Mattia Binotto, Ferrari, Nurburgring, 2020

Team bosses hope F1 can “bring positivity” with race in Saudi Arabia

2021 F1 season

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Formula 1 team bosses say they hope the sport can be a force for good if it proceeds with controversial plans to hold its first race in Saudi Arabia.

Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia, is expected to host the country’s first race next year. While the race has not been officially announced on the 2021 F1 calendar, reports of its likely inclusion has already prompted accusations of ‘sportswashing’ on Saudi Arabia’s part – using a major sporting event to deflect attention from its poor human rights record.

Despite some recent reforms, the repressive treatment of women in Saudi Arabia remains a significant cause for concern among many human rights groups. RaceFans has already been contacted by women asking whether they would even be permitted to attend a grand prix in the country as fans.

Religious minorities, critics of the governments and supporters of human rights also face severe repression according to Amnesty International, who are among those to have raised concerns over the race. Last year a United Nations enquiry concluded there was “credible evidence” high-level Saudi officials ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul two years ago.

Despite the strong reservations raised by some, the principals of two leading F1 teams said the sport’s presence in the country could be a positive force.

“I think that sport, wherever it is, whatever it is, I think it’s always positive,” said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. “I think sport is a positive message, always. Sports may bring positivity.

Toto Wolff, Mercedes, Imola, 2020
“Sports should unite”, said Toto Wolff
“So I think that’s the way we should see it. I think we should simply understand that we can be a vector of positivity and that’s important.”

Other motor sports including Formula E and the Dakar Rally have already ventured into Saudi Arabia. But Formula 1’s significantly higher profile would undoubtedly attract greater attention.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who has attended Formula E’s event in Ad Diriyah on the outskirts of Saudi capital Riyadh, believes “sports should unite” and “help to get us to a better place”. He said he was “impressed by the change that I’ve seen” when he visited Saudi Arabia.

“Now, as a visitor, you never know how things are going. But what I’ve seen personally, that’s the only comment I can make because I saw it, it was a great event with no segregation, women and men in the same place enjoying the sporting event.

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“We need to start somewhere and what I’ve seen is that it started somewhere and I believe that we should do whatever we can to make the world a better place.”

Wolff’s star driver Lewis Hamilton, who has become increasingly outspoken on the subject of racial discrimination, said he intends to learn more about the situation in Saudi Arabia. He said F1’s growing support for human rights has been a change for the better.

Start, Formula E, Diriyah, 2019
Formula E has already raced in Saudi Arabia
“Nelson Mandela many years ago said sport has the power to change the world for the better,” said Hamilton. “And I think we have already seen the positive shift that we as a sport this year have committed to and started to push in the direction of supporting human rights and equality and inclusivity. So I think that’s showing, as a lot of other sports have shown, that it is a powerful platform to initiate change.”

Hamilton wants F1 to “leave a long lasting, positive effect on those places” it visits. “The question is, can we? Can we be a part of bringing attention to certain issues and pushing for change?”

However Red Bull’s Christian Horner believes the concerns raised over a potential race in Saudi Arabia is a matter for Formula 1 Management and the FIA to concern themselves with, not the teams.

“When we sign up for a world championship, we don’t dictate where that calendar goes, but we sign up to race in every race,” said Horner. “We trust the commercial rights holder, also the governing body, to have done the necessary research and to make those decisions that are right for the interests of the sports.

“We’re not a political organisation. Sport should never be seen to be political. Therefore we trust in them to make those decisions and the right decisions and wherever they choose to have races in signing up for that championship, we will be attending and doing our best to perform as well as we can at those races.”

F1’s first race in Saudi Arabia has not yet been officially confirmed. However a Formula 1 spokesperson said the championship desires to be a force for good wherever it goes.

“For decades Formula 1 has worked hard [to] be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.

“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.”

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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...
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...

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53 comments on “Team bosses hope F1 can “bring positivity” with race in Saudi Arabia”

  1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    31st October 2020, 8:21

    If I thought this was about making the world and Saudia Arabia a better place, about political good will, positivity and cultural learning I’d be a fool.

    Its about money. I’m not saying good things cant come from this, but once again F1 is prostituting itself.

    1. It’s analogous to F1 in pre-1985 South Africa.

      Take the money from Saudi Aramco, then take the money from the race promoter.

      F1 has been a human rights disaster for years, but the Saudis (& others) will just point at the USA’s treatment of African American and Latinx citizens.

      F1 is continuing its long history of appeasement. Is this the race that galvanises fans into doing something? I won’t hold my breath.

      #boycottSaudi #boycottF1

      1. At least in South Africa there was strong motorsport tradition and fanbase. So, although F1 did not bring about a downfall of the apartheid, it brought some enjoyment and measure of respect to the local racers…even if all of them were white. I guess it’s a lame excuse, but still much stronger than is the case with today’s Saudi Arabia.

    2. What the disgusting saudi regime has done is nothing compared to the USA who actually fund, arm and protect the saudi regime. If people are calling for a boycott on the saudis then why not on the americans? white supremacy is why. Check your own hypocrisy.

    3. The Aerodynamicist
      31st October 2020, 12:58

      Biscuit Boy, Quite right in what you say; although one could have added after your final sentence, ‘especially as it’s now owned by Americans (who are known to gauge everything by the greenback!)’.

    4. Exactly. This whole narative of ‘if we work _with_ them maybe we can help them change’ is a load of disingenuous crap. There’s only one reason this Saudi regime is tolerated internationally and it’s because of the massive amounts of money they happen to be sitting on. That morality toilet should be shunned, but this is the dumpster fire world we live in, so I guess we just need to all accept it and continue making excuses and pretending the Emperor’s new clothes really suit his complexion.

  2. Instead of the Prancing Horse, maybe Mattia should tace with a flying pig on his cars next season. And meanwhile instead of a pink Mercedes, Toto can send Racing Point a pink elephant.

    This is a link to the story on the Amnesty report on Saudi Arabia.

    This makes me so angry. These people must think we’re stupid. It’s got nothing to do with improving things in Saudi Arabia but everything to do with money. We can all see this. People aren’t stupid.

    I had hoped Lewis and some of his fellow drivers would condemn this move and they still may do so. Ultimately though they are employees and will go where they are sent.

    Look at this season with all the interesting new circuits on the calendar that have provided good races. So why cannot F1 return to one of these again in 2021 instead of crawling off to Saudi. We all know the reasons don’t we.

    Then as for Horner’s comments! What utter rubbish. Let’s just all bury our heads in the sand should we and it will all go away. What a weak response from a man we all know is often a stranger to the truth.

    There is no need for this race to take place other than greed.

    1. I’m sure there are plenty of people who disagree “buried in the sand”…

      1. Sorry, for the avoidance of doubt, I should have said “disagree with the regime”

    2. @phil-f1-21
      “This makes me so angry.”
      Really? You’re watching in F1, a sport that is a whitewash for many suppresive regimes, promotor of senseless consumerism and quite a large contributor to environmental issues, yet you get upset with a race in SA and Horner’s comments?
      Lol. Hypocrisy much!
      Don’t watch.

      1. I take it you’re entirely happy with all these things then are you? In my opinion they should not be holding events in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Azerbaijan, China, etc. The list goes on. We cannot change this though right now.

        This is all bad enough but those involved should in my opinion, take a stand somewhere, ie the teams, the drivers, us as fans. The time to stop this race in Saudi is now whilst there is still a debate.

        The world is changing and attitudes are changing. We can apply pressure now and if nothing else, F1 may make more effort to ensure those they deal with in these countries are treated fairly and respectfully.

      2. I can’t wait for the “End Racism” presentation on the grid in Saudi Arabia. What a joke.

        1. Agree, well said!

  4. How can F1 be a force for good when Saudi have been bombing hospitals in Yemen? On/off cease fires don’t count.

    The UK are Saudi’s 2nd highest supplier of arms and largest donor of aid, hence Frankie Boyle’s comment: “when life gives you Yemens, you make Yemen aid”.

    Although the UK Govt is banned from selling weapons just now, it can still advise the Saudis on how to use the ones they have (MODSAP). Note the UK Govt statement in 2017 that “the UK is not directly involved in the Saudi-led coalition”: make up your own mind on the use of the word “directly”.

    No one batted an eyelid when the Saudis invaded Bahrain in 2011 (apparently Bahrain “invited” them 24 hours after they arrived), yet F1 strolls in there. I wonder if the 2011 protesters are still in jail?

    I can’t believe McLaren are genuinely promoting “we race as 1” and LGBTQ+ when their owners are the Bahrain Govt & a Saudi.

    F1 is demeaning itself by visiting Saudi & statements like this from F1-related personnel are (I’m sorry I can’t find a more polite description) polishing a turd.

  5. And on top of all that Saudi Arabia dictates and finances radical Islam, which is the cause of terrorist attacks everywhere in the world, every single day!

    But hey, in China they have concentration camps, it doesn’t stop anyone from trading with China.
    Noone cares totalitarianism aslong as they make money.

  6. Just this week president of Turkey came out in support of terrorists attacks taking place in France. So if FIA has any courage then they should cancel Turkish GP in solidarity of French people who lost lives in last few days.

    1. Turkey should definitely be kept an eye on. Human rights abuses there are on the rise.

      F1 just has no moral backbone at all. It’s shameful.

    2. @Chaitanya
      Lol, two hypocrits found each other.
      Did you like the Chinese GP, the Russian GP, the Bahrain GP, the Abu Dhabi GP.
      How about Aramco and Petronas and Shell and Exxon?

      “F1 just has no moral backbone at all. It’s shameful.”
      Replace F1 with We and you hit the nail right on the head.

      1. You can add Brazil to the list as well with their new president calling for genocide/ethnocide of tribals and there has been rise in number of murders of tribal leaders fighting against logging since Bolsonaro has come to power.

        1. The US and Brazillian governments are currently responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths of their own civilians during a pandemic, but they dont care as they want to keep power. That is human rights abuse right there.

  7. Race in Saudi Arabia? Nuh-uh.

  8. “As women in Saudi Arabia have now been allowed to drive cars for 2 years, F1 hope to finds a new generation of female drivers in the country”

    F1 Spokesperson –
    – Hopefully the men will allow the women to watch the race on TV. It will inspire millions of women who have just learned to drive.

  9. For as much as it’s easy to say ‘sport is not political’, F1 is a listed company that exists to make money, more so than it is a sport, and that’s why we are going to Saudia Arabia, none of us are naive enough to think that F1 will influence anything on a sociological or political level.

    Liberty will be paid, and thus the teams and everyone else. But I do like that F1 is ‘A-political’, we visit to 20 odd countries across the earth, and there is no way of doing that without being passive and without judgement, I can’t think of a sport that travels so widely. I guess the Champions League is held in more than 20 countries, but all on the same continent (and Israel). This isn’t possible unless you just do it as a ‘sport’.

    And I think F1 should be applauded for that, it’s not its place to decide whether what happens somewhere is right or wrong, and it’s certainly not Christian Horners.

    But F1 is gambling on the long run, and how this will look in the future. Bernies’ stance with South Africa / Apartheid, now look poor, but didn’t seem to harm F1 going forward. That might not always be the case.

    1. @dieterrencken I can understand if you didn’t want to, but you might be very well placed to offer insight into F1 going to South Africa when other sports wouldn’t and what came of that. Sorry if that’s to put you on the spot, an article on it from you I think would be very interesting.

      1. I have no issue with the reality of so-called apartheid grands prix – and have written about them in the past. The irony is that there have been no grands prix in SA since democracy…

  10. Not to mention crimes against humanity in Yemen, with the help of the US.

    F1 raced in South Africa during the apartheid. Its all about the $$. Lets stop pretending.

  11. Nice to see F1 keeping up it’s proud tradition of visiting countries with awful human rights records. China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States and Bahrain.
    Nearly got the full set! Where next on this jet set tour?!

  12. It’s too bad F1 isn’t as concerned about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and the slaughter Yemenis as the accidental death of a guy under arrest in Minneapolis.

    1. That was no accident it is on video, itbis murder, and is one example of thousands in that disgusting racist country of USA.

      1. That is your interpretation of what happened. I believe it was an accident. No-one tries to kill someone while wearing a body cam.

        But let’s say it was murder. We know for a fact that Saudi Arabia commit atrocities far worse than that everyday by a factor of 100. If the drivers don’t protest and take a take a knee or something along those lines, I’ll be mightily disappointed.

        Last week Hamilton protested about a death in Nigeria, so I’m sure he’ll take a knee for the thousands of Yemenis murdered, the appalling human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

        1. There was much more going on in Nigeria than just ‘a death.’

    2. Hamilton and all those kneeling drivers will be hypocrites if they drive in Saudi where black lives certainly do not matter, where Christianity is banned, where even Saudis, let alone guest worker Yemenis, can disappear without trace, where women have no chance of equality, and murdering opponents in other countries is seen as acceptable, where democracy does not exist and the rule of law is unheard of, where alcohol is banned but drugs are easily and disastrously available.

      As for Horner and his infamous defence that he will do what he is told to do by the bosses, that led quite a number of people into judicial jeopardy not so long ago.

      PS yes, I have been there several times.

  13. Hamilton will likely boycott this race leading to awareness and change in the country and the entire world.
    He will then receive his knighthood and the Nobel peace prize and be remembered as the greatest human being that has ever lived!

    1. I know you’re being tongue in cheek but I do hope he sits out that one. I for one am not going to watch it.

      1. Then dont watch the British GP either. That evil country massacred many Indigineous nations, just one example the many indigenous Australian nations. (Un) greatBritain considered Aboriginal Australians as flora and fauna with no voting rights in their own country until the 1970s, and stealing children from their families up to only 1 generation ago, they only stopped when the damage was done beyond repair. I hope you think about boycotting any gp as much as you are considering boycotting the Saudi race, as many western countries are far worse with their hunan rights records.

  14. I’m pretty sickened by this tbf. I very rarely miss watching a GP but I might not be able to stomach this one. Disgusting regime.

  15. Shame on you all. Binotto, Toto, Horner and Hamilton too ! This is a total disgrace, racing in a country that embraces an terroristic politic towards everyone critical of them using the political power bought with petrodollar money.
    Let’s not forget they’ve caused a human disaster in Yemen (direct attacks), Libya & Syria (by sponsoring terrorist groups). Forced an embargo on Qatar, while Qatar politics towards other countries is quite questionable, however they are not the international tribunal of law.

    This is not about human rights abuses or beheading people in public places, decapitating a journalist in a foreign country…The problem is that these people think they can do a MAFIA type actions (killing, pirating, torturing…) in front of the whole world and buying silence with their money.

    Everyone is free to go race there, FIA, FOM, teams, Hamilton… but they should save us all the BS slogans about human rights and noble causes.

    1. You mention Libya, Syria. Just two more countries that russia has it dirty claws deeply embeded, so unfortunately (not that I like it), our ‘friendly partners’ get involved to stem an even worse future for those countries. Stemming can take years, many deaths of innocents, may or may not work, but they try and its slightly more pallitable to Western govs. The world is a mess, because we in the west, with our higher morals keep buying the goods from these murderous countries, oil, food, clothes, smartphones and a gluttony of anything else high tech or plastic. We in the West legitimise them by feeding the beast!

      The russians have just sent 25,000 troops with heavy weapons to the Ukranian border, yet b$stard putin will there again to shake hands with Hamilton with cameras rolling (if he wins russian GP or 2nd) as thanks for propping him up! Must be nice for Hamilton to shake hands with a mass murderer every year!

  16. If F1 shouldnt go to Saudi Arabia, then it shouldnt go to England, USA, Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Russia either, purveyors of the worst human attrocities in history. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is nothing compared to these colonialist disgusting countries that killed so many indegenous nations and languages around the world – pure evil. I think at least the humans in Saudi Arabia get to watch a world sport event in their country is good, and the spread of F1 to other nations makes it a legitimate ‘world championship’ instead of white racist colonialist world championship. Some very ingnorant comments above from people who dont realise their own nationalities human rights record.

    1. Welcome to snowflake land. You on the other hand sound like an absolute charm and delight of reason and diversity!

    2. Utterly pointless and irrelevant to link events from centuries ago to atrocities that are happening right now. I’m not a huge supporter of having 23 races in Switzerland each year.

  17. When it was announced that Dakar Rally is switching location to Saudi Arabia couple of ago, the organizers made assurances that no one would be affected by that. Then in December 2019, just few weeks before the 2020 event, female racer Olga Roučková was told she was excluded from the event, allegedly because one of her sponsors was the Penthouse magazine. All her preparation and fundraising efforts came to waste and nobody really cared…the sport just caved in to the host country demands.

  18. Let’s be honest here, if F1 could only be hosted by countries with exemplary all-time humans rights records then F1 wouldn’t exist.

    Anyone who boycotts this event who has watches/attended F1 events in China, Bahrain, Russia (amongst others) is basically legitimising those countries (as they didn’t boycott them) and anyone who does attend will be seen to be defending Saudi Arabia. This is a true no-win situation, people just have to figure out the way that they lose the least!

    Liberty get to pocket all the financial reward and effectively throws anyone who actually works in F1 under the bus as whatever option they choose to deal with this will have questions over their reputation by people who wish to cause them metaphorical harm!!

  19. TheFarmRaceShop
    31st October 2020, 15:21

    I’m Saudi and i’m reading the reasons for concern in this article and also the comments and how people feel and I’m like are these people talking about the country I live in or is there another country that’s called Saudi Arabia?
    Trust me guys you just watch too much media and that’s why you have these bad perceptions about my country.

    F1 will come to Saudi Arabia, and people will see for themselves our generosity and hospitality. So calm down you perfect humans .. all will be good don’t worry.

  20. Team bosses are amongst the world’s top hypocrites, I understand they have no choice but saying what they are told but keeping a straight face as the lies get bigger and bigger requires some skills. Money rules, I look forward to seeing a pro democracy kneeling on the grid the day of the GP!

  21. With all your positivity and all that media cr**, I wonder if you’ll bring along your wives, sisters and daughters (and perhaps gay friends or relatives); just to share all the positive energy and joy. I’m sure Strolls won’t really try to show off their Jewish heritage either. In all honesty, you hypocrites, this makes sense after racing in almost all other countries in that region anyway. You just keep “racing together”.

  22. $$$ makes the world go round.

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