Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insists neither he nor his fellow team principals put any pressure on the Formula 1 drivers last Friday in Jeddah to race in Saudi Arabia this weekend despite the threat of terrorism. But yet this message seems to go against evidence that team bosses did in fact strong-arm drivers into racing, citing concerns of being prevented from flying in the event of a no-show.
The second round of the 2022 Formula One season in Saudi Arabia took place last weekend in a very different context after a terrorist attack not far from the circuit disrupted Friday’s race, dampening the mood in the Jeddah paddock. The Formula 1 team quickly decided to continue with the race weekend after receiving security guarantees from the local authorities. However, the F1 drivers met on Friday evening after the second free practice session to discuss the situation.
During a closed-door meeting that lasted more than four hours, the media witnessed a constant flow of team managers talking to the drivers on several occasions. The situation from the outside (we could not enter as media) was very confusing and suggested that many, if not all, of the drivers did not wish to continue with the weekend programme in Jeddah.
Eventually after several hours the drivers exited the back of the room they were in, while GPDA representative George Russell went to race management accompanied by the McLaren team manager to confirm to the race director that the drivers would all be running this weekend.
It is hard to believe that the drivers were not pressured by the team bosses at the meeting, but Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff insists this was not the case: “There was no arm-twisting on our part, there were only good discussions,” Wolff told Sky Sports on Sunday evening after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix about the meeting between all the drivers last Friday.
“When the team bosses spoke to the drivers, I think we talked about common sense, and there was no pressure at all, but maybe it was perceived differently. But at the end of the day, the show and the spectacle was incredible and what we offered as a sport was just great, and that’s what the sport should do.”
This goes against what many in the paddock heard; that team bosses exerted pressure on drivers with a veiled threat that contractually they were obliged to race, otherwise could face issues from the authorities if they were leaving the country. One does question if this is likely to be the final occasion we’ll see an F1 race in Jeddah.