Formula 1 will continue to race in Saudi Arabia despite concerns over security and human rights in the country, the sport’s CEO Stefano Domenicali has said.
Last weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was nearly boycotted by all 20 F1 drivers after a missile attack by Yemeni Houthis hit an oil depot six miles from the circuit on the Friday before the weekend race.
A standoff between drivers and F1 bosses over event security dragged on into the early hours of Saturday morning before the drivers were convinced to race.
One of the conditions for continuing the race weekend was for the drivers to be included in discussions about the safety and future of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix going forward.
However, just three days after F1 left Saudi Arabia and before those talks took place, Domenicali made it clear that F1 would stay in Saudi Arabia, arguing it was the sport’s ‘duty’ to change. the country.
“I think, as we discussed, the country has its own problem to develop, and the sport, F1 in general, has a duty to ensure that maximizing attention to what is happening, is happening in the right direction,” Domenicali told SportsCenter. at the announcement of a new F1 race in Las Vegas next year.
“We don’t want to play politics, but I’m sure sport will help the country that wants to change its culture. It can’t happen overnight, be very important as a change.
“As F1 we have to do our duty to make sure something of such significance can happen, and that’s why we’re sticking with it. That’s why we believe that by working together we can shape a better future sooner.”
Formula 1 has a 15-year contract to race in Saudi Arabia worth $65m a year, as well as a sponsorship deal with state oil company Aramco which could be worth up to $40m per year.
Prior to last Friday’s missile attack, F1 had already been criticized for its decision to race in Saudi Arabia following the recent mass execution of 81 people in the Kingdom.
According to a March 14 statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, 41 of the executions were of Muslims from the country’s Shia minority who took part in anti-government protests in 2011-2012, calling for greater political participation.
She also expressed concern that some of the executions were linked to the conflict in Yemen between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition.
“Our monitoring indicates that some of those executed were sentenced to death after trials that failed to respect fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to reach the threshold of the most serious crimes, as required by international law,” Bachelet said. .
Ahead of the missile attacks last Friday, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he felt uncomfortable racing in the Kingdom because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.