RIYADH: Reigning Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne has lauded the partnership between the electric racing championship and Saudi Arabia in the lead-up to the weekend’s double-header Diriyah E-Prix.
Like last year, this weekend’s race at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Riyadh kicks off the ABB FIA Formula E Championship and Vergne is looking to complete a historic hat-trick this season.
The Frenchman made electric racing history after becoming the first back-to-back champion in Formula E following his title winning campaigns in 2017/18 and last year’s 2018/2019 season, which kicked off with the inaugural Diriyah E-Prix — hailed as a watershed moment in the Kingdom.
In comments ahead of this weekend’s action, Vergne was full of praise for what has been achieved in the Kingdom.
“I think what Formula E and Saudi Arabia has done is more than just create a fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality on top of a very nice layout. Formula E is written in golden letters in the history of the country.
“When you speak to everybody here, they tell you Formula E was at the beginning of a new era for them. I was having dinner with friends who are locals and they said ‘we never expected to see that quickly, they’ve done a fantastic job and it is very much liked by the population.’
“When the kids grow up they will know Formula E was the key to opening up the country and we can all feel proud to be part of it.”
Saudi drivers Fahad Algosaibi — who will compete in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY support race to the Diriyah E-Prix — and Reema Juffali, racing in the same event and the first woman from the Kingdom to race in Saudi Arabia, agree with Vergne’s assessment.
“Diriyah is a place full of history and driving electric cars which symbolizes the future,” said Algosaibi.
“I think in so many ways this race symbolizes the trajectory of where Saudi Arabia wants to go in the future. I think we are striving to be a society that is open, it is easy for anyone to be involved.
“I think in Saudi Arabia now we have so much to offer. The Saudi Motorsport Federations has a lot of plans on how to grow the sport. I’ve heard rumours of Formula One but there’s also a lot of focus on karting, which is essential as that is the grassroots level.”
Juffali told Arab News: “For me, more than anything, it’s about the opportunity. To be able to do it around home fans and for people to see me in the car for the first time, it’s amazing.
“The fact that I’m here now racing at home in a professional manner is something that I didn’t dream of.”
The importance of the Formula E event to the Kingdom was echoed by another Saudi driver Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member on the board of the Saudi Arabia Motor Federation, who spoke to Arab News after driving the new all-electric Porsche Taycan from Dubai to Riyadh with former Formula One driver Mark Webber.
“It’s very, very important because in past years, motorsport wasn’t that popular, maybe most of the people used to watch football,” she said.
“But today when we have such international motorsport events, so many people get closer to the sport and understand the rules. Maybe this young generation, when they go to the race, attend the race, they might be inspired and probably consider motorsport as a career.”
Webber, her co-driver for the epic trip in Porsche’s most powerful electric model and nine-time Formula One Grand Prix winner, told Arab News that he is excited, confident and optimistic about the race in Diriyah.
The Australian, who is also an International Automobile Federation World Endurance Champion and a Porsche ambassador, said that it is an exciting time for Porsche to enter a new championship and that Formula E is a mature competition.
“It’s established and it’s going all around the world racing and taking races to the people. So it’s really under their nose to watch what formula E has to offer,” he said.
Webber added that the Porsche team is open to the fact that Formula E is going to be a tough championship for them to compete in.
“We know we’ve got some top rivals. Porsche absolutely loves to come in with their eyes open, respectful of the opposition.”
Samer Issa-El-Khoury is the man who oversaw the construction of the Diriyah Circuit with only three weeks’ time to deliver the venue.
“I have been following and attending every Formula E race around the planet in order to bring the best features and improvement to the Diriyah E-Prix,” said Issa-El-Khoury, an engineer by trade and managing partner of CBX, a sports promotion company with exclusive rights for Formula E in the Middle East.
“From checking the pit structure in New York to the track asphalt in Berlin, hospitality structure in Zurich and fan-user experience in Hong Kong, we wanted to incorporate the finest elements in order to make this race a truly memorable doubleheader for the 2019/2020 ABB season.”
Explaining how the Diriyah E-Prix stands out from other circuits, Issa-El-Khoury said: “The beautiful scenery, with Diriyah being not just a UNESCO World Heritage site but also the birthplace of Saudi Arabia — there is massive significance in this.
“What is unique as well is the architecture and design of the Swiss-made and engineered Royal Cube structure which is installed to cater for the VVIP guests, underneath which the cars race.”
Issa-El-Khoury says electric racing represents the future of motorsports and also emphasizes sustainability and clean energy. From that standpoint, having a a Formula E race in Diriyah “is 100 percent in line with Saudi Arabia's plan and Vision 2030" to wean itself off oil and to move to the forefront of “sustainable energy and carbon neutrality,” he said.
“This is a significant message to the world because the Vision’s success will most definitely have global reverberations.”
Diriyah E-Prix 2019 is part of the Diriyah Season, a month of sports and entertainment, with both days’ racing followed by concerts featuring artists such as Imagine Dragons and Canadian Lebanese singer Massari.
Tickets for all Diriyah Season events, concerts and entertainment will be available at www.diriyahseason.sa
News and announcements related to Diriyah Season can be followed on the official social media pages on Twitter and Instagram @diriyahseason