Qiddiya plan, 2019

Saudi Arabia planning Spa-beating longest F1 track for its first race

2019 F1 season

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That Formula 1 has designs on a grand prix in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – thus a third round in the region – has not come out of the blue. As described here last week, during a broadcast recording for Middle Eastern Middle East Broadcasting (MBC), one of the leading questions I was asked referred to a third race in the Middle East.

It is also known that F1 CEO Chase Carey and his commercial lieutenant Sean Bratches numerously visited Saudi during F1’s last off-season. This was ostensibly to seal the five-year, $50m-per-annum deal with MBC, which was founded almost 30 years ago by Saudi businessman Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim, as replacement for the lapsed contract with Qatar’s BeIn Sport media group.

However, their interest was clearly piqued when they heard about ambitious plans to create a massive entertainment city in Qiddiya.

It is known that Bratches visited the region intensively during January/February this year, during which tentative talks for a third grand prix in the region were held. With overall reductions in hosting fees looming for F1 – Vietnam’s contract is said to be the most modest in recent times – a race in Miami has been ‘indefinitely’ postponed and little prospect of an African race, F1 needs to land a big payday soon.

The timing of media leaks is striking. Today (Thursday) Greg Maffei, President and CEO of Liberty Media, F1’s commercial rights holder, hosts an investor conference call to discuss the company’s Q2 results. F1’s share price reacted favourably to the news: having recently slipped 5%, it rebounded by 3%.

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Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018
Spa is F1’s longest track – for now
Crucially, despite the value of MBC’s contract – thought to be F1’s second-most-lucrative F1 TV deal – race broadcasts are offered on a free-to-air basis to 22 countries in the greater Arabic-speaking region. This alone provides a pointer to the ambitions of the Saudis who, of course, first entered F1 in 1977 as partner to Williams, and whose Mansour Ojjeh is a major shareholder in McLaren and owned the TAG Group.

Located around an hour from Riyadh, Qiddiya is situated in a mountainous region, and thus lends itself to various activities. Working with Test and Training International, the motorsport consultancy headed by former F1 driver and Le Mans winner Alexander Wurz, the plan is to create a world-class circuit capable of hosting all FIA categories through to F1. However, Wurz’s involvement in this project is thought to extend well beyond purely circuit design.

According to sources, the circuit will be the longest and most spectacular such facility in the world. At its full extent, the circuit’s lap length will exceed Spa-Francorchamps’ 7.004 kilometres, currently the longest in F1. Several unique and radical features are planned, such as cars passing under an illuminated aquarium and a big dipper that mimics on-track action. There are also expected to be numerous elevation changes.

Media reports suggest that the first Saudi Arabia Grand Prix could be hosted in 2021; however, given the magnitude of the overall project, these are thought to be wide off the mark. A source with knowledge of the situation stated that 2022 would be he earliest a grand prix could be staged. Qiddiya will, though, host the start of the Dakar next year after a five-year deal for the event was struck recently.

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Bahrain International Circuit, 2019
Bahrain is unlikely to block a Saudi race
Thus, within three years, Saudi Arabia could host the Dakar, Formula E on the streets of Diriyah in Riyadh, and Formula 1, having previously shown little interest in international motorsport save for regional championship rallies before the electric series signed its historic deal.

In Hungary, during his regular team boss debrief, Carey canvassed the opinions of teams on issues such as human rights, gender equality and media freedom as a precursor to further talks about the race, particularly one hosted in a country currently facing criticism over recent events. Team bosses are said to have been ‘cautiously positive’ about the project.

Although Bahrain is said to have a veto over races in the Middle East – and allegedly blocked a race in Qatar on that basis – a Bahrain Grand Prix executive confirmed last year that the country holds a ‘soft’ option granted by previous F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone in exchange for their early commitment to F1 in the region.

As the political record shows, the relationship between Bahrain and Saudi is both symbiotic and positively neighbourly, while the distance between Riyadh and Manama runs to almost 500km. By contrast, an alliance of Middle East states – crucially including both Saudi and Bahrain (and the UAE) – opposes certain of Qatar’s political policies, and have formed a blockade against the latter, including bans on air travel.

Given this background, Bahrain is unlikely to invoke any veto it may have against a further race in the Middle East and thus a grand prix in Saudi Arabia in 2022 looks highly realistic.

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Author information

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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77 comments on “Saudi Arabia planning Spa-beating longest F1 track for its first race”

  1. I came in with a “Beating Spa? Really?” mentality, but then saw this, and I am now intrigued:

    Qiddiya is situated in a mountainous region

    Oh wow, can we actually get some good elevation changes?

    1. can we actually get some good elevation changes?

      That’s easy, @phylyp, having another race in the Middle East would be a new low for F1 ;)

      1. @coldfly – oof, nice burn for Liberty

    2. it just annoying. came here, expecting to hate it, as we should, and the bloody thing looks amazing, c’mon!

      although the twisty section does look a bit odd, does feel like it will flow and seems to have been drawn by a 5 year old

      1. It´s a computer-generated image…. of course it looks like the track is located in heaven itself.

        This is what the area looks like in reality and this is a picture of the actual mountains there.

        1. thank you!!
          They can pick up a venue. Just hope that mountain stays untouched and they’re going to dig a really big dusthole for swimming pool, racetrack and other ‘usual’ stuff…

    3. Just because it’s located in a mountainous region doesnt mean that they will use the actual mountains. Just look at the way it’s being talked about in recent articles on this site, including this one.

      Instead of:
      “Located in a mountainous area where there is a lot of potential for natural elevation changes (and glorious views), that the track designers have committed to using to make an exciting track.”

      We get:
      “Located in a engineered-to-be “Party town” with a glamorous hotel and a amusement park, that the track itself surrounds, it is also intended to include a section that goes under an aquarium.”

      You don’t have to believe the words I have written, look at the image, the track is on a flat, carved out piece, of what used to be a mountain.

      Sure it will be the longest, the longest bore fest we’ve had since Abu Dhabi (insert year).

      1. Good point, thanks for that reality check :)

        1. Yeah, I blew up the image and couldn’t figure out where the elevation changes were located. It would be great if they could put some nice elevation into the circuit.

          I think elevation changes has been the biggest Achilles heal of Tilke circuits. Seeing the Tilke track outside of Atlanta, he can make a nice track when elevation changes come into play.

    4. Qiddiyah is located just below a 45 grade 3km long road
      So really exciting

    5. In the image it looks like the imagined track is running alongside the mountain rather than over it. Sad and flat.

  2. F1 should not do business with Rogue nations

    1. Then why is F1 in bed with England?

      1. Or warmongering ameriKKKa?

        1. @megatron
          Get to bed, you have school tomorrow.

      2. How can anyone possibly even begin to explain utterly nonsense-infested your comment is?
        Is it supposed to sound smart or do you you simply not know anything at all?

    2. Why not – most governments do.

    3. So we can buy their oil, welcome their investments and export all our products to that country, but a sport should ignore rogue countries? Difficult to understand for me.

      1. It’s not difficult to understand, it’s just simply white supremacy

      2. No all those other things are wrong too. The moment people in SA can be free to choose what – if any – religion they want, free to be gay, free to choose what to wear and free to be Jewish is the moment people should start doing business with them.

    4. Why not it, the world is a polical mess, good vs.bad depends on how much you studied history (usa agressor, yuy) and where you live.

      At least at will have an Eau Rogue corner or also called Oil Rogue.

    5. Sonny Crockett
      8th August 2019, 15:56

      It’s the almost slave labour that will be used to build this that bothers me.

    6. Exactly! It’s disgusting and it will never be safe.

  3. With the people involved and current thinking building a track there the track itself will probably be quite solid at least. The facilities might rival AbuDhabi.

    And money is probably a smaller problem for the regime than many other things.

    STill, I am not at all excited about the prospect, and cannot really see myself going there to watch the race unless a LOT changes in the next 3 years.

    1. Yep, from a racing point of view, this article definitely makes me more interested in the track @bascb than I was before. The ‘STill’ remains for me too.

    2. I just hope they don’t try too much and that it becomes some sort of arcade track. I wouldn’t want cars jump over each others. While it could be fun to see, it isn’t F1 for me and belongs more to X-games.

      Hopefully they keep the focus on racing before entertainment.

      1. A tunnel where cars had to drive upside down over water for 1/4mile would be awesome, new downforce regs would would make it safe

        1. And maybe they can collect coins as they go around the track.

  4. Can someone help me? I don’t understand this “big dipper that mimics on-track action”.

    1. It will be an experience that replicates the adrenaline and thrills of Formula 1 racing through a simulated physical environment that matches the twists and turns of the worlds newest and most advanced A-Grade motorsports facility.

      Or in other words, they’re thinking of building a roller-coaster.

      1. If its meant to replicate the thrill and excitement of abu dhabi F1 racing, a couple of milk floats should be fine

    2. Thank you for the question and answer @miguelbento @aussierod

      The only big dipper I know is what we see in the sky, so I thought it would be some manner of light board showing the positions of the various cars on the track :-)

  5. i wish there were lgbt drivers this is the only future f1.

  6. Nice, I expect only a few beheadings.

    1. Adub Smallblock
      8th August 2019, 12:37

      Yeah, remember, Friday in Riyad is the day that punishments are carried out at “the castle”. Don’t go to the gold souk on that day!

  7. the sport could use an exciting new circuit but it remains to be seen if this is a Turkey or just a turkey. personally, i find the idea of sportswashing that particular regime utterly repellent but we still watch the races in countries like china, bahrain, russia, azerbaijan and most people still conveniently forget their moral objections when it comes to historically (and commercially) barbarous nations like the USA, the UK, France, Germany etc.

    there are two other major considerations that should be aired more frequently. firstly, the idea that sport is apolitical is false. major events like F1 races require the state to help (be it through financial aid, or just organisationally through the police and traffic etc.) and large sums of money are involving, crossing international borders – all politically influenced. more overtly sport is often seen as a force for social unity, bringing fans together, making friends out of nations etc, etc – therefore, it must cut both ways. when F1 holds events in countries like azerbaijan, it legitimises that nation as being ‘good enough’ for the sport, ‘good enough’ to broadcast the sport to the world and promotes/advertises that nation, boosting tourism. the sport of F1 is complicit in the betterment of nations whose practices would otherwise be ‘rejected’ by tourism. sport is enormously politically influential all over the world so F1 folk (or anyone) saying otherwise is talking nonsense. knowing this, the sport could/should act accordingly, but i feel the main driver (money) in making these decisions will trump all other considerations.

    secondly, can sports act as moral arbiters for the way governmental regimes behave? many sports eschewed south africa during apartheid and indeed F1 took a break from bahrain when the crack down on street protesters was getting a lot of media coverage (if you read more about the issue you find that the situation has not improved since – the mainstream news outlets just got bored of it). so there is a precedent for a sport ‘taking a stand’ albeit not very often or very effectively (arguably apartheid would have ended anyway, but sports that refused to go there took a moral boost that looks good in their histories – not incidentally F1 continued going to SA long after many others and was roundly criticised for doing so). the other answer to this question is that a sport (F1) doesn’t have much moral authority of its own – who in F1 is qualified to say which regime be snubbed and which given a free pass? the FIA? Liberty? bernie? it’s hard to say any of these do.

    on saudi arabia specifically, the sport could reasonably refuse to go there because it is currently at war so would be some security concerns, to say nothing of the humanitarian crisis it is perpetuating on Yemeni civilians. thinking about F1 being a moral arbiter, giving the saudis a race might be seen as a kind of inducement to further political progression (i.e. the increasing personal rights for women from the last couple of years), a carrot to stop beheading people in public…

    i’m starting to be facetious and this is getting rather long, so i’ll stop here.

    1. @frood19, Nicely balanced, thanks for that.

    2. @frood19

      …most people still conveniently forget their moral objections when it comes to historically (and commercially) barbarous nations like the USA, the UK, France, Germany etc.

      If we excluded any nation which has black mark on their history, the only place a race could be hosted is Mars. And maybe New Zealand.

      Is statute of limitations on such black marks? An arbitrary number picked by a committee that seems-about-right? Living memory? How far back in history do we go?

      Or maybe we could take nations for who they are, and how they behave right now. The US is arguably somewhat of a grey area depending on your position on pick-your-topic; however given they are the “hero” of western civilisation they are unconsciously provided some leeway.

      First paragraph aside, I agree in principle with the points you make.

      1. @justrhysism yeah, that was kind of my point though you have made it more transparently. there is no country that is free of sin, so to speak, so it’s very difficult to say ‘we should race here, but not here’ on those kinds of grounds (and new zealand has a pretty chequered story regarding racism and treatment of maoris and pasifika peoples, although it’s a lot better than other similar countries). additionally, it’s very difficult to then say ‘which is the least bad?’ because, as you say, there’s no agreed system of rules with which to arbitrate (possibly something like the amnesty international country profiles, but that was never devised for sports).

        i wonder if ‘the money’ will decide – some sponsors may not want to associate with a race in a country that has public beheadings and state-ordered murder of journalists.

  8. They seem to have 2 starting grids on opposite parts of the circuit.
    This is probably required when racing with 35-40 cars.

    1. @coldfly
      Half of F1: “We want regular grids”
      The other half: “Reverse grids!”
      Liberty: “Let me appease both of you…”

      Or else, it could be a way of giving the struggling drivers in teams (e.g. Giovinazzi, Kubica, Gasly, …) a fighting chance.

      1. That will spice up the show, @phylyp. Two way racing. Avoiding backmarkers takes on a whole new direction.

  9. So Liberty have really thrown their marker down.

    “If you’re prepared to pay the sorts of fees we want, we’ll get you on the calendar so we can prop up our sagging fortunes”

    And this is different to Bernie how?

    Can’t wait for a few US cities (or billionaires) to stump up the $ for races at their sites and a few other countries to do the same (North Korea anyone) and Liberty will finally be able to rid itself of those pesky European tracks that pay smallish fees.

    1. Who says the Billionaires have to be from the US, or that the tracks have to be American city tracks!?

      Here is a free tip for Papa-Stroll on how to get Babby-Stroll his own little playground:

    2. The track that was envisioned in New Jersey at the palisades looked awesome. Surface streets through a port area… But it quietly went away.
      A big plus is that it was less than an hour away.

  10. According to sources, the circuit will be the longest and most spectacular such facility in the world. At its full extent, the circuit’s lap length will exceed Spa-Francorchamps’ 7.004 kilometres, currently the longest in F1.

    Alright, no need to go on, I am in favour. Let’s go, Saudi-Arabia!

  11. Thanks to @dieterrencken for clarifying the Bahrain veto position I queried in the comments on the last article on this subject.

  12. I’m glad to hear a name besides Tilke. It’s not about the whole boring circuits argument, he’s been designing every single new track in the region. Time for change.

  13. Atleast Vietnam tries to set itself apart as being a street circuit, but with actual overtaking opportunities, as in long straights.
    USA’s Austin, when it was being marketed/introduced, proudly stated they would want to take some of the best features of most famous tracks and make their own version => Turkey’s Turn 8 and Silverstone’s maggots found their way into the design.

    Beating your chest and boasting to make the longest track is a bit, um… Who in their right mind would want a 7,005km long Abu Dhabi? I hope this leak coming out during Hungarian GP is an omen of things to come, 7,007km Hungaroring with a flashy hotem and an amusement park in the middle of it.

    I can’t wait.

  14. Sergey Martyn
    8th August 2019, 11:47

    Another “exciting” venue in a country with middle-age laws. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TyqtWUTj6M

  15. Is there anywhere to see the full plan of the circuit?

  16. If the rendering at the top of the article is actually reflective of the track’s layout, it certainly seems intriguing. That fast, flowing section on the back end of the circuit that just goes on and on and winds across the terrain looks like something out of the Nordschleife, or the old Solitude—something we haven’t had in F1 for decades.

    Pity though that the runoff looks like Paul Ricard-style tarmac and not gravel or grass.

  17. Spa-beating track. I’d love to test it out.

    Hilly area, with some elevation change corners… Let’s see what they come up with. But judging from picture, it does not seem as good as Spa.

    I see those artificial changing width corners.

  18. Sounds like a sausage fest.

  19. … What happens if there’s an Israeli driver in F1 or on lower circuits that happen to race at Quiddiya?

    There has been issues with this in other sports.
    (And don’t even get me started with women)

  20. Wonder if they will host a round of the W Series??

  21. tl;dr

    Their rendering software, however, did catch my eye. That is one gorgeous picture! Looks like a screenshot from a real-time strategy game that’d make brake dust come off your graphics card. Any ideas what software they might’ve used?

  22. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    8th August 2019, 14:27

    in April of this year 37 Saudi civilians who were nothing more than part of a protest were executed. They were all beheaded and two of them were placed on poles in the town square for a few days as a warning. I’m a die hard raving junkie but I’ll find my fix someplace else if this on this future weekend.

    1. Josh (@canadianjosh)
      8th August 2019, 14:28

      Die hard “racing” junkie I meant ;)

    2. @canadianjosh
      The thing is the same people negotiating with Liberty Media to make an F1 race there which are high profile government officials working under MBS authority are the same people involved in killing/dismembering an intellectual journalist Jamal Khashoggi of the Washington Post in front of the whole world 10 months ago.

      1. @tifoso1989: Yes, F1 journalists would be wise to keep their heads about them in the paddock. Especially on Fridays

  23. I really don’t think F1 should be going to Saudi Arabia. Before people disagree I don’t think F1 should be going to many countries with very dubious human rights records.

    We will also have the argument about the U.K., the U.S. and other European countries having dealings with Saudi. I don’t think in these countries we chop peoples heads off though, torture them or lock them without trial or persecute them for being gay, etc.

    Two (or more) wrongs don’t make a right and I think sport should take a stand. Liberty are acting just like Bernie did so what has been learned or what progress made?

    I guess we should expect nothing different from a U.S. corporation though. Money always talks for these people and the more the better.

    We should also ask if F1 really needs 3 races in the Middle East? I despair.

    1. I agree, but then F1 shouldn’t be in China and Russia as well. Maybe there could be a GP in Jordan and/or Lebanon so the Middle East is still represented.

      1. Yes F1 shouldnt be in USA, such a mean empire that creates war and suffering everywhere, be it by bombs or financial warfare.

    2. @phil-f1-21, it is true that “two wrongs don’t make a right” – though, as an aside, the UK isn’t necessarily that progressive in that area as it is only just over 15 years ago that the UK decriminalised the act of teaching individuals about homosexual relationships (and there are still a number of members of the current Conservative party that are in favour of reintroducing that legislation).

  24. Looks like they already have the tower of sauron nicely in the middle of it. Just add a bunch of 90 degree and 60 degree turns turns and one long straight and you have done it again herman tilke. Add couple more of those totally attrocious sochi turn 1 style corners too so we can at least have track limits to talk about when the track turns out to be yet another meh.

    1. tower of sauron

      @socksolid – that is a brilliant name!

  25. They should charge them $5B per annum. No, they shouldn’t go there at all. If they do I’m done with F1.

  26. Yeah let’s go to a country who is comitting genocide in Yemen. While we see commercials every day to donate money to fight the Famine in Yemen that the Saudis created..

  27. F! racing in Saudi Arabia and/or doing ANYTHING to support this hideously repressive regime is sad and pathetic. Doing so would do more toward alienating potential young fans than just about anything else.

    It just shows that Liberty are money grubbing creeps with no moral or ethical center. Hard to think of anything that could be worse for the sport.

    1. @partofthepuzzle: Liberty is a US corporation – morals or ethics are banned by charter – corporations are sociopathic by design and law. Bernie was sociopathic by choice.

      1. Well stated. Sad but true.

    2. Well you’ve got Chase Carey running Liberty, he’s Director of the Board at Fox under Rupert Murdoch, that wonderful guy who’s idea of fair and balanced is Fox News.


  28. well if they want to use a track that long that should try the bend motor sport park in Adelaide on the gt track 7.77 I know it fia 2 track but they should be to get it up fia 1 level

  29. It ponders me that if Chase was a woman (of equal credentials), whether this conversation with Saudi would have ever happened.

  30. Reminds of the FIFA hosting the worldcup in Qatar. Only costs the lives of around 1.500 people and around 12.000 people working and living in extremely poor conditions.

    For building a race track the numbers will probably be lower, but for me like the World Cup I will simply skip it.

  31. I’m not seeing much elevation change in the flat valley bottom of the picture! How much elevation change an there really be in a theme park?

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