July 2, 2022

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Domenicali: It’s F1’s ‘duty’ to continue racing in Saudi Arabia

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Formula One will continue to race in Saudi Arabia despite concerns about safety 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 F1’s 20 drivers after a missile attack by Yemeni Houthis hit an oil depot 6 miles from the circuit on the Friday of the race weekend.

A standoff between drivers and F1’s bosses over the safety of the event dragged on until the early hours of Saturday morning before the drivers were persuaded to go racing.

One condition to continue with the race weekend was that drivers would 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 have taken place, Domenicali has made clear that F1 will remain in Saudi Arabia, arguing that it is the sport’s “duty” to change the country.

“I think that, as we discussed, the country has its own problem to grow, and sport, F1 in general, has the duty to make sure that maximising attention on 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 do politics, but for sure I do believe that the sport will help the country that wants to change its culture. It cannot happen from day to night, to be very important as a change.

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“As F1 we need to do our duty to make sure something of such an importance can happen, and that’s why we stay there. That’s why we do believe that, working together, we can shape a better future in faster time.”

Formula One has a 15-year contract to race in Saudi Arabia worth a reported $65 million per year as well as a sponsorship deal with state-owned oil company Aramco said to be worth up to $40 million per year.

Ahead of the missile attack on Friday, F1 had already received criticism for its decision to race in Saudi Arabia after the recent mass execution of 81 people in the Kingdom.

According to a statement on March 14 by the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, 41 of the executions were Muslims from the Shiite minority in the country who had taken part in anti-government protests in 2011-12, calling for greater political participation.

She also expressed concern that some of the executions were linked to the conflict in Yemen between Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition.

“Our monitoring indicates that some of those executed were sentenced to death following trials that did not meet fair trial and due process guarantees, and for crimes that did not appear to meet the most serious crimes threshold, as required under international law,” Bachelet said.

Ahead of the missile attacks on Friday, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton said he felt uncomfortable racing in the Kingdom due to Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights.

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