5 things we learned from the opening round of the 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season

5 things we learned from the opening round of the 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season
Saleh Al-Shehri scored a late winner for SPL champions Al-Hilal against promoted Al-Tai. (Twitter: @SPL)
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Updated 15 August 2021

5 things we learned from the opening round of the 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season

5 things we learned from the opening round of the 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season
  • Top clubs struggle, new signings make their mark and fans enjoy stadium returns

The first round of games of the 2021-22 Saudi Pro League season is over and what a start it was. Fans are back in stadiums, stars are back on the pitch and the goals are flying in. Of course, there is a long way to go, but there was enough to suggest that this is going to be a season to remember.

1. A tale of three strikers at Al-Hilal

Al-Hilal coach Leonardo Jardim has a wealth of attacking players at his disposal and decided to go with two strikers against Al-Tai in a 4-4-2 formation, not one seen much these days in Saudi Arabian football. That meant a forward line of Moussa Marega and Bafetimbi Gomis, perhaps the most formidable in Asia.

Yet the newly promoted team, hoping to grab a point, made it difficult and while the big-name strikers showed signs of working well together, the deadlock remained intact. There was a lot of possession for the hosts, but in the absence of Salman Al-Faraj, the approach play was sometimes lacking, and as the match drifted into stoppage time, the visitors still had that precious point. Up stepped substitute striker Saleh Al-Shehri, who found space between two defenders to head home a fine cross from Nasser Al-Dawsari. As well as clinching three points, it was a gentle reminder that local strikers have a nose for goal, too.

2. Talisca wows the fans

Pity Martinez who? A year ago, Al-Nassr spent big on Pity Martinez. The Argentine star is injured, but he was not missed as the Riyadh club signalled their intentions in style with a 4-1 win. OK, the opposition may have been unfancied Damac, but other title hopefuls lost opening games they would have expected to win.

They didn’t have Talisca.

The Brazilian looked good during his spell in China, and he was everywhere on Friday, like a man possessed. It wasn’t just the goal but the possibilities that seemed to exist on the pitch whenever he had the ball. The ungainly but effective midfielder won the opening penalty early in the game that was converted by Abderrazzak Hamdallah to send Al-Nassr on their way. He headed the second and made the fourth.

A fantastic debut, one of the best seen in Saudi Arabia for years. Damac struggled to handle his strength and skill, and it bodes well for the season.

3. Al-Ittihad need Coronado

Al-Ittihad were not far away last season, finishing just five points behind champions Al-Hilal. Paying $12 million or so for Igor Coronado seemed to be great business, but the Brazilian missed the opening game as he was not registered in time, with the Tigers waiting to receive the correct financial documentation.

It needs to be sorted as soon as possible. Al-Ittihad looked toothless in their opening day 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Feiha. They had over two-thirds of possession, and there were lots of chances created, but none finished — there was a definite rustiness.

The hosts didn’t create much, but when the chance came, it was converted and that was the difference. Al-Ittihad may well look back at the opening game and regret the absence of their new star. Coronado needs to start as soon as possible.

4. The league is looking competitive

Al-Ittihad are not the only big team to suffer a setback in the opening round.

Al-Shabab finished second last season and were, in the end, a little disappointed not to take a first title for a decade. They lost 2-1 to an Abha team that were close to relegation last season. Al-Taawoun finished fourth, but threw away a 3-1 lead at Al-Hazm and ended up having to settle for a point.

It bodes well for the season ahead. A competitive league is not only good for the fans but also for Saudi Arabian football. If there are no easy games for the big boys, then everyone has to be at their best in every game, and this creates the kind of mentality that is needed across the league.

If the smaller teams can finish high up the table and even challenge for the top three and the Champions League, it inspires and motivates others to try to do the same, which will ultimately result in a stronger league. These are early days, of course, but a little unpredictability goes a long way.

5. One point gained for Al-Ahli

Al-Ahli had a disappointing season last time around, but after plenty of activity in the transfer market, hopes are high for the campaign ahead. A number of new foreign stars such as Paulinho, Dankler and  Ezgjan Alioski, were absent for the opener as the club struggled to arrange visas and flights, and get registrations sorted in time for kick-off.

As such, a 1-1 draw with King’s Cup winner Al-Faisaly was not a bad result — and not a bad performance. Coach Besnik Hasi knows that he has to tighten a leaky defense and there was a more solid look at the back.

Al-Faisaly will look back on the game as a missed opportunity to start the season with a vital win as Al-Ahli will surely get better when their foreign stars take to the pitch.


ICC slices up events cake as dates and locations for next cycle of short-format men’s tournaments are announced

ICC slices up events cake as dates and locations for next cycle of short-format men’s tournaments are announced
Updated 47 sec ago

ICC slices up events cake as dates and locations for next cycle of short-format men’s tournaments are announced

ICC slices up events cake as dates and locations for next cycle of short-format men’s tournaments are announced
  • With cricket’s image increasingly tarnished in recent times, the ICC’s close-knit venue selection methods would benefit from greater transparency

No sooner had Australia’s name been etched on the T20 Men’s trophy on Nov. 14 than the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced the host venues for the next cycle of short-format men’s tournaments.

Venues for women’s tournaments are awaited.

The men’s cycle, running between 2024 and 2031, comprises 50-over One-Day International (ODI) World Cups, expanded to 14 teams; Twenty20 World Cups, expanded to 20 teams; and Champions Trophy competitions. The venues are summarised below and reveal some intriguing results.

First, the allocation of the 2024 T20 World Cup to a combination of the West Indies and the USA represents a boost for both the ailing finances in the Caribbean and the ambitions to expand the game in the US, where the ICC hopes cricket will feature in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

Secondly, India has been granted three of the eight men’s tournaments. Although two of them are co-hosted, respectively, with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the award of these hostings, when added to India’s sole hosting of the 2023 ODI tournament in October/November 2023, provides further proof, if it was ever required, of India’s influence in world cricket.

Year ICC Event (Men) Host(s) * Full Members
2024 T20 World Cup USA, West Indies*
2025 Champions Trophy Pakistan*
2026 T20 World Cup India*, Sri Lanka*
2027 ODI World Cup South Africa*, Zimbabwe*, Namibia
2028 T20 World Cup Australia*, New Zealand*
2029 Champions Trophy India
2030 T20 World Cup England*, Ireland*, Scotland
2031 ODI World Cup India, Bangladesh*

 

Thirdly, England has only one hosting, with that being shared with Scotland and Ireland. This distant event in 2030 will mean an interval of eleven years between England’s last major hosting, that of the ODI World Cup in 2019. Some may interpret this as a loss of influence.

Fourthly, Pakistan has been selected to host the 2025 Champions Trophy. This 50-over tournament between the top eight ranked teams has been re-instated. It will be Pakistan’s first ICC tournament since 1996 and will be a boon for its enthusiastic fans, who were denied the opportunity to watch international cricket at home this year when both New Zealand and England abandoned their visits.

Fifthly, reflecting its recent achievements in reaching the Super12 Stage of the 2021 T20 World Cup, Namibia will co-host the 2027 ODI World Cup with South Africa and Zimbabwe.

In its official announcement of the venues, the ICC stated that this was the first time that a competitive bidding process had been adopted for ICC events and that 14 members hosting eight events reflected the global nature of the sport.

Closer inspection suggests that a more tortuous process had been followed. The decision to introduce a bidding mechanism had been made at an ICC meeting in October 2019. It reflected the ICC’s aim to make the game more global, by opening the opportunity for any member – full or associate - to bid to host ICC events. In the previous eight-year cycle, all major men’s events had been allocated to the “big three,” Australia, England and India, so the bidding process represented a shift in philosophy.

This did not sit well with the big three. India, in particular, was concerned that cricket, especially Tests, played between two countries, would suffer. It appeared to regard re-instating the Champions Trophy as unnecessary. In February 2020, to India’s apparent annoyance, the ICC emailed all members asking them to tender their expressions of interest for hosting any of the 20 global events in men’s and women’s cricket between 2024-31 by March 15, 2020.

Once these had been received, the ICC planned to use the choices to shape the timing and location of the events in the cycle. Then a formal Request for Proposal process would be opened for six months. A host of eligibility criteria was drawn up, including the required infrastructure to stage the events, the current cricketing eco-system in the market, the growth potential and development of infrastructure in place, along with guarantees placed in relation to visas, tax exemptions, customs and security.

The onset of the pandemic caused a hiatus in the process, which resumed in February this year, followed by an announcement in early June, specifying that the ICC Board would select the event hosts, rather than through an open bidding process. The change in tack seemed to turn on an argument that only a few, probably referring to three, members had the necessary infrastructure and skillsets to host the largest events. It may also reflect changes in senior personnel in both the ICC and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

By July, 17 member nations had expressed interest, with the 10 full members submitting preliminary technical proposals. The second stage of the process would involve more detailed proposals which allow the board to make final decisions.

It delegated the overseeing of host venue selection to a three-man sub-committee. This comprised three members of the main ICC Board — the chair from New Zealand, the president of Cricket West Indies and the BCCI president, who became chair of the ICC Men’s Cricket Committee this November.

It is not clear how the members of this committee were chosen, nor is it clear what the criteria were for the final selection of hosts. The results clearly benefit India but not so much the other two of the big three. The ICC has achieved a wider global spread of events in line with its strategy. This is likely to be further enhanced once it completes a similar process and announces, in early 2022, the hosts for the women’s and Under 19’s events in the next cycle.

At present, cricket’s image is tarnished, its conduct under scrutiny. In the UK, this is for its racism scandal. Cricket Australia is in the dock for an alleged lack of probity relating to its handling of captaincy appointments. The BCCI has long been accused of wielding too much power within the game.

In this environment, the ICC’s close-knit venue selection methods would benefit from greater transparency.


Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit
Updated 19 min 33 sec ago

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart: Saudis have done amazing job on Jeddah Corniche Circuit

JEDDAH: Three-time Formula One champion Sir Jackie Stewart has come out to praise the “amazing job” done by Saudi Arabia in completing the construction of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, the venue for the highly-anticipated Saudi Grand Prix from Dec. 3 to 5.

The British former F1 driver from Scotland — nicknamed the “Flying Scot” — spoke to Arab News during the special reception held in the gardens of the British Consulate in Jeddah to celebrate the inaugural Saudi Grand Prix.

“It is wonderful to have the Grand Prix in the country and it is going to be an international success,” he said. 

On his second visit to Saudi Arabia, Sir Jackie described the transformation taking place in the Kingdom as bold and visionary: “The last time I was here (was) almost nine years ago, but it seems this time a lot of things have changed in Saudi Arabia and I see a very developed country which has a good future and it is obvious.”

He continued: “I think Saudi Arabia succeeded in hosting F1 and this will attract the world to see more of Saudi Arabia.”

He said the Jeddah circuit was amazing when you consider the timescale in which the track has been put together.

“On Tuesday, I had the chance to drive on it and it is a great track. It has a nice flow to it, a wide variety of corners, and is really good to drive. I don’t think I’ve ever driven on such a fast circuit before with so many high-speed corners, so I think it will be quite a challenge for drivers this weekend.”

He added: “I enjoyed my first real taste of the new circuit, I think F1 track designer Carsten Tilke has done a great job.”

The 82-year-old managed to claim three F1 World Championships between 1969 and 1973, with 99 race starts before he retired in 1973, aged just 34.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s big race, the racing legend pointed out that the fight for the Drivers’ World Championship remains close between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

“To be first, you first have to cross the finish line first, it is going to be a tough challenge between Hamilton and Verstappen and we all look forward for the race.”


Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
Updated 24 min 16 sec ago

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field

Speed innovation: How Saudi university lab is helping McLaren lap F1 field
  • Unique partnership with top racing team sees KAUST technological expertise play out on Grand Prix circuit, winners’ podium

JEDDAH: When McLaren Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished first and second in September’s Italian Grand Prix, the gap between them was just 1.747 seconds.

If either had run just a few seconds slower at Monza, Formula 1’s fastest track, they would have tumbled off the winner’s podium and into the middle of the pack.

That is why F1 teams spend tens of millions of dollars annually tweaking their cars’ aerodynamics, fuel combustion, and telemetry – all in pursuit of an edge worth hundredths of a second per lap.

But when all 10 teams line up on the grid in Jeddah on Dec. 5 for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – on the fastest street circuit ever, with estimated average speeds of 252 kmh (156 mph) – only McLaren will possess a home-grown advantage.

In 2018, the team signed a five-year research partnership deal with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – the Saudi equivalent of MIT – to treat its vehicles as living laboratories. In exchange, KAUST’s students and faculty would bring their expertise in software, sensors, and chemistry to bear on a unique challenge: Navigating the corners and straightaways of Jeddah’s corniche a few seconds faster than everyone else.

Matteo Parsani, assistant professor of applied mathematics and computational science at KAUST, said: “Why is an F1 car faster around the track than a Grand Prix motorcycle, which can also achieve speeds of 300 kmh? Aerodynamics. The manipulation of air around the vehicle is the single biggest differentiator in F1.”

Greater downforce, for example, enables drivers to corner turns at higher speeds, which comes in handy on a course with 27 turns.

Traditionally, teams turned to wind-tunnel testing, which was both costly and time-consuming. More recently, F1 has embraced computational fluid dynamics, which harnesses supercomputing-level processing power to massively simulate and optimize airflow over surfaces. Brute force will take teams only so far, however.

The sport’s voluminous regulations include strict caps on the number of central processing unit hours they can use, which means the most elegant algorithm wins the day. To that end, Parsani and his colleagues in KAUST’s Extreme Computing Research Center have licensed to McLaren the exclusive use of their state-of-the-art solver, which succeeds where off-the-shelf tools fail in accurately modeling turbulent air flow – the bane of drivers.

AN AMBITIOUS JOURNEY

Aerodynamics is only one arm of the partnership’s ambitious agenda, which has expanded in scope from on-track performance to assisting with McLaren’s decade-long commitment to carbon neutrality and support of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Mark Barnett, director of research and innovation at McLaren Racing, said: “KAUST’s world-class research and development facilities, faculty leaders, and desire to combine emerging technologies with sustainability initiatives continues to help our team on our ambitious journey.”

But what originally drew the team to KAUST was a question of fuel. Just as F1 regulates how many teraflops teams can use, each car is allotted a maximum of 110 kilograms (29.06 gallons) of fuel. This means teams must strive to extract every joule from every drop, which, depending on the course and conditions, changes from race to race.

Mani Sarathy, associate director of KAUST’s Clean Combustion Research Center, said: “We help McLaren determine optimal fuel combustion by providing them with candidate formulations and the tools.”

Just as Parsani’s group has substituted simulation for wind tunnels, Sarathy’s team uses machine learning to identify candidates for field testing.

One area where KAUST has been able to contribute outside of the lab has been in sensors.

The advent of real-time telemetry in the 1980s transformed F1, as torrents of new data spurred on the optimization of nearly everything. Today’s cars are festooned with hundreds of sensors transmitting gigabytes of data about speed, airflow, engine temperature, braking, exhaust, and much, much more. The weight of those sensors quickly adds up, however, prompting teams to seek yet another infinitesimal edge in swapping them for ones made with ultra-lightweight materials.

As part of that effort, a team of KAUST students was dispatched to observe McLaren Racing in action at the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Watching the team meticulously prepare for its practice laps, Altynay Kaidarova, a Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering, saw first-hand the incredible stresses placed on the car, including extreme G-forces and internal temperatures reaching several hundred degrees Celsius.

Upon returning to KAUST, under the watchful eye of her supervisor Prof. Jurgen Kosel, she set out to “develop customized sensors by exploiting our cutting-edge fabrication technologies.”

Kaidarova’s material of choice was graphene – atom-thick sheets of pure carbon 100-times stronger (and lighter) than steel, and nearly as difficult and expensive to forge.

Her solution was to 3-D-print them, creating a process that enabled her to adapt sensors designed by colleagues to measure strain, airflow, and inertia to survive the extreme environments faced by an F1 car, both inside and out.

She said: “Our aim is to incorporate graphene-enhanced wireless sensors to simultaneously obtain parameters such as force, pressure, and temperature from multiple points around the car.”

TECH BEYOND THE TRACK

These sensors have uses far beyond the track, too. Just as McLaren Racing spun out McLaren Applied to employ its research and development in other industries, the KAUST faculty is eager to see its work with the team pay dividends in the classroom and beyond.

Sarathy’s group is collaborating with Hyundai to design more fuel-efficient engines, while Parsani’s CFD solver is being put to work by NASA.

Kaidarova mounted graphene sensors on marine animals to deliver data both on behavior and an expanded suite of environmental conditions relevant to marine ecosystem health in Oceanographic of Valencia, the largest complex of its type in Europe.

But first, their contributions must prove themselves on the winding streets of Jeddah – and, McLaren hopes, might prove the margin of victory.

Parsani noted that F1 was the ultimate crucible for KAUST or any engineering university.

“Students are exposed to a real industrial project in a real setting. It’s a unique opportunity to watch our research start as pen-and-paper, see it evolve into algorithms, and finally apply it to one of the most complicated devices humanity has ever made,” he added.

No one could ask for a better classroom than a F1 track. The final exam is Sunday.


5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Updated 02 December 2021

5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

5 things we learned from first round of matches at 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • The 16-nation tournament is a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup with seven of the eight stadiums for Qatar 2022 hosting matches

The first round of eight matches in the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup are now done and dusted. Here are five things we learned from the action in Qatar.

Mabkhout’s blank good for UAE

The United Arab Emirates’ 2-1 win over Syria was not just a positive way to start the tournament but it also makes it two wins out of the last two games for the Whites, who had been struggling in the final round of qualification for the World Cup. To taste victory again can only be good for confidence.

On the road to Qatar, star striker Ali Mabkhout has been the go-to man for the goals, understandably so given the fact that he is just a goal away from joining Lionel Messi as the second-highest active goalscorer in international football. It was welcome however that he did not score.

The goals came from elsewhere. Caio Canedo was impressive up front and scored the first. It was a goal that demonstrated that quality deliveries into the area make things happen. 

A great cross from Bandar Al-Ahbabi was headed home. Mabkhout played a big part in the second with a long and direct run that caused problems and resulted in the ball falling to Ali Saleh who made no mistake. Two good goals and now two good wins.

Egypt labor against Lebanon, but have time to improve

Fans in Egypt were a little disappointed with a 1-0 win over Lebanon as they expected to pick up a comfortable win with a three or four-goal margin. Anybody who has been closely following World Cup qualification in Asia would have warned how hard Lebanon can be to play against as Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz, who remembers the Cedars from his time with Iran, did.

The Pharaohs had two-thirds of the possession but struggled to make things happen. The first game of any tournament is not usually when the big boys hit the heights and it is more about getting points on the board.

Queiroz said before the tournament that it will be a chance for some fringe players to play their way into the squad for the upcoming African Cup of Nations. Mohamed Magdy has certainly helped his chances of making the starting 11. The midfielder didn’t just score the winning penalty but created a number of chances at a time when good ones were at a premium. There’s more to come from Egypt.

Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia look ominous

While Tunisia have a handful of European-based players with them in Qatar, the other two North African giants are using only domestic squads. It didn’t make much of a difference in the opening round as they both won 4-0.

Morocco had perhaps the toughest task in taking on a hard-working Palestine team missing a few players of their own. The Atlas Lions were just a class above, with Abdelilah Hafidi really catching the eye with two goals and a fine all-round display.

Algeria dismissed Sudan by the same scoreline. The likes of Baghdad Bounedjah and Hilal Soudani have been in good form for Al-Sadd of Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s Damac respectively and brought that sharpness to the international stage.

Tunisia were far too strong for Mauritania as the 5-1 thrashing suggests. 

There is still a long way to go but there would be no surprise if one of these three teams lifted the trophy in two weeks’ time.

Encouragement for Iraq as spirit returns

A 98th minute penalty kick to salvage a 1-1 draw with Oman ensured that Tuesday was not a day to remember for Iraq, but it was a solid start under Zeljko Petrovic, the interim boss following the recent resignation of Dick Advocaat.

The Lions were lively in the first half and should have gone in at the break ahead after twice being denied by the woodwork. The second half sending off of Yasser Karim halted their momentum and it was no surprise when Oman, who have been performing well in World Cup qualification and have plenty of confidence, took the lead with 12 minutes remaining. 

Yet Iraq did not give up and were rewarded for their efforts with that last-gasp spot kick that was converted by Hassan Abdulkareem in his first game for the country. Some of that old Iraqi spirit looks to have returned.

Lebanon fight hard, and fall short, once more

The 1-0 defeat to Egypt was a familiar story for fans back in Lebanon. The last three games for the national team have seen them come up against some of the best in Asia and Africa in Iran, UAE and now Egypt. All three ended in one goal defeats. 

Against Iran, they were minutes away from a famous victory but conceded twice in  the final moments. Then there was a dodgy penalty conceded against UAE with five minutes left. A penalty against Egypt with 19 minutes to go settled the first game. Once again, Lebanon were competitive against a bigger team as the result shows even if Egypt felt they should have won by a bigger margin.

Given all that has happened in the country in recent years, that the football team can still perform should be a source of pride. Some fans wanted coach Ivan Hasek to try a different game plan however. He went with five at the back, the team sat too deep and there was too much giving the ball away, especially in the first half.

In a game that did not have the pressure and jeopardy of a final round World Cup qualifier and playing Egypt, a tough opponent but without their European stars, was perhaps a chance to try a more expansive game. It is a big ask.


Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher discusses ‘challenging’ Jeddah Grand Prix

Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher discusses ‘challenging’ Jeddah Grand Prix
Updated 47 min 48 sec ago

Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher discusses ‘challenging’ Jeddah Grand Prix

Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher discusses ‘challenging’ Jeddah Grand Prix
  • Schumacher was in Riyadh on Friday and Saturday for the Ferrari Motorsport Festival
  • The Jeddah Grand Prix on Dec. 5 is the penultimate race of the 2021 season

RIYADH: Haas Formula One Team driver Mick Schumacher said he is looking forward to racing this weekend by the open sea in what is Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Grand Prix for the championship.

A member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Schumacher was in Riyadh on Friday and Saturday for the Ferrari Motorsport Festival before making his way to Jeddah for the fifth night race of the season.

The Swiss-born German driver — son of seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher — told Arab News: “I’ve only driven (the Jeddah Corniche Circuit) in the simulator, so it will be different in real life. It seems to be a very quick track.” 

Schumacher, who currently drives for the American team Haas, drove two historic Ferrari cars at the festival in Riyadh: the SF70H, and the FXX which his father Michael previously drove. “These cars are very special to drive, it was great being able to connect with them even though it’s not a big track here, I still got to feel it,” he said.

Mick Schumacher driving the Ferrari FXX that his father Michael previously drove. (AN Photo/Zaid Khashogji)

The younger Schumacher began his career in karting in 2008 and progressed to the German ADAC Formula Four in 2015. After winning the 2018 FIA Formula Three European Championship, he moved up to Formula Two in 2019 and won the championship the following year. Along with Russian driver Nikita Mazepin, Schumacher replaced Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean on Haas’ roster this season.

The Jeddah Grand Prix on Dec. 5 is the penultimate race of the 2021 season, with fans eagerly anticipating the culmination of an epic competition to discover who will take the crown: seven-time world champion Mercedes-AMG driver Lewis Hamilton or up-and-coming Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen.

“I think the average speed (of the Jeddah track) is more than 250 kilometers per hour, so it will be challenging for sure,” Schumacher said. “Hopefully with some ocean breeze, we’ll be able to have a nice race.”

Behind the scenes with Mick Schumacher and Arab News. (AN Photo/Abdulaziz Khashoggi)

Located on the corniche along the Red Sea, the Formula One stc Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is 6,175 km long, making it the second-longest circuit on the F1 calendar after Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, and the longest and fastest street track in Formula One, with average speeds of 252 kilometers per hour and top speeds of up to 322 kilometers per hour between Turns 25 and 27. 

Several Formula One teams have already arrived to a colorful welcome at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, with more due to arrive in the coming days as the countdown to the big race continues.

International stars Justin Bieber and Jason Derulo will headline a pair of after-race concerts over the race weekend, joined by Tiesto, ASAP Rocky and David Guetta.

The Formula One village will offer visitors outdoor recreational activities on its new walkways and cycling paths and children’s playgrounds.

“Jeddah is my hometown and I cannot wait to see the Formula One cars drive on the corniche by the Red Sea, where I used to drive before construction began,” one fan told Arab News. “That is something I’ve been waiting my whole life to see.”