Toto Wolff says the Middle Eastern region has seen troubles for long as he expands on giving Saudi Arabia a chance amid F1 boycott situation.
Among the discussions whether Saudi Arabia deserves to host a F1 race or not, Mercedes’ Wolff stressed on the fact that Middle East is a region where they have seen more troubles, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be given a chance to improve their position.
After the drone attack to Aramco facility near the Jeddah circuit, the FIA and the FOM aligned with the promoters to continue on with the grand prix. The drivers, however, were not aligned at first with the GPDA having a long meeting in the paddock.
The eventual conclusion was for the race to continue on, but discussions to happen for the future. Wolff noted that they relied heavily on the intel from the Government. “We can only rely on what the government says, and they made it very clear to us that the worst case scenario for them would not be cancelling the race but would be a situation where we would be unsafe and at risk,” he said to written media.
“I kind of followed that rational and logic. None of the government people nor their families left the place and before most of these attacks were aimed at infrastructure and this is what happened yesterday. Knock on wood, none today,” summed up Wolff.
When pressed on to answer if having a missile attack is on the list of agreement to race, Wolff brought in Israeli city Tel Aviv having drones being flown around which has become part of their norm and everybody goes on, in their daily life. The Austrian feels that coming here and highlighting the problems will lead to change.
“You can have that opinion, and when you consider the various political conflicts with more severe situations for the population that have been going on in the Middle East for a while,” said Wolff. “I love going to Tel Aviv but if you live in Tel Aviv you are pretty used to situations where drones are being flown over and it goes in both directions.
“There wasn’t any attack into Saudi Arabia that caused any civilian casualties as far as I have been told for a long time so that is why we just need to understand that this is culturally very different to how we see our western cultures. For us, is it acceptable to race 10 miles from where there is a drone rocket going in a petrol tank? Certainly not. But for here, within their culture, these things happen here.
“I don’t want to say that I’m not racing because I am generally someone that wants to give people the chance to better themselves. Does Saudi Arabia and some of the other Middle Eastern countries share the same values and culture as we do in Europe? They don’t. Are they where we want them to be? No.
“Can we by coming here put the spotlight into this place by racing here in Formula One, by making those things visible and therefore making it a better place? I still think so. I’d rather come here and make the spotlight shine on the region so it needs to be a better place rather than say I’m not going there and I don’t want to hear anything of it.”
Before Wolff spoke on the matter, other F1 team bosses had their say with Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto stressing that leaving the country wouldn’t have been the right decision. He added that while his drivers were free to decide, he explained to them about the discussions with the higher authorities of what was conveyed to them.
“The drivers met together, certainly they were concerned,” Binotto said. “After the facts of yesterday, no doubt all of us were concerned. The concerns need to be translated into considerations and discussions and as we as teams had assurance from F1 and from the Saudi government authorities and security agencies that everything would have been safe and under control.
“That was needed to be explained to the drivers, explained to them the situation, make them understand that we are safe and secured. I think after long discussions, which is important to have in a transparent way, I think they understood and supported the fact that it is important to stay and remain in Saudi and drive for the weekend.
“By leaving the country, it would not have simply been the right choice. I think there was no right reason to leave the country after the facts that happened and with the assurance that we get. They met, they had their own concerns, they raised them, but I think altogether we got the right assurances and explanations as well.”
McLaren’s Andreas Seidl looked on the positive aspect that sport can bring. “Formula 1 is obviously a global sport, it’s very technical, and it’s a big business,” he said. “And we all have, obviously an interest in growing our sport. At the same time, it is very clear for us and for Formula One that the safety of our people is, let’s say the most important thing, and I have all trust in Formula One also, that they together with promoters and with the authorities are making this right decision, that we respect.
“We obviously need to trust them also to make the right decisions. In general, I think, being part of a sports team, I’m absolutely convinced that we have the power with being part of the sport in order to drive positive change. And that’s why I’m also feeling comfortable in going to new countries, where also different cultures, for example, exist in order to promote to help driving change,” summed up Seidl.
Here’s what happened with F1 drivers meet
Here’s what was said after Saturday in F1 Saudi Arabian GP