JEDDAH: Silverstone, Circuit de Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps; Jeddah’s new Formula 1 race circuit will soon be rivaling some of the world’s greatest tracks when it is completed ahead of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix next December.
On Sunday, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially signal the start of construction on the track — with completion expected around mid-November this year.
“It means a lot. We know Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsports, it’s the biggest event that Saudi Arabia will host,” the SAMF chairman said. “It’s very important for the Kingdom, for our youth, for the sport, for the economy, and for tourism.”
Despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, the Kingdom actively continued to be home to some of the biggest motorsports events on the local and international tours, and is now set to host the grandest of them all.
When Jeddah holds the Kingdom’s first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix it will cap off a landmark year which has already seen the Dakar Rally, Formula E, and Extreme E championship races.
“We are preparing ourselves to host the most thrilling and exciting race ever,” Prince Khalid said. “The Jeddah circuit will be amazing. It’s the fastest street circuit, and it’s the longest street circuit.”
The Saudi Arabian GP — one of 23 races — is set to take place on Dec. 5, 2021, and the circuit will be built on a coastal stretch of Jeddah’s Corniche, giving the spectators and drivers an open view of the Red Sea.
“How many Formula 1 race tracks are on the side of the sea?” Martin Whitaker, CEO of the Saudi Arabian GP said. “It’s a fantastic location, the community of Jeddah is going to experience something completely different. This will be a real differentiator for F1 racing as well. It’s a great new home for F1.”
With just over seven months until the race, Whitaker says the biggest challenges are time and the pandemic.
“We have two plans,” he said. We’re planning for a race with full spectators, but also, we have a COVID plan as well.”
Prince Khalid believes the design of the circuit will make it one of the most exciting in Formula 1.
“Normally, the street circuits are a bit boring in terms of racing because of the location, there’s not a lot of changes that can be done, but we are very lucky here in this area of the Corniche,” he said. “It’s still not developed, so this gave us the opportunity to do a street circuit that is fast and thrilling and exciting, so it’s going to beat Monaco.”
“With what the Kingdom is doing regarding vaccination, and the progress we are seeing, from here until December I’m sure that a lot of people will be vaccinated,” The SAMF chairman added. “And I pray and I hope that the situation will be much better and we’ll be in a position where we can allow our fans to come and enjoy this lovely race with us.”
Last year saw Lewis Hamilton win his seventh world championship after the 20th race of the season. Max Verstappen turned up the heat this year with a breathtakingly close second-place podium finish - behind Hamilton - at the season-opening Bahrain GP to confirm himself as the biggest threat to the champion's dream of what would be a record-breaking eighth title in 2021.
“Max Verstappen proved in Bahrain he’s fast. Hopefully, we’ll see other drivers challenge Hamilton and make the championship more difficult to achieve,” Prince Khalid said.
A new Formula 1 circuit is also currently under construction in Qiddiya, Riyadh, and is set to host future editions of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix once completed in a few years’ time.
“The initial plan was to host the Formula 1 race in Qiddiya, but the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness, wanted us not to wait,” Prince Khalid said. “I think Qiddiya should be ready by the end of 2023, so we wanted to bring the race sooner than that and we chose a perfect location — Jeddah."