Leading Formula 1 Team Principals have given their backing to the presence of a grand prix in Saudi Arabia, believing the sport can have a positive impact in the country.
On Thursday, it was confirmed that a night race around the streets of Jeddah will be included on the 2021 calendar, with the event set to take place towards the end of the season.
The announcement was met with disapproval amid complaints over human rights issues in the country, with leading groups, such as Amnesty International, expressing concern.
Saudi Arabia’s inclusion on the 2021 calendar has been expected for several months and, speaking at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last weekend, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff expressed his belief of sport’s power to lead to progress.
“I think sport should unite, sport should help to get us to a better place,” he said. “I think we’ve seen that us racing globally, there was a positive discussion around Formula 1.
“I’ve been in Riyadh for Formula E a year ago and I was impressed by the change that I’ve seen.
“Now, as a visitor you never know how things are going but what I’ve seen personally – and that’s the only comment I can make because I saw it – it was a great event with no segregation, women and men in the same place enjoying the sporting event.
“We need to start somewhere, and what I’ve seen is that it started somewhere and I believe that we should do whatever we can to make the world a better place.”
Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto concurred with Wolff’s statement: “I think that’s sport, wherever it is, whatever it is, it’s always positive and I think the sport is a positive message always,” he said.
“Sport may bring positivity so I think that’s the way we should see it. I think that we should simply understand that we can be a vector of positivity and that’s important.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner emphasised that sport and politics should not mix and that Formula 1 marques have to trust Liberty Media.
“As I’ve said many times before, when we sign up for a world championship, we don’t dictate where that calendar goes, we sign up to race in every race,” Horner commented.
“We trust the commercial rights holder, also the governing body to have done the necessary research and make those decisions that are right for the sport.
“We’re not a political organisation, sport should never be seen to be political.
“Therefore we trust in them to make the right decisions, and wherever they choose to have race, by signing up the championship, we will be attending and doing our best to perform our best at those races.”