F1 have announced a deal to race in Saudi Arabia starting with next season, at a street circuit in Jeddah.
The event will be a night race along Jeddah’s Corniche Coastal are which runs along the Red Sea.
A purpose-built circuit will be built meanwhile at Qiddiyah, an entertainment near the capital city Riyadh, intended to be completed in 2023 and with Alex Wurz involved in its design.
Saudi Arabia will become the third Middle Eastern state to host F1 alongside Bahrain and the UAE, and will be the penultimate event on the calendar before the Abu Dubai finale.
However, as with other countries hosting F1 currently there’s controversy over the country’s human rights record, with particular allegations over women’s rights, treatment of migrant workers, human trafficking and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
When news broke that the announcement was imminent, Amnesty International said the race was an attempt to “sports-wash the country’s abysmal human rights record”.
It had been reported by the BBC’s Andrew Benson last week that Jeddah would feature on the 23-race schedule next year, and there’s been rumours for several months that the country was looking to host a race.
It was finally announced today by F1, after the Saudi authorities had teased the announcement on Twitter earlier.
A new global event in 2021 🇸🇦— Ministry of Sport (@gsaksa_en) November 4, 2020
Are you ready !! pic.twitter.com/ToHvVuLQAk
For the first two years of the race it’ll be hosted in the coastal city of Jeddah – the country’s second-largest city – on a street circuit.
Jeddah hosted a friendly between Brazil and Argentina in 2018 has also featured boxing and WWE at the 62,241 capacity King Abdullah Sports City.
From 2023 it’s intended for the event to move 500 miles inland to to Wurz’s purpose-built track in Qiddiya, which fans will hope can provide a new hand to track designs compared to Herman Tilke.
Qiddiya’s an entertainment megacomplex being constructed near Riyadh, described as the country’s “capital of entertainment, sports and the arts”.
Formula E has also visited the country, as in 2018 the Diriyah ePrix became the first FE race held in the Middle East as Antonio Felix da Costa took victory.
At the track that weekend was Reema Juffali – Saudi Arabia’s first woman to race in her home country – who was in the Jaguar i-Pace trophy on the FE support package.
This shows signs of progression from the country, which last year granted women the right to drive and earlier this year, relaxed laws that had previously prevented women travelling without a man’s consent.
In August, the Times reported that F1 teams would demand female team members are given the same rights as male ones while in the country.
When rumours of the Grand Prix surfaced last week, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns Felix Jakens said:
“The Saudi authorities apparently still see elite level sport as a means of rebranding their severely tarnished reputation, [the GP is] part of ongoing efforts to sports-wash the country’s abysmal human rights record.
“In the lead-up to a race in Jeddah, we would urge all F1 drivers, owners and teams to consider speaking out about the human rights situation in the country.”
“If it goes ahead, at the very least F1 should insist that all contracts contain stringent labour standards across all supply chains, and that all race events are open to everyone without discrimination.”
An F1 spokesperson responded: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries, who commit to respect these rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.
“For decades, F1 has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits.”