Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Drivers given assurances about safety at Saudi Arabian GP
Formula One is back in Saudi Arabia this weekend, one year after a missile strike hit an oil depot near the track during race week.
And while the drivers expressed confidence in their safety ahead of Sunday's race, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton again broached the subject of human rights issues in the kingdom.
Drivers have been given assurances by F1 that increased safety measures will prevent the race from being impacted like last year, when Houthi rebels from Yemen hit a depot only 11 kilometers (seven miles) away during the first practice session. The attack led to hours of talks between drivers, organizers and stakeholders but the race went ahead.
The missile strike came two weeks after 81 people were put to death in Saudi Arabia in a mass execution — the largest in the kingdom's modern history. According to Reprieve, a non-profit organization defending people facing human rights abuses, a further 16 executions were then carried out.
Saudi Arabia is one of several countries accused of "sportswashing,” using highprofile sporting events to distract from human rights abuseryone
SAUDI ARABIA GP
Sunday, 12:55 p.m. (ESPN)
es. Others include Bahrain, which held the season-opening F1 race two weeks ago, and Qatar, which hosted soccer's World Cup last year and also has an F1 race.
Drivers were asked about returning to Jeddah given last year's missile strike.
“We trust FOM (Formula One Management) and the organization to keep us safe,” French driver Esteban Ocon said. “Obviously, it was scary what happened last year and none of us wants to ever experience something like that.”
Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll echoed that, saying he was “confident that Formula One and the organization is going to look after us,” while Red Bull rival Sergio Perez said he trusts “the organizations that bring us here to compete in a safe place.”
They spoke Thursday at a scheduled pre-race news conference. But when it came to Hamilton's turn to speak, he said his view was “all the opposite to everything they said.”
The Mercedes driver was then asked if he's happy to race in Saudi Arabia.
“It's open to interpretation,” Hamilton said. "Hopefully evhas a safe weekend and hopefully everyone gets home safe afterwards.”
Pressed again, Hamilton was asked whether he 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. When I'm going to these different places, I still feel that as a sport go(ing) into places with human rights issues, such as this one, I feel that the sport is duty bound to raise awareness," Hamilton said. "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 alHowaiti, who is facing the death penalty after being arrested in 2017 when he was 14, wrote to Hamilton this week thanking him for speaking about their son during last year's race.
“You publicly brought attention to Abdullah's case, and we are immensely grateful to you for using your for platform to shine a light on the injustice he faces," the family wrote in the letter, which Reprieve shared with The Associated Press. "We cannot put into words how much it meant to our family to know that Abdullah is not forgotten.”
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