after repeated assurances from the Saudi authorities.


The Saudi Arabian missile defence systems were in place to protect any potential attack on the grand prix. But should Formula One seriously consider racing at a venue that requires state of the art technology to keep it safe? Then again, money does make the world go round.



How will Stefano Domenicali respond to rising concerns over racing in Saudi Arabia? (Image: Carl Bingham/Motorsport Images)


The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is certainly not short of controversy. The track layout presents an obvious danger to the drivers and marshals, without any need for it. The politics of Saudi Arabia are a dark stain on Formula One's reputation. Whilst F1's bank balance may continue to rise, thanks to blood-stained oil riches, it continues to sacrifice its integrity as an ambassador for change on the global stage. The short-sightedness of its leadership to analyse this particular event is nothing short of a disgrace. And disgrace is the very word that describes the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

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