“Why are we still here? Just to suffer?” — Hideo Kojima
“Sport is dead” — new Grand Prix Rejects slogan
Events preceded the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix which were just so baffling and depressing as to render the on-track action and the spectacle of the actual race almost entirely irrelevant. This happening so incredibly soon after the debut race at the track last December leads the Grand Prix Rejects editorial team to have its say on the matter.
For the second year in succession, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is the Reject of the Race winner for its own race.
While this award has been arbitrarily decided, I will still go through the suggestions and other rejectful mishaps that took place over the course of the grand prix weekend. However, I find it unconscionable to put such a humorous and feel-good award to a vote when faced a moral catastrophe as with which F1 fans were faced over the grand prix weekend.
The organisers of the race at Jeddah, alongside building unsafe racing circuits late and generally paying their way into the cosy partnership of Formula 1 sleaze, decided to open Pandora’s Box just a little bit more in their sophomore year. Only a few months after the original race, it would have seemed that there would be little of fresh new content outside of the racing itself. That was an incorrect prediction.
During FP1, a missile strike hit a refinery a few kilometres from the Corniche Circuit, causing petrol fumes and thick black smoke to cloud the horizon and be picked up by the on-circuit cameras. The Saudi government, keen to whitewash its involvement in a conflict with Yemen which has killed upward of 100,000 people over the last eight years, had nowhere to hide when the drivers roundly decided to boycott the event, unless their safety was secured.
This led to a four-hour meeting after FP2 that went on well into the early hours of the morning. Team principals and FIA representatives like Stefano Domenicali had to “convince” the drivers, on behalf of their Saudi benefactors, that the race would go ahead safely and exactly as planned. With the weight of international press and common sense against them, Formula 1 was “convinced” to continue racing.
Whatever threats were involved in the coercive response to continue the weekend – it is generally agreed that the Saudi government threatened to retract the exit visas of the drivers and the team staff – the FIA and Liberty Media have only themselves to blame. Keen to get into bed with the highest bidder, they have put themselves in the pocket of people who have no care in the world for their safety or health. The addition of the Jeddah circuit onto the Formula 1 calendar for another unprecedented 15 years showed that satire is in fact dead, and the FIA will put their drivers and personnel at a non-zero chance of a missile strike so as to make The Show™ happen.
In light of this, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix took place during a time where Russian forces occupy a large swathe of the country of Ukraine. Their right to a Formula 1 race was taken away from them, yet while that conflict resumes, another country is set free to wage its war live on television. Therefore, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is the Reject of the Race for going ahead in the light of a military assault, and after F1’s personnel were taken hostage by the national authorities. As a beloved community member would say: “Sport is dead.”
Briefly onto the racing itself, now. In another universe, Formula 1 discussion would generally involve the on-track action and the spice of the championship. Let’s get to it.
Nicholas Latifi, in no less than his third season of Formula 1 racing, has got this year off to a very poor start. After being roundly slapped by Alex Albon upon the latter’s return to grand prix racing, he didn’t improve at Jeddah. In fact, he crashed out in both of the full sessions. A Q1 exit was caused by his own fault, as was his incident in the race on Sunday. Any rise in quality we noticed from him last season appears to have evaporated in the meantime, especially with no Nikita Mazepin to give a direct comparison from the question of “who’s the worst driver on the grid?”
A classic ROTR was in Yuki Tsunoda’s car. The Japanese driver always has something to prove these days when getting into his Alpha Tauri. Unfortunately, this week he didn’t do much racing, or indeed very much of anything. Issues leading up to qualifying meant he got no running time and was demoted to last place on the grid by default. Then on Sunday, disaster struck again and he did not even make it to the grid. A sorry show, and frankly a waste of time for him in even turning up!
Alfa Romeo have unfortunately returned to their state of amateurism. After Guanyu Zhou received a five-second penalty for corner-cutting, the team incorrectly handled his penalty in the pits (meaning that they couldn’t count to five). Zhou then had to come in again to serve a second penalty for incorrectly handling the first one. This threw him out of the points, and a technical issue for a fast-running Bottas ensured zero points for the Alfa team. Although the pace is there, their mistakes will cost them valuably if they are not ironed out.
Let’s have a look now at the positive side of things, and the silver linings around a very dark cloud.
Lando Norris has won a lot of favour among our community for his heroic antics over the last few years. In this year’s McLaren he is going to be struggling a lot more for decent finishes, but that has not yet dissuaded his enthusiasm. Taking advantage of Latifi’s crash and the resulting safety car, he rocketed up into the points in a very slow car, and managed to keep it there for the duration of the second half. By the end he took it to 7th, scoring his and his team’s first points of the year, while even sixth was on the cards had the finish line been a few hundred metres further back!
The fight for the lead, along with the overall quality of the racing, was commendable. In light of the wider situation, the fact that all drivers were safe, unharmed, and raced each other well, was welcome to the GPR community. For the second consecutive race, there was a genuine battle for the lead and a changing of places between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, who are shaping to be this year’s title protagonists. The high retirement rate was due to mechanical issues, and the drivers behaved themselves very well under the circumstances. Perhaps, just perhaps, this season of Formula 1 will be remembered for some good racing…
Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes. However, in the light of the events occurring around the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend, we have decided not to elect an IIDOTR award on this occasion, while the ROTR award has been chosen arbitrarily by your overlords.