RIYADH: The launch of the 2020-21 Formula E season with the Diriyah E-Prix double this weekend is the second of three spectacular motorsport events in Saudi Arabia this year.
The night-time action on February 26-27 follows hot on the heels of the Dakar Rally in January, with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix bringing Formula One to the Kingdom for the first time in December, establishing the country as a major racing hub in the Middle East.
Already, the setting of these events has left a mark on those who experienced them.
“This is the best place I’ve ever seen since the first Dakar. All these mixed, different places, incredible. Tomorrow, I think, could be even more beautiful, but maybe that’s impossible.”
Those were the words of French photographer Éric Vargiolu as he breathed in the vast expanse of desert the pilots would be venturing across midway through the opening week of the first Dakar rally in Saudi Arabia in January last year.
Dakar 2020 was the rally’s debut on Middle Eastern soil, and broke new ground for both its organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and motorsports in Saudi Arabia.
A year on, the Kingdom is gearing up to host the new ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season this weekend – Riyadh’s third hosting of the event.
Organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) in line with the ambitions of Vision 2030, the three events have made it to the Kingdom thanks to an almost universal passion for motorsports across Saudi Arabia, said SAMF chairman Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal.
“Saudis love racing, and as a nation Saudi Arabia has a very proud motorsports and racing heritage, from the desert rallies we’ve been famed for worldwide to our own drivers competing at the very top level,” Prince Khalid said. “It’s a passion for millions of Saudis, and the world respects that.”
“That has proven key to our ability to attract these global mega-events to Saudi — and for extended periods, too,” he added. “This is the third race in a 10-year agreement with Formula E. We also have 10 years of Dakar Saudi and now of Formula One, too, because international governing bodies buy into the love our people have for elite level racing, among many other sports.”
Prince Khalid highlighted that the weekend’s night races here on the streets of Diriyah are part of the country’s desire to continue innovating, always taking a fresh approach to such events.
“The ride is already well underway but if you haven’t already, then strap yourselves in, as the next 10 years and beyond promise to be the best that Saudi Arabian motorsports have ever seen.”
The Kingdom has a long and proud history of home-grown motorsport events, with the Saudi Desert Rally Championship growing year upon year, as well as a host of Baja rallies taking place annually.
However, the arrival of Formula E, Dakar Saudi and the Saudi Grand Prix have elevated Saudi Arabia’s status to the top-table of global motorsports.
And there is more to come in the Kingdom.
Extreme E – the new FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series using electric SUVs – launches its maiden season with its first ever race in AlUla in April, where drivers will navigate their way through Saudi Arabia’s breathtaking landscapes, bringing a fourth world-class event to the Kingdom’s packed 2021 motorsport calendar.
Meanwhile, Saudi investment in motorsport continues with the development of the Kingdom’s dedicated Formula 1 track as part of the $8 billion Qiddiya project – a move that would take the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from the streets of Jeddah to the outskirts of Riyadh in years to come.