F1 chief insists it was right to race in Saudi Arabia despite concerns over safety and human rights


‘No one can judge our morality’: Formula One chief Stefano Domenicali insists the sport was RIGHT to race in Saudi Arabia despite concerns over safety and the kingdom’s questionable human rights record

  • Stefano Domenicali has backed his decision for the sport to race in Saudi Arabia 
  • The Formula One CEO has insisted ‘no one can question’ the sport’s morality
  • Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton admitted he feels ‘uncomfortable’ racing there
  • There are wide concerns over the kingdom’s questionable human rights record 
  • The Grand Prix went ahead on Sunday despite worries over the drivers’ safety
  • Yemen’s Houthi rebels bombed an oil refinery near the Jeddah circuit on Friday
  • Saudi Arabia pays £50million-a-year for the right to host races in the country 

Formula One chief Stefano Domenicali has insisted no one can question the sport’s morality despite criticism over the sport’s decision to race in Saudi Arabia.

F1 came to town in the Middle East at the weekend despite widespread and genuine concerns regarding driver safety and the kingdom’s questionable human rights record. 

But CEO Domenicali claimed on Sky Sports that the sport, which receives £50million a year from Saudi Arabia for bringing the race there, is helping the country take a ‘massive step forward’.

He said: ‘No one can judge our morality, to be honest… Where is the line? That is the question. Our position, and it will always be, is we believe what we’re doing will have a very positive impact in all the political situations… and at all levels. This will always be the consideration we will take for our future in the sport, all over the world. 

‘It is not a matter of questions marks; it is a matter of understanding the situation. We are not blind, but we should not forget one thing: this country and the sport is taking a massive step forward. You cannot pretend to change a culture of more than a millennium in the blink of an eye.’

Stefano Domenicali has insisted ‘no one can question’ F1’s morality after racing in Saudi Arabia

Formula One came to the country this weekend despite concerns over safety and human rights

Formula One came to the country this weekend despite concerns over safety and human rights

The Middle Eastern kingdom pays a whopping £50million-a-year for the right to host races

The Middle Eastern kingdom pays a whopping £50million-a-year for the right to host races

Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton, one of the most high-profile figures in the sport, previously said he feels ‘uncomfortable’ racing in Saudi Arabia after 97 people were executed in March. 

Drivers were bullied into racing on Sunday after a number of them – including Hamilton – expressed their desire not to compete in the wake of the bombing by Yemen’s Houthi rebels of an oil refinery close to the Jeddah circuit.

However, Domenicali went on to claim F1 can be a force for positive change in Saudi Arabia in future. 

Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton (above) admitted he feels 'uncomfortable' racing in the country

Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton (above) admitted he feels ‘uncomfortable’ racing in the country

Red Bull's Max Verstappen (second right) won the race on Sunday ahead of two Ferrari drivers

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (second right) won the race on Sunday ahead of two Ferrari drivers

He added: ‘The resources that they’re putting in place to move forward, you see here. Don’t forget a couple of years ago, women couldn’t drive, and they are here on the grid, cheering and seeing the sport. They are changing a lot of laws in order to make sure this (F1) is happening. We have to consider that.

‘Of course, there are tensions inside, there are things that have to be improved. We don’t want to be political on that, but I do believe that we’re playing a very important role in the modernisation of this country. We are focusing on making sure it is at the centre of our agenda.’

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen won Sunday’s race from Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, with Hamilton down in 10th.

Hamilton and his fellow drivers all wanted to sit out Sunday’s controversial Saudi Arabia Grand Prix — and only agreed not to after persuasion from F1 bosses and their own team principals. One source described the pressure as tantamount to ‘bullying’.

Sportsmail understands that at 1.20am local time on Saturday morning, more than three hours into meetings stretching across four and a half hours in the Jeddah paddock, the entire grid was unanimous in beating a retreat after the bombing by Yemen’s Houthi rebels of an oil refinery 12 miles east of the Red Sea city on Friday at about 5.30pm.

There was an explosion at a nearby oil facility in Jeddah on Friday evening

There was an explosion at a nearby oil facility in Jeddah on Friday evening

Seven-time world champion Hamilton, an ardent critic of Saudi’s human rights record, was a prominent advocate for shunning the 50-lap race along the Corniche’s high-speed circuit.

Ferrari’s Sainz was another, with some insiders indicating the Spaniard was the most strident among the 20 voices of opposition inside Unit One, the hospitality area at the head of the paddock used by the sport’s commercial rights holders ‘Formula One’.

Four other drivers were strongly against the race going ahead: Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and, notably, Alpine’s veteran double world champion Fernando Alonso, a powerful presence among the lavishly paid brethren. The 40-year-old Spaniard gesticulated flamboyantly as he made his point. 

But, according to team sources, pressure was then applied to jolt the reluctant drivers into competing, resulting in every one of them taking part in practice and qualifying on Saturday and in the race on Sunday. 



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