MARCH 28, 2022

Ralf shocked over F1 CEO's Saudi stance

Stefano Domenicali has issued a strident defence of Formula 1's controversial decision to race on in Saudi Arabia after the events of Friday.

Yuki Tsunoda, Saudi Arabian GP 2022
© Red Bull

Stefano Domenicali has issued a strident defence of Formula 1's controversial decision to race on in Saudi Arabia after the events of Friday.

Within mere kilometres of the Jeddah street circuit, Iran-backed rebels attacked Saudi oil interests with drones and missiles, prompting emergency meetings for the F1 circus and a near-boycott from the drivers.

Some concluded that F1 ultimately decided to bank its Saudi millions rather than prioritise basic security for the sport's 2000-strong circus.

"We have to remain rational, put aside the emotions and gather as much information as possible. We did that on Friday," Domenicali said on Sunday when asked about the criticism."

"Our first priority is the safety of our people. When we had the assurance from the local authorities that it was under control, we informed the teams and drivers."

Domenicali also rejected claims of hypocrisy, insisting that comparing the Jeddah situation with Russia's permanent race contract axe is wrong.

"Does a terrorist attack mean that a country is at war?" the Italian hit back.

"We are not blind, but I don't think that's the right point of view. Honestly, no one can judge our morality. Where is the line, that's what the question is.

"Our position, and it always will be, is that we believe we have a positive impact on the political situation as a whole. But we cannot change culture in the blink of an eye.

"So while yes, there are clearly things that need to improve, I think we play an important role in modernising the country."

When asked if there are now 'question marks' about Saudi Arabia's long and lucrative F1 deal, though, Domenicali answered: "Question marks is not the right word.

"But we do need to investigate and understand the situation as best we can."

As for the threats of a driver boycott, and claims the drivers' body was coerced into toeing the line, the Italian insisted: "We discussed everything in a transparent way and then the decision was made to race."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff firmly backed the F1 CEO.

"I like to go to Tel Aviv," the Austrian revealed. "When you are there for a long time, you quickly get used to situations when drones fly everywhere - and this happens in both directions.

"To the best of my knowledge, there have been no attacks on Saudi Arabia for a long time that resulted in civilian casualties, so we just need to understand that this is culturally very different from what we are used to in terms of our Western cultural values.

"Is it acceptable for us to race 10 miles from where the missile attack was? Of course not," Wolff admitted. "But here, within their culture, this often happens.

"Can we change the situation in this country for the better? I still think so."

Former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher, though - who made headlines for fleeing Saudi Arabia after Friday's events - was scathing of Domenicali's attitude.

"I'm a bit shocked," said the German.

"I think Stefano takes it a bit too lightly and explains it too simply," Schumacher added.

"I think Formula 1 should make a clear statement - we don't drive in a country that's at war. And unfortunately that's the case there."