An attack tarnishes the Friday of the Saudi Arabian GP

An attack tarnishes the Friday of the Saudi Arabian GP

Williams driver Alexander Albon at the Jeddah circuit. / EP

World Cup 2022

The attacks on several Aramco facilities by the Houthis in Yemen marked the future of a day dominated in sports by Leclerc

The globalization of Formula 1 has led him to accept entering countries whose social peace is not as good as in more traditional fields. Saudi Arabia maintains an old territorial conflict with neighboring Yemen that has intensified in recent years, and the dispute over the grand prize in the city of Jeddah for the second edition has served as the perfect hook for terrorists to be noticed.

The first free practice sessions of what was scheduled to be the second round of the F1 World Championship were being held when an explosion in a refinery about 10 kilometers from the circuit set off the alarms. A missile had hit an Aramco refinery, the Saudi national oil company that is also a sponsor not only of this Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but also of the championship itself. The images of the single-seaters tracing the winding layout of Jeddah while flames and smoke were seen in the background said it all.

Panic spread immediately, how could it be otherwise. Stefano Domenicali, head of F1, and Mohamed Ben Sulayem, president of the FIA, contacted the organizers of the grand prix to ask for explanations and to guarantee them the minimum security measures. The doubts were notable, how could it be otherwise. Several drivers even considered leaving immediately for fear that the attacks would reach the circuit.

The second free practice sessions were held between meetings, although 15 minutes later than the scheduled time. Once completed, everyone was summoned to meet again. It was not until the promoters guaranteed 100% that these attacks (claimed in person by the military spokesman for the Houthi rebels, Yahya Sarea) would not pose a danger to all those in the 'great circus' when they unanimously agreed that it would remain move the weekend's dispute forward on its planned schedule.

Alonso gets a scare

In the merely sporting, it was not a calm day, far from it. Charles Leclerc, leader of the championship, was the fastest both in the morning and in the afternoon, in both cases ahead of Max Verstappen, who has not been able to beat him at the moment.

However, in the afternoon session he finished early. The feared walls of the Saudi track claimed their corresponding victim, when Leclerc hit one of the protections with his Ferrari for trying to sharpen the passage through a fast corner too much. With the front suspension seriously affected, he returned to the pits, where he was accompanied by a Carlos Sainz who also licked the wall, although without much violence. Beyond these incidents, the F1-75 is confirmed as the reference car in this start of the World Championship.

Sainz was one of the drivers who suffered from the dreaded 'porpoising', that incessant bounce that these cars have, but not as much as Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time champion is still far from the expected benefits and, moreover, does not solve that problem. It will be necessary to see if in the classification and the race they are closer to the top positions.

The one who seems not to be as far ahead as he would like is Fernando Alonso. Alpine was already in the news before going out to shoot because they announced that they had found one of the problems that the Spaniard had in Bahrain: the thermal engine, the ICE, of his power unit, was not well sealed and caused a notable loss of performance. Without being the whole explanation of the poor opening weekend, it does explain it in part.

However, with that new ICE for Arabia, a much more comfortable Alonso was not seen either. Proof of this is that, in the second session, he avoided a clear accident when he lost control of his car when he stepped on one of the Saudi circuit's curbs. With enough dexterity and reflexes, he saved the accident, but made it clear that it was not going to be comfortable for him (or for anyone) as much as he would have wanted. At least he didn't have mechanical breakdowns like Yuki Tsunoda or Kevin Magnussen did. This last case was remarkable: he didn't roll in the first session and in the second he could hardly do it. The Haas, who had been the big surprise in the first grand prix of the season, seem to be not so comfortable.

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