Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton wary over security on Saudi return

Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton was wary about safety in this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah a year after a missile attack near the track.

Yemeni rebels targeted an oil refinery near the Jeddah Street Circuit last year and the drivers were grilled by reporters on Thursday about their state of nerves.

Last year’s Grand Prix was punctuated by meetings involving drivers and officials from Formula One and the sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA).

The drivers said they had been told there was a ceasefire between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni rebels now.

Most drivers said Formula One had made progress in improving security but the wider spectre of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record remained an issue that was mostly left aside.

“I can’t speak for the other 19 drivers, but in general I think we are happy and have no concerns with the changes put in place since last time for this year,” said George Russell of Mercedes.

“There were a lot of lessons to be learned and F1 has really stepped up –- and that’s not just here in Saudi but at all the Grands Prix.”

Others including Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and McLaren’s Lando Norris expressed total trust in the sport’s administration – a feeling not shared by Mercedes other driver: seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

When asked about his feelings on returning to race in Saudi Arabia, he said: “Not much really to add –- but all the opposite to everything they said,” referring to Stroll and Perez who had spoken before him at a news conference.

“Hopefully, everyone has a safe weekend and hopefully everyone gets back safe afterwards. That’s as much as we can do, right?”

Speaking about last year, Magnussen said: “None of us enjoyed it. But, I think it’s a different situation now, with a different protocol and a ceasefire between the two parties that were involved and that gives some confidence.”

Perez said he was “happy to be back.”

Hamilton raised another issue – Saudi Arabia’s rights record.

“I still feel that, as a sport going to places with human rights issues, such as this one, the sport is duty-bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact.”

Human rights group Reprieve has accused F1 of “never seriously engaging with human rights and the way the sport is used to distract attention from abuses by some of the world’s most repressive regimes.”

Reprieve director Maya Foa said there had been at least 13 executions carried out in Saudi Arabia in the last two weeks.

Formula One responded in a statement that it had made its “position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”