The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is at serious risk of being cancelled if the explosion close to the circuit is found to be a missile attack as has been suggested, it has been claimed. Black smoke was seen billowing into the sky from an Aramco oil facility just 13 miles from the track on Friday evening. As the fire raged in the distance during a practice session, Max Verstappen reported smelling burning while in his Red Bull out on track.
There have been suggestions locally that the fire was a result of an attack by Houthi rebels but those reports are very much unconfirmed. An F1 spokesperson said: “We are waiting for further information from the authorities on what has happened.”
The Houthis attacked several sites in Saudi Arabia just days before the Grand Prix with missiles and drones. And Sky Sports’ Craig Slater insists that if the explosion is found to be the result of another missile attack, this weekend’s Formula One race could be called off.
As it stands, there has been no suggestion that the race will not go ahead. Formula One practice and Formula Two qualifying went ahead as normal on Friday evening.
And Slater explained on Sky Sports News: “We haven’t had any official confirmation yet on exactly what this explosion and subsequent fire is or exactly what has caused it. It appears to be at an oil depot near the track and there have been reports that it’s the result of an attack by the Yemeni Houthi rebels.
“Yemen has been involved in a long-running conflict with Saudi Arabia. In the run-up to this Grand Prix, human rights groups told me that they viewed Saudi Arabia’s incursions in Yemen as akin to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is a long-running situation.
“This Grand Prix taking place this weekend came after a rocket attack on Jeddah just four days ago. We’re still waiting on official confirmation that this is what happened and if this is related to a Houthi rebel attack on this oil refinery.
“I’ve been in touch with Formula One and they’re asking us not to speculate on what has caused this. They’re urging caution in giving credibility to these reports that it is an attack. They’re waiting for further information from the authorities to see how they’re going to proceed.
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“For sure the FIA licence this event so if they felt there was a serious concern to regard to those operating in and around the circuit, they could withdraw that licence and possibly close this event down.
“Indeed if it is found to be a rocket attack and a rocket that has landed at that kind of close proximity to such a major sporting event, you would ask yourself: how on earth can this event possibly carry on? That’s what we’re looking to sort out at the moment and actually establish as fact.
“Individual teams, individual companies operating there including ourselves at Sky which has a large presence on the ground, they would have to take a decision on a health and safety basis. Formula One are trying to seek clarification. If it is a rocket attack, certainly this event has to be in jeopardy.”
F1’s second practice session was due to get underway this evening at 5pm UK time but was delayed by 15 minutes after team principals and drivers held a meeting with F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali. The third session is not until 2pm on Saturday, with qualifying following at 5pm the same day. The race is scheduled for 6pm on Sunday.