Last weekend, Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal appeared at the Singapore Grand Prix to deliver an update on security improvements for the next Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. This year’s edition of the race was overshadowed by a missile attack on a nearby Aramco oil refinery. After the incident, Formula 1’s drivers had to be convinced to race that weekend after a four-and-a-half-hour long meeting in the paddock.
Prince Abdulaziz reiterated that he and other race organizers are working with Formula 1 to address the concerns of the championship, teams and drivers. Saudi Arabian Grand Prix officials have met individually with all of F1’s teams and drivers over the past few months. Reuters reports that the sports minister mentioned Formula 1's high profile makes security concerns a new reality for F1 at every Grand Prix, citing climate protesters in Britain or mass shootings in the United States as examples. The sports minister has emphasized that the 2022 race was adequately secure and additional measures will be taken in 2023.
According to Motorsport.com, Prince Abdulaziz said:
“We know that it’s safe, but we need to explain what measures have been done. More than 4000 troops were deployed during that event just to make sure [of that], because when these things happen, you are afraid people that want to aggravate will pick up on it. So we just made sure no one affects the safety of the event and the city.”
In the days following the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the United Nations was able to broker a ceasefire in the civil war between Yemen’s internationally-recognized government militarily backed by Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels, the group which claimed responsibility for the attack on the Jeddah Aramco refinery. The ceasefire in the brutal eight-year-long conflict ended yesterday after both sides failed to reach an extension agreement.
Regarding the ceasefire, Prince Abdulaziz commented:
“That’s not just around the track, but around the kingdom. Funnily enough, three days after that [attack], there was an announcement of a ceasefire. So I think with all the media coming [to the race] and so on, it was a way to show aggression and to pick up on the media out there. But we were confident that security and safety was there at the time.”
With Formula One’s current contract with Saudi Arabia ensuring that a world championship round will be held in the country until 2030, Grand Prix racing will be intertwined with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen for the foreseeable future.