Saudi Arabian GP: Stefano Domenicali insists Formula 1 has not ignored morality in favour of commercial success
"No one can judge our morality"; Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has defended the sport over claims it has put commercial success ahead of morality; watch the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday at 6pm
By Sam Drury
Last Updated: 27/03/22 10:25am
Stefano Domenicali has dismissed claims that Formula 1 has put commercial success over morality ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Despite a missile attack on an oil facility just seven miles away from the Jeddah street circuit during Friday's opening practice, the second race of the season is set to go ahead as planned, while the decision to hold a race in Saudi Arabia at all has also been questioned after 81 men were executed in the country in one day a fortnight ago.
However, the Formula 1 boss argued that decisions are made with a focus on making a positive impact around the globe.
"I don't think that is a right consideration," he told Sky Sports. "No one can judge our morality, to be honest. It is a matter of putting in place all the things that have to be considered.
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"Where is the line? That is the question. Our position, and it will always be, is that we believe that what we're doing will have a very positive impact in all the political situations for the best of our life and at all levels.
"This will always be the consideration we will take for our future in the sport, all over the world."
Asked whether there was a question mark over whether Saudi Arabia would host a Grand Prix again in future, Domenicali added: "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.
"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 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."
Domenicali also drew a distinction between Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which led to the former being stripped of its Grand Prix, and Saudi Arabia's ongoing conflict with Yemen.
The 56-year-old Italian insisted that the safety of those connected to the sport would always be paramount.
"It is a matter of definition. Is a terrorist attack a war? We are talking about sport," he said. "Of course, we are in contact with all the authorities, with all the embassies, with all the right governing bodies. Of course, we will follow that, and we will never be in a situation that jeopardises the safety of our people.
"This is not the case. I'm pretty sure that something related to this situation will be considered, but in the right way. We don't have to be emotional, and I say that because I was the first when I saw the smoke just over there to say it reminds us of a lot of what we see now on TV.
"It's pretty clear, that was the connection, but as I said, rationality over everything. It has been, for sure, an intense day and sharing, with openness, is the right way to do it in the modern Formula 1."
Did drivers change mind to race?
The decision to press ahead with the Saudi Arabian GP followed over four hours of meetings between the drivers on Friday night in the paddock. While nobody has said it on the record, it is believed that the drivers were unsure about racing this weekend before their minds were changed with assurances over safety and security.
Domenicali added that "boycott was not the right word" to describe the situation on Friday night.
But Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted: "The drivers were pretty united in their initial discussions but then we were able to convince them the race was the best thing to do."
Lewis Hamilton said he "didn't want to comment" on the situation: "I don't really have an opinion on it, we made a decision as a group. Together as a group we all discussed and we made decisions as a sport."
Though other drivers shared more insight.
"It is a tricky matter, obviously, it took quite a bit of time," said Ferrari's Charles Leclerc as he admitted "concerns". "I think we have to listen to the people that are taking care about the security here. And we have to trust them."
"Definitely we discussed and we were concerned about our safety," explained Sergio Perez. "But also the safety of our mechanics, engineers, everyone in here. But obviously, there is so much we know as drivers so it was just important.
"We got all together at the end of the day, this is our sport and we are all in it together. And yeah, we felt that the right thing was to go ahead and just race."
Carlos Sainz added: "You need to think that it's 20 of us with 20 opinions, 20 considerations, 20 different people talking so it's always going to take a long time. And in the end, we all concluded that probably the best way to move forward is to listen to the authorities here, trust them and there's not much more that we can do."
Pertinently, on whether the Saudi race should continue, Leclerc said: "It's definitely a discussion that we should have after this race, once everything calms down."
George Russell, meanwhile, was integral in the discussions on Friday night as a GPDA director.
"Ultimately we trust in Stefano, Formula 1 as a whole, and we wouldn't be here if it wasn't right to be here," he said.
"I do think it's the right decision. I don't have all the answers, I'm not an expert in politics or military defence or whatever. So you have to trust in the people around."