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Saudi Arabian GP continues ‘as planned’ despite attack

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA (AFP) – The Saudi Arabian Formula One (F1) Grand Prix will continue “as planned” despite an attack by Yemeni rebels on an oil facility which set off a huge fire visible from Jeddah’s street circuit.

Flames ripped through the Aramco oil refinery and drivers even smelt the fire during the opening practice run.

Drivers held nearly four hours of meetings with team bosses and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and managing director Ross Brawn into the early hours yesterday on whether to go ahead with the race.

“It’s not for me to say, right now,” was all Britain’s George Russell, representative of the drivers’ union, would say, while several team bosses gave assurances that “We race”.

“Ready and totally focussed for tomorrow’s qualy!” Mexican driver Sergio Perez of Red Bull tweeted after the meetings ended at 2.20am, apparently confirming the decision to race today.

Domenicali had earlier insisted the weekend would continue as planned.

“Formula 1 has been in close contact with the relevant authorities following the situation that took place today,” an F1 spokesman said after the second practice session.

Smoke rises from the burning oil depot in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: AP

“The authorities have confirmed that the event can continue as planned and we will remain in close contact with them and all the teams and closely monitor the situation.”

Domenicali and Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the newly elected president of the sport’s ruling body the International Motoring Federation (FIA), met with drivers and team bosses to try to reassure them.

“We have received total assurance on safety and security here, for the country and for the families,” Domenicali said after this first meeting.

“We have all put safety first to protect this area and the city where we are going,” he said.

“The question is who are these rebels targetting? It is the economic infrastructure not civilians and not this track. We have high level assurance that this is a secure place and nothing is going to happen,” added Ben Sulayem.

World champion Max Verstappen was one of the first drivers to be aware of the drama unfolding while he guided his Red Bull through the first practice session.

“I smell burning – is it my car?” said the Dutchman on his team radio.

The attack was part of a wave of assaults ahead of the seventh anniversary of a coalition’s military intervention against the Huthis in Yemen, a country in the grips of a major humanitarian crisis.

The coalition fighting the rebels confirmed the Jeddah oil plant attack.

“They are trying to impact the nerve-centre of the world economy,” the coalition said in a statement.

“These attacks have no impact on life in Jeddah,” it added.

Early yesterday, the coalition said it had carried out retaliatory strikes against Yemen’s Sanaa and Hodeida.

Meanwhile, on the track, Charles Leclerc topped the final practice times for Ferrari ahead
of Verstappen.

The 24-year-old Monegasque driver and early-season leader of the embryonic championship clocked a best lap in one minute and 30.074 to outpace the Dutchman by nearly two-tenths.

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