” F1’s Jeddah track equipped with ‘iron shield’ after 2022 missile strike to assure driver safety in Saudi Arabia”
FORMULA ONE returns to Saudi Arabia this week.
It was the scene of one of its most difficult political struggles in decades – but there is unlikely to be a repeat this time around.
Last year a missile strike hit a fuel depot located near the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix trackCredit: Splash
Security has been beefed up after a Yemini terrorst group took responsibility for the attackCredit: The Mega Agency
The issue was not with F1 or the rulers of the Kingdom and their controversial regime but in fact the drivers, who you may remember had threatened to strike on the eve of last year’s GP.
It followed a missile strike on a nearby fuel depot that sent black smoke into the skies near the Jeddah Corniche Circuit and subsequently clouded the race’s future on the F1 schedule.
After over four hours of talks, the drivers were persuaded to race after being assured of their safety, but the security – plus Saudi’s questionable human rights record – had unified the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association like never before.
They left Jeddah last March seeking further discussions with F1 but that is where the trail went cold – only it didn’t.
The organisers of the Saudi GP have since made considerable efforts to speak to the drivers to address the issues they had raised.
Away from the cameras, there were meetings in Austria, plus a follow up discussion in Singapore. In fact, the dialogue still continues.
Of course, the situation is different this time around. There is a truce between the Saudis and Yemen, whose Houthis group had claimed responsibility for the drone attack on the fuel depot.
Last month, Saudi Arabia transferred $1billion into the central bank of Yemen’s internationally recognised government in a bid to bolster the country’s ailing economy.
But that has not stopped organisers from upping security for this weekend’s race. As you would expect from any event, security has been upscaled.
There will be an increased visible presence – more guards, security sweeps and CCTV.
And then there are the measures that aren’t visible. The embarrassment of last year’s attack is likely to see the full focus of the county’s “iron shield” protection system drawn to Jeddah.
That’s the anti-missile defence system responsible for shooting down unmanned drones, which are used in attacks or to cause significant disruption.
Then there are the social issues that have been raised. They too are likely to be addressed.
I expect to see boys and girls on the grid. Like in previous races, the grandstands will not be segregated.
Schoolchildren have all been given the day off school in the hope they attend or watch the race.
From my understanding, their decision to meet with the drivers – plus their explanations – have been well received.
Whether you like it or not, the Saudis are serious about their involvement in F1 and the race will be remaining on the calendar for some time.
Ron way or another
Cristiano Ronaldo attended Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury in Saudi Arabia and could be at the Grand Prix nextCredit: AP
I AM not too sure if Cristiano Ronaldo is an F1 fan or not.
But I have been told that he is likely to be at the Saudi GP this Sunday.
Ronaldo, who plays for Saudi side Al Nassr, is likely to be requested to attend with one paddock source saying it is within his £170million-a-year contract to attend.
Hungarian GP future
COULD the Hungarian F1 GP find a new home in the future?
A new FIA Grade One track is being built near Lake Balaton, a one-hour drive from Budapest.
The Hungaroring has held the F1 GP since 1986.
Brazil welcomes Formula E
FORMULA E is gearing up for its first race in Brazil, with the race set in Sao Paulo around the wonderfully-named Sambadrome.
A crowd of 35,000 is expected as the all-electric series returns to South America on March 25.
Vill yer boots
VILLA PARK will host the opening round of this year’s World Supercross Championship on July 1.
Aston Villa’s pitch will be turned into a “dirt bike battlefield” with jumps and bumps.
Last year, 35,000 watched the event, which was held at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium and bosses are hoping for similar figures in Birmingham.
Ready to rumble
THIS year’s MotoGP championship is shaping up to be a close-fought contest if pre-season testing is anything to go by.
Incredibly, 12 riders broke the track record of the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve with reigning Champion Francesco Bagnaia setting the pace.
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