Qiddiya: F1’s future home for a Saudi Arabia Grand Prix?

2019 F1 season

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Saudi Arabia has become the latest country to be tipped to join the Formula 1 calendar.

But where in the middle eastern kingdom could a grand prix be held? The country does not yet have a Formula 1-grade circuit.

Last year Saudi Arabia held its first ever Formula E race on a street track in the capital city Riyadh. But the 2.495 kilometre Ad Diriyah course would have to be extended by over a kilometre in order to meet the FIA’s minimum standard length for F1 circuits (assuming, unlike Monaco’s 3.3km circuit, it was not granted an exemption).

If not Ad-Diriyah, then where? A new multi-billion pound entertainment ‘giga project’ called Qiddiya may be the answer.

The Qiddiya project was announced by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman in July 2017. The vast development, situated 40 kilometres from Riyadh, will cover an area of 334 square kilometres.

The masterplan describes Qiddiya as the country’s “capital of entertainment, sports and the arts”. Among its five areas is a ‘Resort Core’ which will feature a “‘Speed Park’ which brings together events and experiences from the world of motor sports in a venue that places equal emphasis on spectator and driver.”

While the developers have not officially indicated interest in a race, publicity material issued on their social media presences features Formula 1 cars and the official F1 logo. One graphic depicts F1 cars passing beneath a glass-bottomed swimming pool.

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If F1 is their target, a race at Qiddiya will not happen before 2022, when the first phase of construction is due to be completed. However the championship can expect to face similar criticism to Formula E if it chooses to race in Saudi Arabia, particularly following the June publication of a United Nations report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia’s restrictive policies towards women may present further problems. However some progress has been made in this respect recently: Women were granted the right to drive cars last year and in the past week relaxed laws which forbade women from travelling without the consent of a man.

However other restrictions remain. The Times reported yesterday F1 teams were asked for their views on racing in the country and will stipulate that all female employees associated with the sport should be given the same rights as their male counterparts.

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Image: Qiddiya via Twitter

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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70 comments on “Qiddiya: F1’s future home for a Saudi Arabia Grand Prix?”

  1. I’m not going to criticize the venue, because I’m rather ‘attached’ to my extremities, thank you very much.

  2. Women were granted the right to drive cars last year and in the past week relaxed laws which forbade women from travelling without the consent of a man.

    Yes! Progression my friends. They will reach 2019 in no time, you’ll see

  3. No doubt they’ll be quite happy to pay a huge fee to host a race which seems to the the major motivation for F1 to go to the Middle East.

    Liberty will be excited.

    1. @dbradock – apart from the hosting fees that you rightly point out, it gives Liberty the flexibility to still have a packed calendar when some other circuit tries to play hardball in contract negotiations.

    2. In my view, it would make sense to have them replace Abu Dhabi – surely the sheikhs there have had enough publicity from the race. At least this might be a more interesting track, and as for human rights, they are probably about the same level @phylyp, @dbradock

      It could replace Bahrain too. But that is a far better track than Abu Dhabi, so I would rather they replace the emirates.

  4. Jokes apart, the Middle East is becoming a bit like Europe – a cluster of races in close geographic proximity.

    The difference is, Europe has a huge motorsport heritage and the tracks have character. Even the ones that are criticized!

    All I wish for in the Kingdom of Saud is that the track be more a Bahrain than an Abu Dhabi. Maybe even some decent elevation changes.

    1. The difference is, Europe has a huge motorsport heritage and the tracks have character.

      Though it should be noted that heritage has to start somewhere. Playing devil’s advocate, denying other continents or regions of the world a chance to build their own heritage would inevitably force motorsport into a permanent Euro-centric view.

      You won’t get any disagreement about the tracks having character, though I blame that more on whatever deity has decided that all contemporary-built F1 tracks need to be 5.x km long.

      1. Playing devil’s advocate, denying other continents or regions of the world a chance to build their own heritage would inevitably force motorsport into a permanent Euro-centric view.

        @klon – that’s a good counter-argument.

        1. @klon @phylyp

          An interesting discussion thread, there is of course the opportunity over time to build up a motorsport heritage first before bidding to host a Grand Prix. Indeed if they did this from the bottom up – building and nurturing a racing community whilst also working on it’s human rights issues I think people would me more accepting of a country hosting a F1 race.

          I realise that may sound condescending, but it wold be nice to see one of the newer venues earn the right to bid for a race rather than just buying one as a new trinket to show off to its neighbours.

      2. @klon, surely, Abu Dhabi does not have an excuse even with the unitary-F1 track bible, it is bad beyond that. The pictures we see here from Saudi Arabia look like they are competing with exactly that: bling and everything surrounding the track, not with Bahrain in matter of providing a more interesting track to race on. Advocate or no, your defense doesn’t give any real hope they would go for something else.

      3. This initiative has nothing to do with building heritage. Heritage isn’t created by an oil-rich government pumping tons of money to a funfair for their upper classes and exclusive visitors. European heritage has started with constructing the cars and only after decades on the public roads they moved to permanent circuits, still interconnecting the technical development with the track development. Two completely incomparable things.

    2. Royalty involvement is F1 heritage too.

  5. Make some holes in that swimming pool and we could have a cracker of a race?

    1. A crash courtesy of Leclerc or Grosjean could bring it all tumbling down, fish and all…

      1. Do they have a flag for dead swimmers on track? ;-)

    2. I agree, the idea of a canter-levered swimming pool hanging seemingly just a few metres over any race track sounds dodgy, but over an F1 track sounds especially dodgy. The pool itself would have to be built like a fortress, but even so if hit bits of the pool are going to fall on to the track. I sincerely hope the FIA gets rid of this hazardous notion. The Marshalls won’t just be sweeping carbon fibre off the track if someone goes off at the exit of that turn, there’ll be bits of Plexiglas, concrete, spectators, and of course the potential for tons of water to start leaking onto the track.

  6. That’ll be another track with more gimmicks than racing, then.
    More sheikhs than spectators…
    Do we really need another Yas Marina?

  7. At least motorsport journalist should be safe from any assassinations.

    1. Unless a “rogue operation” is involved. ;)

    2. That would depend on if they write anything disparaging about the host country.

  8. Please NO. Been to many GP’s but never missed a pool above the track.

    No way I am ever going to KSA again, too. Been there, done nothing as there’s nothing to do.

  9. Steve (@machinesteve)
    6th August 2019, 15:17

    Why not! It must be one of the few undemocratic countries with a poor human-rights record left that F1 hasn’t graced by a visit.

      1. +1
        @ Dieter, if it ever happens, stay away.

  10. @dieterrencken Doesn’t Bahrain still have a veto on new GCC countries getting F1 races? I recall that this scuppered Qatar’s chances of getting onto the F1 calendar. Bahrain and Saudi enjoy significantly friendlier relations than Bahrain and Qatar so this shouldn’t be an issue, but having two races so close by could potentially impact the number of people willing to attend each race.

    1. On the other hand @geemac, with how dependant Bahrain is on the Saudi’s (remember it was a Saudi force that stood by to stop that uprising we are still lamenting every time we go to Bahrain), I am not sure they actually will be allowed to use that veto.

      1. Indeed, that’s why I said it shouldn’t be an issue @bosyber. :) I think it’s still worth mentioning though. Practically I assume that Bahrain would need to provide some form of consent in order to allow the race to go ahead.

        1. Ah, missed a bit of the tone there @geemac, though I do in general think you know more about the relations in that part of the world than I do :)

          Though I am not sure the amount of public at either of these races is important for anything but PR purposes, I’d think it has to be an influence indeed.

  11. Yeah, let’s go to the place with the most despicable human rights, excellent idea!

    1. F1 already goes to ameriKKKa

      1. <> not bad! Wonder if Trump will be race marshall 2019?

  12. RocketTankski
    6th August 2019, 15:34

    F1 and swimming pools! A natural fit?
    Liberty is making waves, I’m sure they’ll float a deal before F1 goes down the tubes and they eventually pull the plug.

    1. Heh, your comment is the kind that @jimmi-cynic makes

      1. Hey, @phylyp, no need to drown me with damp praise.

    2. To be fair, Monaco has a swimming pool corner. So at least there’s that.

  13. Just no.
    If Liberty Media cares about the very notion of liberty, it would be hypocrisy to give Saudi Arabia a race.
    Maybe Liberty should think of closing down Abu Dhabi and Bahrain instead, and then give a race to Qatar?
    That would send a message to the region about how international sporting events should be awarded.

    1. Clearly it’s not about libery, human rights or state policies, otherwise there would be no races in Bahrain, China, Azerbaijan and Russia (some other places too, but these are just way too obvious targets).

      1. Or Abu Dhabi, Baku or Singapore.
        7 races that can be scratched of the calendar at no loss to the sport, and more rest for the employees of F1 teams.

    2. Liberty is an amerikkkan based company and the house of Saud has no bigger alies, supporters or arms dealers than the white supremacist kleptocrasy that is ameriKKKa. Stop your hypocrisy.

      1. Yeah, I’m not an American. Perhaps you agree with me?

  14. Lewis will be beheaded or stoned right at podium, if he takes off his shirt and shows his wings and cross, like he did last year in Abu Dhabi.

    And I guess all female stuff will have to wear burkas.

    And instead of Champagne they will have fizzy water! Or carbonated camel milk!

    Yeah, “nice country” to join the list of F1 Hosts!

    1. That was of course a huge dose of sarcasm!

  15. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    6th August 2019, 15:58

    What’s next after a race in Saudi Arabia? A race in the mountains of North Korea? I have watched every race since 2011 but the Saudi Grand Prix wouldn’t get my god dm television rating.

    1. Actually, I’d watch a race in North Korea.

      1. It will be explosive!

        In the end Kim will launch celebratory ICBMs if he likes the show, or nuke the whole track if he doesn’t!

    2. Oh, oh!
      The city track in the center of Damascus will be a hit!
      A track around some picturesque Rohingya village in Myanmar!

      Second race in US, but wait, wait… – built on top of US-Mexico border Wall!

      These all are awesome choices!

  16. No, No… God No, I mean Allah…

  17. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    6th August 2019, 16:11

    Kieth, It would be interesting if you gave us a fan poll to see what the majority of us that comment on this site think of a race in this location. Like a yes/no/maybe vote.

    1. I would vote. Would Saudi fans be able to?

  18. Ah, really looking forward to what unlimited resources (say, 400 million dollars) and a track designer with a empty sheet of paper can do! Oh, wait, we already have Yas Marina.

    1. Quote of the Week!

  19. F1 doesn’t need to endorse another country with dubious human rights records. No matter how much cash they pay.

  20. If Bahrain indeed does have the claimed/reported veto to prevent another country in the same part of the world from joining F1 then Saudi Arabia doesn’t really have a chance, though.

    1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      7th August 2019, 3:15

      I think your forgetting which one of these countries runs the show and it certainly isn’t little Bahrain.

  21. There is a couple of venues in questionable countries already, but tbf **** Saudi Arabia with a rusty screwdriver.

    in another words, i’m looking forward to 2022 Saudi grand prix

  22. Well I’m from Kuwait, and I think 2 GPs are enough for the Arabian peninsula.

    We also just finished our own F1 grade circuit too, but amenities still aren’t up to hosting a F1 race. I would like to see us or Saudi host a race, but Abu Dhabi or Bahrain should be dropped in that season.

  23. On the other hand . . .
    . . . if the Saudis are prepared to stump up north of $20 million to host an additional race in the calendar race, it will take a bit of the heat off Liberty and might allow them to cut the ‘traditional’ circuits like Silverstone, Monza, Spa a bit of slack and host a race at a ‘reduced’ rate.

  24. One this is for certain, it’ll be hard to imagine young Stroll taking part in this event (not that I’d miss his driving skills, but the reason why he wouldn’t participate is rather sad). Also, any spouse/girlfriend accompanying other drivers won’t be a likely scene. And speaking of that Formula E race this season in S. Arabia, the crowd was really amazing. Such atmosphere, such elan, passion for sport. It was hard to see only because sand particles are so small, but I’m sure they enjoyed the race.

    1. Please enlighten us as to why Stroll wouldn’t be involved (sources, etc.).

  25. Yes, good, that way I’ll feel even less bad about illegally streaming the races.

  26. Bernie just came reading that title

  27. Let’s call the venue The Circuit of Jamal Khashoggi. Human rights workshops throughout the whole weekend with the Saudi government officials might be an added and still pleasant bonus.

    1. Oh, that is nice!

      Do you think it will be too much to add a whole pavilion, which with the help of VR and some robotized machinery will allow everyone to relive Jamal’s life-altering experience. The twist of course is that it won’t end with dismemberment, but rather the Crown Prince will be storming compound and diapatching evil guys all by himself!

  28. Another ghost town street track like the Korean GP in early 2010’s ?

  29. Im all for it as long as long as the teams have to run let uranium out the exhausts also aslong the f1 grid does not take part send the royal family kids in the cars

  30. A pool! What a disgrace

  31. joe pineapples
    7th August 2019, 8:59

    Thought I’d seen it all 🤦‍♂️

  32. would be a nice go-to when Zandvoort doesnt get the permits done in time. And as things are now, them having the permits to flatten a nature preservation area in time are slim at best…

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