Saudi Arabia and Formula One in talks over F1 race

Bahrain will host the second round of this year’s season, and Abu Dhabi will hold the final rounds. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 August 2019

Saudi Arabia and Formula One in talks over F1 race

  • The Times said an F1 race in Saudi Arabia may become a reality by 2021
  • The Middle East host two at Sakhir in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina

LONDON: Saudi Arabia and Formula One are discussing the possibility of holding a race in the country, and team bosses have been asked for an opinion, sources said on Tuesday.
The Times newspaper reported that Formula One and the 10 teams would seek reassurance on issues including human rights, gender equality and media freedom before any race could happen.
Multiple informed sources confirmed to Reuters the substance of the report.
They added, however, that Formula One had discussions with many would-be hosts around the world which ultimately came to nothing.
The Times suggested a Saudi race could become a reality as soon as 2021, with the schedule already expected to stretch to a record 22 races in 2020.
Formula One and the teams are discussing major sporting and technical rule changes from 2021 and Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said in Hungary at the weekend that could see an expansion to 24 races.
A Formula One source said that was more to allow flexibility, replacing the existing rule that states teams must agree to expand the calendar beyond 21 races rather than being a target number. The Middle East already hosts two races, at Sakhir in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina, with lucrative long-term contracts in place.
Bahrain was the first in 2004 but the race has proved controversial, with rights groups accusing the country’s rulers of using it to ‘whitewash’ abuses and improve their image abroad.
The kingdom lifted a ban on women driving only last year.
Formula One published a commitment in 2015 to respect “internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally”. Should the talks with Saudi Arabia move up a level, the kingdom would likely be looking at a third regional slot.
This year, Bahrain was the second round of the season after Australia, while Abu Dhabi will be the final round in early December.
Any Saudi race would likely need to be separated from the other two regional rivals to protect their investment and the uniqueness of the event.
Formula One is broadcast live and free-to-air in the Middle East and North Africa region under a five-year deal struck last March with MBC Group, founded by Saudi businessman Waleed Al-Ibrahim.
The rights previously belonged to Qatar’s BeIN media group, which blamed broadcast piracy of its pay TV feed as a reason for not renewing.
Saudi Arabia already features on the all-electric Formula E calendar and hosted its first race last year on a street circuit at Ad Diriyah, near Riyadh.
Saudi companies have been involved in Formula One in the past, with Albilad and the national airline Saudia sponsoring Williams to their first title in 1980. Formula One’s US-based commercial rights holders Liberty Media have stated already that they want to add races in the United States, with Miami in line to join the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, and China — both key markets for the sport’s growth.
There have also been talks with Argentina, South Africa and Morocco, with Africa the only major inhabited continent currently without a race.
Europe, the sport’s historic heartland, currently has 11 rounds of the championship when Russia and Azerbaijan are included.

Saudi rail chief visits Haramain stations

Updated 40 min 18 sec ago

Saudi rail chief visits Haramain stations

  • Visit is part of project management’s plans for the Haramain station in Al-Sulaimaniyah and Jeddah airport
  • Railway inaugurated by King Salman on Sep. 24, 2018

JEDDAH: Saudi Transport Minister and Director-General of the Saudi Railway Organization (SAR), Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser, visited the Haramain High-Speed Railway’s Al-Sulaimaniyah station and the King Abdul Aziz International Airport station in Jeddah on Thursday to check on preparations to resume operations at the two sites.

Al-Jasser was accompanied by Public Transport Authority Chairman Rumaih bin Mohammed Al-Rumaih, SAR CEO Bashar Al-Malik and other officials.

The visit is part of project management’s plans for the Haramain station in Al-Sulaimaniyah and Jeddah airport to serve airline passengers and Jeddah residents.

The service was halted on Sept. 29, 2019 after a fire broke out at the station in Jeddah, which left 11 people injured. The blaze, which was centered in the roof of the station, lasted for 15 hours.

As the first high-speed electric train in the region, the Haramain High-Speed Railway spans over 450km, connecting five stations across Makkah, Jeddah, King Abdul Aziz International Airport, King Abdullah Economic City and Madinah.

The railway was inaugurated by King Salman on Sep. 24, 2018. 

The project is in line with the objectives of the Vision 2030 reform plans, the main goal of which is to increase the number of pilgrims and visitors to the holy places. Officials described it as the biggest transportation project of its kind in the region.