Two of Formula 1's leading team bosses have revealed some of the background to the intensive driver discussions that took place behind closed doors in the Jeddah paddock on Friday night.
Following a missile attack on a nearby Aramco fuel facility just ahead of the first practice session, smoke from the fire permeated through the paddock and was noticeable to the drivers on track.
As a result, a series of meetings between top-level F1 personnel, team bosses and drivers were held on Friday evening to settle on a way forward.
While initial meetings were over and done with rapidly, a later gathering of the drivers turned into a four-hour closed-door discussion. So intensive were the talks that several team bosses returned to the paddock in order to join the meeting, as drivers voiced their concerns about continuing with the weekend.
The eventual outcome was a decision to continue, with the Grand Prix Drivers' Association issuing a statement on Saturday morning to confirm their position.
With the drivers clearly not all in agreement about how to proceed, Ferrari's Mattia Binotto and McLaren's Andreas Seidl both spoke about the situation during a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
Binotto: We needed to explain Saudi assurances to the drivers
"The drivers met together [and] certainly, they were concerned," Binotto told the media, including RacingNews365.com.
"I think, after the facts of yesterday, [there was] no doubt that all of us were concerned, because these are not normal facts happening close to the circuit.
"But those concerns need to be translated into considerations and
discussions and, we as a team and [me] as a Team Principal, [have]
assurances from F1, from the Saudi government authorities and security
agencies, that everything would have been safe and under control.
"That needed to be explained to the drivers – explain to them the situation, make them understand that, as a matter of fact, we are safe and secure.
"After long discussions, which are important to have in a transparent way, they simply understood and supported the fact that it's important to stay, and to continue to drive this weekend here in Saudi."
Binotto added: "Leaving the country would not have been the right choice. There were no right reasons to leave the country after the assurances that we got.
"They met, they had their own concerns, they raised them, but, altogether, we tried to get the assurance and the right explanation for them."
Seidl: We all came to the same conclusion
Seidl said it was important the drivers' concerns were listened to by the authorities, and revealed the general consensus reached at the meeting was that the best course of action would be to continue with the weekend.
"The drivers are drivers so, obviously, they're the heroes of the sport, and it's important that they have a strong voice for what is right for the sport we are in," he explained.
"It makes absolute sense that they also have this discussion between them. At the same time, it was important then to also share our different views on what happened yesterday and that's what happened.
"We all came to the same conclusion that it is the right thing to continue with the weekend, after we got the assurances that we are safe here.
"Let's not forget, it's not just about drivers or Team Principals here. It is about 2,000 members of the Formula 1 paddock here, and we had to make the right decision together with F1, the FIA, for all of us.
"It was important to have this lengthy discussion yesterday and have this transparent dialogue with all stakeholders involved. I felt, in the end, very comfortable with the decision that we all made together, and it's the right one."
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Binotto confirms the drivers aren't "100 per cent happy"
But while the immediate crisis appears to have been averted, with the decision reached to continue the weekend, Binotto revealed that, regarding his drivers, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, there are still some concerns on their part.
"I don't think we said that they are 100 per cent happy and feel fully relaxed," he said, when asked whether his drivers are comfortable with the outcome of the meeting.
"Certainly, they are still concerned, but they are listening to the assurances that we gave them. They understand the importance of staying here and somehow trying to race, because that's the best choice we can do.
"I think it has been important for them yesterday to meet, to discuss, to raise their voice, because they are the stars of the sport. I think it's important for them to make sure that they are listened to.
"It's never great if something [like] negative comments or something on the negative side comes out of the meeting, but the fact that they met and discussed, and had the opportunity to argue, or to listen, or to get assurance, was important.
"I see that meeting as a positive one, and the outcome was the right one."
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