F1 chief says no plans to abandon Saudi Arabian GP

Formula One will continue to hold the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix despite an attack on an oil storage facility near the track prior to last weekend's race and criticism of the nation's human right record, CEO Stefano Domenicali told Reuters. The attack by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi group cast doubts on whether Sunday's race in Jeddah would go forward but after discussions, F1 and the drivers decided collectively to carry on having received security assurances from Saudi authorities. "Yes, it's part of the calendar," Domenicali said when asked whether F1 would be back in Saudi Arabia for the third edition of the grand prix next year. He added that the decision came from the sport's leadership with input from drivers and others. "It is part of our job to make sure that we talk with all the stakeholders. Relevance is absolutely important for us as is open dialogue. But in terms of who is responsible for the commercialisation of the business, that's the entity that I represent." Saudi Arabia has signed a 15-year deal to host a race, with the fees contributing significantly to the bottom line for Formula One's owners Liberty Media. The grand prix also reflects the Middle East's growing profile and influence within the sport, with state-owned energy giant Aramco a major F1 sponsor and joint title partner of the Aston Martin team. Saudi Arabia has come under international scrutiny for its record on human rights, especially following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. A US intelligence report released just over a year ago said Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi, but the Saudi government denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejected the report's findings. Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws. Domenicali said F1 can act as a force for change in the region. "We always talk about the fact that Formula One and sport puts a spotlight on the positivity," he said. "Our lens on every place we go gives an extra responsibility in the areas where they are trying to progress. And Formula One will make sure that will happen in a faster time." He said the make up of the crowd at Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix supported his case. "If you were there last weekend, you could understand what I mean. The younger generation, women attending, kids," he said. "Don't forget that a couple of years ago, they were not able go out."

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