JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff believes it is important Formula One shines a “spotlight” on problems in the Middle East after security concerns at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix nearly led F1 drivers to boycott the event.
F1’s 20 drivers considered not racing in Jeddah this weekend after a missile attack on a nearby oil depot on Friday raised concerns about the safety at the venue.
A military spokesperson for Yemen’s Houthis, which have been battling a coalition led by Saudi Arabia for seven years, claimed responsibility for the attack on the facility, which is run by state-owned energy company Aramco.
Team bosses and F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali eventually convinced the drivers to continue to race this weekend, but a number have made it clear that they want to revisit the issue after the event.
When asked if F1 simply had to accept nearby missile strikes as part of the reality of racing in Saudi Arabia, Wolff said: “We just need to understand that this is culturally very different to how we see our western cultures.
“For us, is it acceptable to race 10 miles away from a drone rocket that is going in a petrol tank? Certainly not. But for here, within their culture, these things happen here.
“I don’t want to say that I’m not racing because I am generally someone that wants to give people the chance to better themselves.
“Does Saudi Arabia and some of the other Middle Eastern countries share the same values and culture as we do in Europe? They don’t. Are they where we want them to be? No. Can we by coming here put the spotlight into this place by racing here in Formula One, by making those things visible and therefore making it a better place? I still think so.
“I’d rather come here and make the spotlight shine on the region so it needs to be a better place rather than say I’m not going there and I don’t want to hear anything of it.”
Wolff said he had been convinced by assurances offered by Saudi Arabia’s government about the safety of the event.
“We can only rely on what the government says, and they made it very clear to us that the worst case scenario for them would not be cancelling the race but would be a situation where we would be unsafe and at risk,” he said. “I kind of followed that rational and logic.
“None of the government people nor their families left the place and before most of these attacks were aimed at infrastructure and this is what happened yesterday. Knock on wood, none today.”