F1 chiefs may reconsider staging Saudi GP now we are safely out of there with cheques cashed

I HAVE filed reports from a number of strange places.

I once sent in a story while sat on the floor of M&S in London Bridge — plugged into a socket to power up my dead laptop.

The missile attack just six miles from the Jeddah F1 circuit ensured tensions were running high in the F1 family last weekend

The missile attack just six miles from the Jeddah F1 circuit ensured tensions were running high in the F1 family last weekendCredit: AFP

But until Friday in Saudi Arabia, I’d never filed from a war zone.

Too much of an exaggeration? I don’t think so.

The missile attack on the Aramco fuel depot by the rebel Houthis was too close for comfort at just six miles away from the F1 track.

Even with a three-day armistice proposed from the Iran-backed Yemeni group, I didn’t feel especially comfortable in Jeddah given the almost daily exchange of missiles.

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As a result I decided not to go on the grid before the race for my safety.

After all, would you really trust someone who had been lobbing missiles into your back garden for the past eight years not to throw just one more when you were least expecting it?

The huge plumes of smoke that drifted out of the giant oil container signalled the start of a seminal moment for F1.

Finally, the sport’s owners were forced to listen to those who can make the difference as to where it races — the drivers, who threatened a boycott.

The race is a perfect example of Saudi’s desire to use sport as a vehicle to peddle their narrative. Only this time it backfired.

Part of Saudi’s ‘2030 Vision’ is to turn the country into a tourist destination, with billions being spent on creating mega cities to rival the likes of Dubai.

Holding sporting events is key to creating the image of a must-visit place, particularly it seems with motorsport.

The Dakar Rally is now in Saudi, as is Formula E, Extreme E and F1.

In fairness, the people in Jeddah have been incredibly welcoming and a visit to the old town is well worth it if you happen to be there.

But no matter how much they spend, images of a burning refinery in the background of an F1 race will always trump the travel brochures.

I can assure you, the threat of a boycott from the drivers was very real.

Initially the fear was over safety and then came the bigger issue — the fact F1 was in Saudi Arabia in the first place.

Of course we know the reason why F1 goes there — about 55 million of them if we are to believe reports into just how much the Saudis pay to host the race.

There is also the sponsorship deal of the state-owned Aramco oil company, who pour another £40million into the sport.

The smoke billowed into the sky following the attack, clearly visible to F1 drivers just six miles away on the track

The smoke billowed into the sky following the attack, clearly visible to F1 drivers just six miles away on the trackCredit: Reuters

Remember, F1 is a business, which probably explains why chief exec Stefano Domenicali said what he did on the eve of race day.

Amid all the calls for cancelling the race, somewhat bewilderingly he said: “We are not blind but we mustn’t forget one thing: and that is this country and the sport in which we believe is making a massive step forward.

“Don’t forget a couple of years ago women couldn’t drive. Now they are here on the grid.

“I do believe we are playing a very important role in the modernisation of this country. We are focused on making this the centre of our agenda.”

Of course, he was speaking before the race and, more importantly, after the cheque had been cashed.

But it felt that even he didn’t really believe the words that were coming out.

Persuading the drivers to go ahead and race was simply a case of kicking the can down the road.

However, let’s see what happens next to this race — now we are safely out of Saudi airspace.

I suspect it will be a different story.

ARTEM’S OK WITH STANCE

RUSSIAN speedway world champ Artem Laguta has no regrets over criticising the invasion of Ukraine, despite being stripped of his Motorcycle Federation of Russia licence.

The 31-year-old is now effectively rendered stateless after Polish authorities were also unwilling to let him race on a PZM licence in league racing in 2022.

The sport’s governing body, the FIM, have also stopped him and fellow Russian Emil Sayfutdinov from racing in the Grand Prix World Championship series this year.

Laguta said: “I have not hurt anyone in my daily life, much less on the track. I have always tried to help people and be a good person.

“I feel as if I started this war. I am Russian but I haven’t done anything to anyone and I have no influence over what is happening.

“These are the hardest days in our lives. I hope that peace will come again.”

IT’S GOOD MEETING

CAN’T make it to Melbourne? Or the Rome ePrix? Or the MotoGP in Austin?

Then why not head to Goodwood for your motor-racing fix on April 9-10.

For their 79th Members’ Meeting they are celebrating the ear-splitting V10 F1 cars with demonstrations of the McLaren MP4/6, Benetton B193, Ferrari F310 and also the Williams-Renault FW18s.

The spectacular Gordon Murray Automotive T.50 will also serve as the course car for the V10 F1 demonstration.

SIGNED BOTTLES ARE GLASS ACT

FERRARI TRENTO, who provide the fizz on the F1 podium, are now auctioning off signed bottles of bubbly in aid of the Red Cross’ work in war-torn Ukraine.

One-of-a-kind bottles — like the F1 Podium Jeroboam — will be up for grabs as of the Australian Grand Prix next month and will be available at the F1 Authentics website.

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