DUBAI: After a year disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is already shaping up to be a momentous one for motorsports fans in Saudi Arabia.
The new year was only three days old when the Dakar Rally kicked into gear through Saudi Arabia’s desert terrain, and Dec. 5 has been slated as the day Formula 1 comes to the Kingdom with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah. In between, Formula E is set for a third edition in February.
For the Saudi authorities and organizers, the hosting of these events represents a welcome return as the nation, and the world, takes small steps to add some familiarity to an otherwise unpredictable world.
“I am delighted to welcome the Dakar Rally back to the Kingdom for a second year running. We are undoubtedly living through challenging times and hosting the largest off-road endurance race in the world hasn’t been without its difficulties,” said Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, President, Saudi Arabian Motor Federation.
“The 2021 instalment has been full of excitement and adrenaline and is the perfect start to a busy year for motorsport in Saudi. There is much to be excited about for fans of motorsport here in the Kingdom, not least the return of the Diriyah E-Prix next month.”
In 2018, the inaugural Diriyah E-Prix marked Saudi Arabia’s first foray into major international motorsport competitions, and a year later the event became the Middle East’s first double-header. This year, it will be the first ever night race for the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.
“Ultimately, our vision is to create a legacy that will connect with the future audience and inspire the community over the next 10 years towards Vision 2030 and beyond,” Prince Khalid added.
“For us, Formula E is an opportunity to be a competitive platform to test and develop road relevant technologies, help to refine the design and functionality of electric vehicle components and accelerate the transition and uptake of clean transportation on a global scale. Saudis have a true burning passion for motorsport and have brought that to each of our last two E-Prix weekends. We can’t wait to welcome them back for 2021 and are counting down the days.”
Whether fans will be present at Diriyah, and in what numbers, will depend on the latest health safety precautions that will be confirmed in the coming weeks.
“We are currently finalizing multiple measures to ensure the safety of drivers, spectators and event staff members across the entirety of the race weekend,” said Prince Khalid.
“We will be implementing a bubble system that will require negative COVID-19 tests and restrict contact between different parties. These procedures will be in line with the global health and safety protocols and will no doubt pave the way for further high-profile events heading for the Kingdom later this year.”
One thing, however, seems certain. With the races taking place at night, they are set to look spectacular even for those watching on the small screen.
“We are delighted to host Formula E’s first ever night races and give fans something they haven’t witnessed before,” Prince Khalid said.
“The team has developed an extensive lighting system for achieving near-daylight conditions at night to provide a safe environment for drivers on the racetrack, even at high speeds.
Prince Khalid believes there are many factors that have driven the country to the front of the grid when it comes to hosting motor sporting events, the most important being the passion of the Saudi people themselves.
“Saudis come alive in the face of elite level competition, creating a spectacle that allows us to attract many of the world’s biggest events here. Sporting powerhouses like Formula E and Formula 1 see that passion and how it aligns with their own goals, making us an ideal fit,” he said.
“We’re also blessed with a young, digitally-engaged population, who watch live sport from around the world and play a key role in the online conversation around it. Sport is a truly global passion and Saudis play an active part in that.”
Prince Khalid says that, under Vision 2030, the government is encouraging a new generation of Saudis to get involved in sport, and he has called on motorsports fans to embrace these high-profile events, starting from February.
“They can firstly secure their seats to watch both races live and we will be making an announcement on ticket sales soon,” he said, adding the races will be broadcast live on KSA Sports.
As the Dakar Rally concludes tomorrow along the shores of the Red Sea, eyes will quickly turn towards Diriyah and Formula E before the long countdown begins towards the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at the end of the year. As head of SAMF, Prince Khaled couldn’t be prouder.
“These major international events are the result of a lot of hard work and visionary leadership, but are born out of our Kingdom’s deep-rooted love for motorsports and racing, which is the very reason they turn out to be hugely successful,” he said. “I don’t think many people would have imagined even as recently as only five or 10 years ago that Saudi Arabia would one day host a Dakar Rally, Formula E or Formula 1 race weekend. Now, in 2021, we’re hosting all three.”