Formula One is back in Saudi Arabia this weekend, a year after a missile attack hit an oil depot near the track during race week.
And while drivers expressed confidence in their safety ahead of Sunday’s race, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton again spoke on the subject of human rights issues in the state.
Drivers have been assured by F1 that increased security measures will prevent the race being affected like last year, when Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a depot only 11 kilometers (7 mi) away during the first practice session. The strike led to hours of talks between drivers, organizers and stakeholders, but the race went ahead.
The missile attack came two weeks after 81 people were killed in Saudi Arabia – the largest in the kingdom’s modern history. According to Reprieve, a non-profit organization that defends people facing human rights abuses, a further 16 executions followed.
Saudi Arabia is one of several countries that have been accused of “sportwashing” human rights abuses, using high-profile sporting events to project a favorable image. Others include Bahrain, which held the season-opening F1 race two weeks earlier, and Qatar, which hosted football. There is also the World Cup and the F1 race last year.
The drivers were asked about returning to Jeddah in view of last year’s missile attack.
“We count on FOM (Formula One Management) and the organization to keep us safe,” said French driver Esteban Ocon. “Obviously, it was scary what happened last year and none of us want to experience something like that.”
Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll said he is “confident that Formula One and the organizations are going to take care of us,” while Red Bull rival Sergio Pérez said he has “confidence in the organizations that allow us to compete in a safe place.” bring here for.”
He spoke at a scheduled pre-race news conference on Thursday. But when it was Hamilton’s turn to speak, he said his view “contradicted everything he said.”
The Mercedes driver was then asked if he was happy about racing in Saudi Arabia.
“It is open to interpretation,” said Hamilton. “Hope everyone has a safe weekend and hope everyone gets home safe afterwards.”
Pressed again, Hamilton was asked whether he had considered not racing in Saudi Arabia because of human rights concerns.
“Well, the thing is, if I’m not here, Formula One will continue without me. “While I’m going to these different places, I still think that as a sport, going to places with human rights issues, like this one, I think the sport is going to raise awareness,” Hamilton said. bound to. I feel like it needs to do more. What that is, I don’t have all the answers, but I think we always need to try and do more to raise awareness.
The family of Abdullah Al-Howaiti, who is facing the death penalty after being arrested at the age of 14 in 2017, thanked Hamilton this week for speaking out about their son during last year’s race.
“You have publicly brought attention to Abdullah’s case, and we are extremely grateful to you for using your platform,” the family wrote in the letter. How much it means to our family to know that Abdullah is not forgotten.
Hamilton split from long-term performance coach Angela Cullen on Friday after working together for seven years.
Hamilton announced the split on his Instagram page.
“I am a stronger athlete and a better person because of him,” Hamilton wrote. “Thanks for everything Aang, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.”
Like two weeks ago at the Bahrain GP, Hamilton was cleared by the stewards to take part in two practice sessions on Friday following a jewelery inspection.
Hamilton clashed with the FIA governing body last year over a jewelery ban and obtained an exception for his nose studs.
Ferrari is already raising questions about the car’s reliability after Charles Leclerc retired near the end of the Bahrain GP after suffering an engine failure when he was third.
Leclerc will start Sunday’s race with a 10-place grid penalty after Ferrari used the third electronics control unit on the car’s engine.
Last year, engine reliability problems led to the Azerbaijan GP and the Spanish GP forcing Leclerc to retire.
Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fourth in the Bahrain GP, 48 seconds behind the Red Bull car of race winner Max Verstappen.
“We are the first ones who are not happy,” said Sainz. “We’ve encountered race speeds and reliability issues that we honestly didn’t expect to encounter.”
Ferrari replaced the power units of both cars on Friday as a precaution.
Kimi Raikkonen was Ferrari’s last driver’s title win in 2007.
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