DUBAI: After a year of disruptions and delays across global sporing competitions, Formula E returns to Saudi Arabia for the third time with the Diriyah E-Prix double-header on February 26 and 27.
The nighttime races will kick off the 2021 Formula E season, and Jerry Inzerillo, CEO, Diriyah Gate Development Authority, say the UNESCO-protected area is ready to welcome back the action.
Q. You’ve spoken before about Diriyah being a place of ‘gathering’. Why is that so important to you personally and to this historic location?
A. Diriyah is the birthplace of the First Saudi State, the Jewel of the Kingdom. It is an historic city, just 15 minutes north-west of Riyadh city centre which we, Diriyah Gate Development Authority, are transforming into one of the world’s foremost lifestyle destinations for culture and heritage, hospitality, retail and education.
Our intention is to connect all Saudis to this rich heritage, recreating and reimagining an important part of Saudi history, and for it to become one of the world’s greatest gathering places. It is of the utmost important the visitors we welcome see and experience the unparalleled hospitality of Diriyah.
Its young, dynamic energy is perhaps not what the world expects from Saudi Arabia, which is what makes it all the more special when you see it for yourself.
Q. It’s been over a year since the last Formula E race due to the ongoing global pandemic. Can you tell us what’s happened in Diriyah since the 2019 race?
A. It can’t be denied that 2020 was a challenging year globally – however despite this, Diriyah is on time and on track and construction has been forging ahead these past few months. Like many, we have had to reframe our strategy as the world continues to adapt and at this point, our initial focus will be on domestic tourism, improving the lives of the local Diriyah and Riyadh communities as our first assets open later this year, with a view to then increasing our focus onto international travellers as the world opens up again.
Operationally, we’ve been breaking ground on an enormous below ground infrastructure project which will become one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated sub-surface infrastructures globally. We have recently signed billions of SARs worth of new contracts, across construction, designers, and project management, and are currently in the process of adapting different building techniques for our authentic Najdi architecture.
We’re truly laying the foundations for the future of Diriyah, and we couldn’t be more excited to showcase the first phases of the development as they complete later this year.
Q. The 2021 Diriyah E-Prix will be a momentous occasion in the short history of Formula E when the cars line up on the grid for the first ever night race. How is Diriyah preparing for a race under the lights and how excited are you about the spectacle?
A. This is the third year in which the Ministry of Sport is hosting the race in Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif. The internationally renowned street racing track will come alive under the floodlights as Saudi Arabia leads the way in adding even more thrill to what is one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
The inaugural Diriyah E-Prix was the Kingdom’s first major international event, last year it became the Middle East’s first double-header and in February, it will be the first ever night race for the all-electric ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.
Huge thanks and praise must go to His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sport, and His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, for their excellent leadership, as well as the whole Ministry of Sport team who are helping to deliver such a unique and exciting spectacle for the community.
The prospect of lighting up the night sustainably was a challenge that drove great creativity and innovation between our teams and it is inspiring to see sustainable, more energy efficient and renewable solutions being employed at this year’s Formula E event. This year’s spectacular double header will be held under the glow of low consumption LED technology lighting that uses up to 50 per cent less energy to non-LED lighting. This is a vital aspect to Formula E, with its very inception being focused on reduced carbon emissions – and being the first sport to have net zero carbon since it launched seven years ago.
Q. With the amount of large-scale sporting events that have now taken place in Diriyah – from Formula E to boxing world title fights and tennis championships, is Diriyah now considered to be a global sport hub?
A. Our mission is to emphasise Diriyah’s position as one of the world’s greatest gathering places, with the modern amenities and infrastructure of an iconic tourist destination. Through this evolution and thanks to the sophisticated vision of His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, we have been fortunate to forge great sporting partnerships, such as we have with the likes of Formula E. Welcoming modern events to the Kingdom and to Diriyah is our greatest pleasure as it tests our preparedness as a culturally-connected and relevant global hub of not just sports, also but entertainment, culture, heritage and education.
The spectacle and electricity of the Formula E track against the historic backdrop of Diriyah is a fitting representation of our shared vision – to respectfully protect the essence of our past but make strides towards the future.
Q. How does this iconic location separate you from other potential hosts for events and sporting jewels?
A. Diriyah is known to be a land of kings and heroes; the cradle of the First Saudi state. It is this immense history, rich culture, historic neighborhoods and the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site At-Turaif which contribute to it being an incomparable city. There is only one Diriyah.
The roads surrounding the ancient site of Diriyah have played host to a race weekend each season since 2018. Our unique positioning, located just 15 minutes north-west of Riyadh’s city centre, also helps attract both a growing local Riyadh population (anticipated by His Royal Highness The Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to grow to 20 million people by 2030) in addition to international visitors.
In the future, sport and health will take leading roles in the Kingdom as Vision 2030 is realised. From our ambitious projects to create world-class golf courses, to the picturesque squares and oases which enhance social and human interaction; or the dedicated bridle paths for horse riders – this land is largely unknown to the international community and we can’t wait to bring further world-class sporting events here, encouraging people to discover it.
Q. Why is FE the only motor sport that can be hosted in Diriyah? (What is special between FE and Diriyah in terms of environmental protection)
A. Diriyah is proud to host Formula E in collaboration with the Ministry of Sport, bringing the international racing community to our land for the third year in a row. Formula E was first chosen as our motor sporting partner due to its support and dedication to providing an environmentally friendly future, which is deeply engrained in Vision 2030. His Royal Highness The Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is committed to environmental sustainability and the preservation of the Kingdom’s natural potential – we look forward to a prosperous and green future with Formula E as we realise this.
Our world-class lifestyle destination in Diriyah has rich heritage, ambitious sustainability goals, vast expanses of natural environment and an improved quality of life at its core. Heritage and history will be honoured and beautifully interwoven with sustainability and environmental considerations to create a world class global cultural and lifestyle hub that meets the internationally recognised LEED and Mostadam sustainability certifications.
Q. What does it mean to you to have possibly the most future-focused sport taking place in location so steeped in history?
A. Saudi Arabia is an incredibly diverse and scenic country with stunning undulating landscapes that are mostly unknown to all but its residents. However, the Kingdom has centuries of stories to tell and Diriyah is its birthplace. It’s this authentic heritage that cannot be duplicated – it forms such a large part of our history and our typography, even today, which is quite magnificent to see.
We are delighted to host events that match our shared vision for the future, and those who respectfully allow us to shine a light on our past.
The intersection of old and new is a central tenet of DGDA’s masterplan vision, and we look forward to the visual spectacle of the Formula E racetrack set against the backdrop of the UNESCO site of At-Turaif and the Diriyah night sky.
Q. Why should the Saudi community support the Formula E at the Diriyah Circuit?
A. One of DGDA’s core objectives is to improve the lives of the local Diriyah and Riyadh based communities, by providing an offering that enriches their day to day experiences, on the doorstep of Riyadh.
The excitement of these events, along with the strengthened connection between Diriyah and the international sporting community, is a great step towards our future and Vision 2030. There is great pride to be taken from opening the Formula E season and showcasing our land, hospitality and the ambition we will realise here in the coming years.