Saudi Arabia Grand Prix: Formula One chief Stefano Domenicali says sport can put ‘spotlight’ on country’s human rights record

The new F1 season begins in Bahrain this weekend before the second race follows in Jeddah a week later; Saudi Arabia last week announced that it executed 81 men in the kingdom’s biggest mass execution in decades; Lewis Hamilton said last year he did not “feel comfortable” racing there

Last Updated: 03/16/22 7:14 pm

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Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali has defended the sport’s decision to race in Saudi Arabia.

Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali has defended the sport’s decision to race in Saudi Arabia.

Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali says the sport’s decision to race in Saudi Arabia can help shine a “spotlight” on the country’s human rights record.

The new F1 season begins in Bahrain this weekend before the second race follows in Jeddah a week later, returning for a second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after the country hosted the sport for the first time last year.

Saudi Arabia last week announced that it executed 81 men, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian, for terrorism and other offences including holding “deviant beliefs” in the kingdom’s biggest mass execution in decades.

Amid criticism over the sport’s decision to continue to race there, Domenicali argued that it could have a positive effect.

At last year's Saudi GP Lewis Hamilton wore a helmet sporting the Progress Pride flag in support of the LGBTQ + community

At last year’s Saudi GP Lewis Hamilton wore a helmet sporting the Progress Pride flag in support of the LGBTQ + community

“When we hear this kind of news, it’s quite alarming,” Domenicali said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports.

“But I’m a true believer in the fact that sport has to make sure that human rights is at the center of our agenda, together with the country where we are going.

Domenicali is excited by the variety of designs the teams have opted for in their 2022 cars

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Domenicali is excited by the variety of designs the teams have opted for in their 2022 cars

Domenicali is excited by the variety of designs the teams have opted for in their 2022 cars

“I think if I take a step back, what we saw last year, we saw a lot of women, a lot of young people attending the race and enjoying for the first time that they’ve never had the chance to see live, is the right direction to take.

“The fact that we’re going to be there, gives the intensity of the spotlight around a subject that maybe without us would have a different place in the news.”

Hamilton spoke strongly about his support for equality and the LGBTQ + community ahead of F1's first race in Saudi Arabia.

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Hamilton spoke strongly about his support for equality and the LGBTQ + community ahead of F1’s first race in Saudi Arabia.

Hamilton spoke strongly about his support for equality and the LGBTQ + community ahead of F1’s first race in Saudi Arabia.

The discussion around racing in Saudi Arabia comes after F1 chiefs canceled this year’s Russian Grand Prix following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, with action being taken after several drivers spoke out strongly.

Lewis Hamilton said in the build-up to last year’s Saudi GP, which took place in December, that he did not “feel comfortable” racing there and urged F1 to “apply pressure” to drive change.

Same-sex relationships are illegal in Saudi Arabia – as they are in Qatar – and Hamilton wore a helmet at both of those races last year sporting the Progress Pride flag in support of the LGBTQ + community.

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