Can F1’s controversial Saudi Arabian race really be a ‘positive force’?

2021 F1 season

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No sooner had RaceFans disclosed last year that Saudi Arabia harboured plans to host a grand prix – slated for the ambitious Qiddiya entertainment city – than the project came under fire from activists over the kingdom’s human rights record and legal processes, which are nothing short of lamentable by western standards.

This was highlighted as recently as last month, as Saudi Arabia failed to gain a place on the United Nation’s human rights council, while the likes of Russia and China were successful. The 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is among the most prominent recent examples of the kingdom’s policies and politics identified by its critics.

Yesterday the country confirmed the 2021 F1 calendar will feature a street race in Jeddah. The event prefaces Qiddiya’s race, which won’t take place until 2023 at the earliest owing to pandemic-related delays, as revealed here in September.

F1’s commercial rights holder Liberty Media and the FIA are bracing themselves for renewed criticism for inclusion of the country on the calendar. But the governing body is in an invidious position as responsibility for the calendar falls within Liberty’s remit.

This is stipulated via a binding 113-year agreement originally entered into by the FIA – then presided over by Max Mosley – and his friend Bernie Ecclestone at the turn of the millennium. No current FIA office-bearers played a part in that agreement, nor can they dissolve the contract, having attempted to do so.

Thus, provided the FIA’s (stringent) administrative and safety standards are adhered to, the governing body has no direct control over where F1 heads to. The regulator would leave itself open to legal action were the FIA World Motor Sport Council to refuse a compliant calendar, particularly as Clause 1.2 of the FIA statutes expressly prohibits the body from discriminating on “political” and other grounds:

“1.2 The FIA shall refrain from manifesting discrimination on account of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.”

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Clause 2 (“Aims”) of said statutes state the FIA is charged with developing global motorsport to the highest levels. It would therefore be failing in its duty were it to attempt to block events that meet its standards:

Formula E has raced in Saudi Arabia since 2018
“2.3 Promoting the development of motor sport, improving safety in motor sport, enacting, interpreting and enforcing common rules applicable to the organisation and the fair and equitable running of motor sport competitions.”

Formula 1 is an FIA world championship, and thus any member country that meets the criteria is eligible to host grands prix, not only those countries that embrace western or European cultures and values. Such judgments are for politicians, not sports organisations.

Clearly, then, criticism of the governing body for sanctioning a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is misguided, and if anything, the race should be viewed as providing opportunities for further engagement with Middle East societies and cultures – as does the Dakar Rally, which held its maiden event in Saudi Arabia in January, and Formula E’s rounds, staged outside Riyadh in its last two seasons.

For its part, new-look F1 under Liberty Media has introduced a number of initiatives to enhance the sport’s ability to foster positive relationships and expects all partners and host countries to respect human rights and sees the inclusion of this race as a major step in that direction. The F1 website details the sport’s commitments to human rights and gender equality.

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While these initiatives are most welcome, let us not be naive: Liberty is ultimately in Saudi Arabia for money, having shareholders to satisfy and teams to pay, hence deals in such countries which pay over the odds to stage events. Nor is Liberty alone in pursuing lucrative deals as proved by the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Winter Olympics in Russia, Summer Olympics in China and others. Forget not that the F1 of old raced in apartheid South Africa and communist Hungary.

Despite extra races, F1 lost over $100 million last quarter
The Middle Eastern F1 TV contract ranks amongst the top three by value, so clearly the Saudis have embraced motorsport in a big way – as have most countries in the region. The Formula 1 corporate sponsorship contract with Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled Aramco oil company announced last year is also right up there with the top payers.

Do such deals alone justify events in controversial territories? No, nor should they. If F1 can, though, act as agent for gradual change then such events can be justified – although the ultimate proof lies in actions, not promises. A driving ban for Saudi women was lifted shortly before Formula E raced there; during the event itself a woman participated in the Jaguar iPace support race. Surely that is welcome?

An F1 spokesperson denied yesterday’s announcement was linked to the publication of Formula 1’s latest financial figures on the same day, claiming the Saudis chose to make the event public rather than wait for publication of F1’s 2021 calendar, which is expected in a fortnight. But the markets welcomed the news: the FWONK stock price reacted positively; ditto when F1 last year confirmed Aramco as sponsor. Clearly stockholders are in favour.

There are no doubts that the announcement has not been universally popular. That said, in Imola teams bosses were overwhelmingly in favour of a race in Saudi Arabia, with Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto referring to it as a “a vector for positivity”. Ultimately such events will increasingly form part of F1’s landscape, and thus should be exploited via the platforms they provide for constructive dialogue. Only then are they justified.

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103 comments on “Can F1’s controversial Saudi Arabian race really be a ‘positive force’?”

  1. petebaldwin (@)
    6th November 2020, 10:47

    It could be something positive but it won’t be. What we’ll get is a bunch of pictures of drivers shaking hands and having dinner with the crown prince with them all complimenting Saudi Arabia on how progressive it is.

    The teams and drivers will see a false picture of the country inside their bubble.

    1. Yeah. The fact is you’re gonna have a man who has personally ordered for the torturous murder of a journalist literally congratulating the winning driver. It is obscene.

      1. He also was the one who lifted the ban on women driving and guardianship rules (law that requires male guardian to follow them outside) – against the wishes of the powerful ultraconservative cleric bloc there.

        MBS is not a saint, but he has definitely made Saudi Arabia more moderate than before, and is a thorn in both the more conservative (clerics) and more liberals (women rights activists) than him in the country.

        It is fair to critize his downsides (Koshigi killing) but unfair also not to highlight his progress either in a discussion regarding social rights causes in the country. They may not be anywhere near a Western liberal country standard but you have to start somewhere and progress from there.

        1. Are you seriously minimizing the execution of a journalist as a “downside”?! Pros: Women can drive. Cons: Premeditated murder. Are you out of your mind?

          1. And are you minimizing secret service operations from most if not all major western countries that have resulted in assassination over the years.

        2. Wow

        3. He had to lift the restrictions on women driving and modifying the guardianship rules because it was negativeky affecting their economy. When a man was at work and his wife needed to go to the doctor or wherever, he would have to leave his job for whatever time it took. In effect, their ‘law’ was cutting into productivity and was actually hurting the economy. MBS’s motivation was economic; wasn’t trying to be progressive.

      2. I hope Hamilton has one of his crazy ideas on the podium for that race, if he does get on the podium…

        1. Frankly. If Hamilton participates in this race weekend, he’d be the biggest hypocrite in the paddock given his recent activism. This is where I expect him to follow through and lead a boycott.

          1. Why? Saudi isn’t killing black people, or anyone, at the rate the american police are. America, funds, arms and protects thecsaudi regime, why not boycott them?

          2. @aiii I wonder if quite a few people (up and down the hierarchy) across the paddock are banking on Lewis initiating a boycott so they can then boycott it themselves. Lewis is one of a few people in the paddock who could do this with no material impact on themselves; other drivers, mechanics, marketing people etc may not have that luxury if they want to keep their job.

            But yes, Lewis would look hypocritical if he did decide to attend and just be accused of ‘selective outrage’.

          3. @aiii

            To be fair, I am expecting Hamilton to do so, or to either give his Mercedes seat to someone else, and to sit out the weekend, depending on the championship situation. If Hamilton is really serious about pursuit to the “end racism, black lives matter and human rights issues”, then this is the absolute perfect time to lead and initiate the charge for an action against the event, be it this year, or next year before the weekend occurs. I mean… skipping one race and getting a rest isn’t bad right?

          4. In fairness F1 does not probe into the political orientation and flavour of every country it goes to, so why start with this one?
            In any case, looking to the long term, it may be better all round if F1 limits itself to Europe US and Japan. We’ve seen for ourselves how great the old forgotten circuits of Europe are. How lucky for F1 they are still around.

          5. I was wondering when the Lewis bashers were going to somehow implicate him despite him having said nothing. I think he is championing BLM isnt he? Not human rights across the planet. Not that they arent important but if i support the RSPB am i a hypocrite if i don’t support Animal welfare?

            No course i’m not. Nonsense argument

          6. I wasn’t bashing Lewis and I certainly wouldn’t bash anyone that supports any human rights movement, I merely pointed out that Lewis would be hypocritical to not champion human rights equally and unequivocally across the boards.

            As for your example, if you were to advocate actively for wildlife animal welfare and then went to an event organized by an organization that actively worked against domesticated animal welfare. Then yes, that too would be hypocritical.

            However, back to Lewis, I fully expect him to put his foot down on this and lead the GPDA in a boycott of some sort.

      3. This is so hypocritical. We’ve always had F1 races in the country with the worst human right abuses record in the world, the US, the country where human rights abuses are so common that they don’t even bother trying to deny them (Guantánamo anyone?), and nobody says anything about that. Not to mention the races in any of the other NATO states. But when F1 goes to a country disliked by some Western powers, all of sudden everybody is concerned about human rights.

        1. The US is the worst country on the planet for human rights abuse yet for some reason 100s of thousands people from other countries attempt to immigrate here.

          1. Yep, mainly because the US government likes to commit most of their human rights abuses (not all, mind you) in other countries, so if you live in one of those countries you’ll definitely be better off moving to the US, where the human rights abuses you receive will be relatively mild compared to what you endure in your country. Hope that clarifies your doubts.

        2. Guantanamo was a nice little weekend camping trip for people who liked to mix nails with fireworks, probably quite a few Saudis camped out there.

          1. Actually, nobody knows what those people did, because they are falsely imprisoned without charges and their habeas corpus right is forfeited, which means that the only thing we know for sure about them is that the DoD doesn’t like them.

  2. I know Russia isn’t exactly LGBTQ positive, and Abu Dhabi is dangerous, but Saudi is a step further as it’s actually illegal to be transgender.

    1. @matt90 Abu Dhabi, or UAE in general, isn’t a ‘dangerous’ place. I’ve been there twice and didn’t feel unsafe at all. Sao Paulo/Brazil, for example, is a dangerous place as such, and so are the likes of Mexico City and Detroit to an extent, to name some.

      1. I suspect he means from an LGBTQ perspective, since both the first and third examples reference LGBTQ as the topic.

      2. I thought it was clear I was talking about LGBTQ, not generally. It’s dangerous to be gay there. They don’t recognise gay marriage from other countries, so a married gay couple can’t share a room legally.

        1. @matt90 the comedy thing about Abu Dhabi (or to some extent uhhh other countries in the region this LGBTQ journalist has been to) is that it is amazingly easy to be homosexual because it doesn’t exist, so you just say you’re sharing a room as buddies. Actually harder to share a room as an unmarried (or just friends/colleagues) different-sex pair and you wouldn’t be arrested for kissing another woman on the mouth in public but you would if you kissed a man. (uh, if you’re a woman, that is)

          (unlike Russia or Georgia, where you sadly absolutely would face consequences – cultural difference, in heavily gender-segregated societies)

          1. That’s interesting, I knew that you couldn’t share a room as an unmarried heterosexual couples, but never considered that ignorance of homosexuality would make sharing a room as a homosexual couple easier!

            I would be concerned that if found out it would be quite unsafe, and even if that isn’t likely it seems very concerning that you could be jailed for it. But I’m not LGBTQ so can’t really comment beyond that, as I falsely thought Russia was legally safer.

          2. @matt90 Oh, you would definitely face heavy consequences up to and including life imprisonment or execution and yeah, it’s a bad feeling knowing you’re illegal. There are not that many places in the world it’s 100% safe to be LGBT, though – the UK right now is very hostile to trans people, for instance.

            But yeah, definitely not suggesting the Middle East is a haven of LGBT bliss, just that it’s an odd function of the separation!

          3. @hazelsouthwell: You do realize that people in the UK being hostile to transpeople and it being unconstitutional to be lgbtq in Saudi Arabia or the Arab world is comparing apples to oranges..?

          4. @SadF1Fan I think refusing medical treatment from, harassing and endangering trans people to the extent that you are risking the lives of both adults and children is pretty bad actually yes.

            Amnesty International feel it’s a human rights issue, same as they do those in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

          5. Hazel, are you being paid to write this nonsense ??

            You are saying that you are a LGBTQ female, but happy to go to a country where your mere existence is illegal and can result in life in prison, not from your actions, but just your fact of being alive. Not only that, but you are actually trying to encourage others to risk their lives in a similar way, and look upon it in an almost joking way.

            As for comparing Saudi Arabia to the UK, I am totally astounded. Who do you write for, “Fascist Weekly”, I am in the UK and have don’t feel my life is at risk, and I certainly won’t be arrested or investigated for my sexual identify.

          6. @Tambeau absolutely not. I was observing an ironic aspect of heavily gender-segregated societies where sexuality in general is taboo.

            I’m not encouraging anyone to do anything. I don’t enjoy going to countries where my existence is illegal (as I’ve said above) and I find the experience stressful even as a visitor and people fighting for rights are in horrific danger – and extremely brave. I also wouldn’t refuse to go somewhere that my straight, male peers went simply because it’s a different experience for me.

            As I noted above, Amnesty International consider the trans rights situation in the UK to be a human rights issue so take it up with them if you think it’s irrelevant but I certainly don’t. It’s possible to think both things are very serious, not that one is reductive of the other.

          7. @hazelsouthwell:
            I tried to google your claims about AI and the uk, but I can’t find them.

            However, if you are comparing doctors refusing to provide hormone treatment to people who want that, to not being able to be allowed to exist or live as is the case in the UK and think that is justified. I can only feel really sorry for you, that you seem to have the impression that both are equal or even comparable.

            Good luck

      3. Are you LGBTQ @jerejj ? Otherwise I don’t see you point.

        1. Does he really have to answer this question?.
          If his sources are good I trust his opinion more than yours.

          1. What is my opinion? I’ve not stated one.

            He doesn’t have to answer the question, of course, but wouldn’t it help to give some context in reply to the original comment?

        2. @john-h No, I’m not. I double-checked what the acronym stands for to get the reference.
          @erikje @yaru
          Yes, @matt90 may have implied it that way, but I wasn’t entirely sure, so replied, in case it was in general because UAE, in general, is a relatively safe and tourist-friendly place, etc. Nevertheless, I’ve been to many countries, and not in a single one have I felt threatened in any way to any extent.

      4. To claim a city is ‘dangerous’ is very misleading as it is to say it is safe. The cities mentioned are all large cities. It has been my experience that many cities have safe neighborhoods and dangerous (unsafe) neighborhoods. So, to hang a label on a whole city as being safe or unsafe is trite and pretty much means nothing.

    2. In regards to homosexuality at least, it is also illegal in both Malaysia (fan favorite track), Singapore and Abu Dhabi (was/is in this year calendar).

      Bahrain is a little complicated, homosexuality is legal there for 40+ years (which is very liberal for an Muslim majority country) and so is being transgender but there have been been people jailed misdeamnors for crossdressing.

      1. That’s very interesting, I didn’t know Malaysia was that strict. I suppose a lot comes down to how the laws are applied, which may or may not make Saudi less safe for travel, but any country with discriminatory laws should be a concern.

  3. So Lewis could get Jesse Owens’ status.

    1. I don’t know about that. I like Lewis, but his speed comes from his Mercedes power plant. Jesse didn’t need a car to be fast.
      Although you do make an interesting point.

  4. The F1 management decided to pander to a Wahhabist extremist regime which:

    – Funds terrorist groups and destabilizes large regions in the Middle East
    – Executes dissidents internationally with impunity
    – Is run by a morally bankrupt “royal” elite
    – Has an environmental footprint so bad it even makes F1 look good
    – Has no regard for human rights
    – Actively funds anti-Western groups across Europe and the US

    If this decision does not result in significant backlash I don’t know what will.

    This is simply outrageous and should be boycotted.

    1. In fact, I encourage anyone who cares about this topic to write to Liberty Media. I just did.

      It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark…

      1. You are a hypocrite unless you call for a boycott of america who funds, arms and protects the saudi regime, and also drops bombs on people around the world and who’s police oppress blacks in that country. If saudi is a big problem then america is a huge problem.

        1. Brotrob is not a hypocrite. Brotrob encouraged people to “write to Liberty Media”. You’re saying Brotrob is a hypocrite unless you call for a “boycott of america”. How did you get from ‘writing to Liberty Medi equating with ‘boycott of america?? If a boycott is so important to you, why don’t you call for a boycott instead of complaining about someone else not doing it.

    2. What is an anti-western group in US? Groups who hate California? 😂

      1. @yaru

        Saudi Arabia practices the Wahhabi faith and tries to spread it by funding and trying to control mosques in the West.

        Publications have been found in Wahhabi mosques in the US, that call on Muslims to always oppose infidels in every way and to hate them for their religion. According to these publications, infidels are not only non-Muslims, but also all Shia and certain Sunni Muslims. Those same publications also rejected democracy (preferring Sharia law).

        The founder of Wahhabism, ibn Abd al-Wahhab advocated for the use of coercion to make people follow Sharia law.

    3. I initially thought you were writing about the United States. Almost all of your points could be brought against the United States. The big difference though, is that the United States are the “good guys”.

      Which leads us to the question how many human rights violations we can tolerate. Every country in the world commits human rights violations, e.g. Great Britain and Germany regularly lose cases at the European Court of Human Rights. But it is acceptable to race in these countries in spite of that. So, where is the limit of the human rights violations still deemed acceptable for hosting a Grand Prix? Should we make a list of what is acceptable, e.g. bombing civilians in foreign countries is obviously acceptable, killing one dissident is not.

      Or are we really talking about culture and not about human rights? Some cultures are acceptable, regardless of what they do, others are simply not.

      1. Exactly, this whole thing is so hypocritical.

    4. No, no, you got it wrong. The new race is not in Israel, it is in Saudi Arabia.

  5. Will the female team members be able to work at the track ?
    Will Lewis trainer Angela be able to work with him, and if Lewis wins will he be able to hug her along with the rest of the team ?

    I hope the team paint the halo in rainbow colours and have Gay rights Matter on the cars and take the knee at the beginning of the race.

  6. “1.2 The FIA shall refrain from manifesting discrimination on account of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.”

    But its happy to support regimes that do so.

    I’ll be boycotting it. Will It would be a powerful signal! I’d even pay up and become a supporter! Do it Keith!

  7. I’d hope @hazelsouthwell chips in with some commentary based on being present as journalist covering the formula E race last year. How do you see this?

    Now, I would welcome views from various people in Saudi Arabia off course, but I fear it will not be easy to hear from those that are least happy about their rulers and hearing just from people who support the status quo – while interesting as well, they do have a real interest – it would provide a rather skewed view IMO.

  8. It’s a PR move by an oppressive regime.

    Just like the WWE shows were, just like all the other things are. The GPDA should come out and announce a boycot of this race. They should want no part of this bs.

  9. Given Lewis Hamilton’s pull to support progressive politics (a move I personally congratulate him on – having gained a voice/platform, it will be a waste to not use it), it will be interesting to see how he deals with this Grand Prix event.

    If he were to boycott the race, that would send a huge message. it would gain more media attention than Saudi Arabia’s failure to make a place on the UN’s Human Rights council.

    Yes, the forums here would be full of folk criticising him for getting involved in politics (a mixture of well meaning and well thought out sentiment, and also put-downs and belittling comments). It would be a gutsy move and one I would have a lot of respect for.

  10. I dislike going to places like this, but I also like to think there are benefits to the local populations.

    Places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, have most likely realised by now that all so-called ‘sportwashing’ does is shine a whopping great spotlight on all the bad things they do. The whole point of hosting these events is to show themselves off to the rest of the world as modern, glitzy places… but instead they just get hammered. Not just by Amnesty and niche publications, but by mainstream news organisations and the general public.

    The criticism and negative publicity will never go away until the problems leading to it are addressed. So, painfully slow as it may be, that’s what they’re having to do.

    Whereas for someone living in… Turkmenistan, for example, where homosexuality is illegal, while religious, political and press freedoms are horribly oppressed… their suffering is more or less invisible on the world stage. Their government has no real incentive to change, so it won’t.

    1. In regards to your second paragraph, not in the slightest lol… excellent point you bring up @neilosjames
      They have not realized AT ALL that all what this “sport washing” does is shine a light on the bad things they do. And proof of that is Saudi’s insatiable scouring for every sport possible, they hosted Ruiz vs Joshua, the Spanish super cup football final (!) along with the motor sports and countless of other example I probably don’t know about… they’re either oblivious or just don’t care. I’m honestly crying/laughing at this lack of awareness from them. Any positivity coming from this “sport washing” isn’t very strong… I elaborate a bit more in my separate comment

  11. Stephen Higgins
    6th November 2020, 12:16

    And yet still no race in South Africa.

    I am itching for the day F1 ditches the middle east and goes back to Kyalami …

    1. Matter of money

  12. Don’t care. Just a new race track for me to watch cars race on. Race tracks are expensive… This country is providing one so Yay! Bring it on. Not my country. Wouldn’t like other countries to tell my country what’s right and what’s wrong. Let’s go racing.

    1. James Whiteley
      6th November 2020, 12:47

      Don’t you don’t think there are enough great venues out there in countries which don’t have such a terrible human rights record? You say that you wouldn’t like other countries to tell your country what’s right and what’s wrong, so I take it you’d be fine living in a regime that discriminates so strongly against women and dishes out capital punishment for homosexuality then right? The rest of the world can’t behave like ostriches.

      1. They can act like ostriches… Maybe they should? None of my business… Worry about those close to you, your own life and just enjoy the racing. That’s the problem with everyone these days. They want to stick their nose into everyone else’s business instead of focussing their energy on their family or bettering their own lives. Its almost a competition on who can out spout the most holy of virtues. FFS give it a rest and just watch the damn car racing.

        1. James Whiteley
          6th November 2020, 20:22

          Why should people say nothing? I’m not happy about F1 turning it’s back on the values it has preached this year and deciding to make a deal with a country that will gladly kill its own citizens based on their sexuality or predudice against women. So sorry, no I won’t focus in the damn car racing. You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but I find the fact that you don’t care a little off putting if I’m honest.

    2. Wouldn’t like other countries to tell my country what’s right and what’s wrong

      That is a fair point, one that you are entitled to, and a legitimate political philosophy. May I, however, offer a perspective on that?

      I wouldn’t like other countries to tell my country that either.

      But then again, I do not live in a country where my basic human rights are violently supressed, where being born a particular biological sex would reduce me to a status as a second-rate human, or where living according to my sexual identity, if not the officially approved one, could cost me my life. Or where speaking up against all that could see me sawn into several conviniently handy pieces in some foreign country where I have sought safety

      If that was the case, I rather suspect that I WOULD like other countries to tell my county something. In a rather forceful voice, too.

      1. As far as I’m concerned… They will have to rise up and fight their own battles. This isn’t my problem and it’s none of my business. I personally feel that borders should be respected, regardless what people think of their cultural philosophies. If every country and culture was the same, no one would feel the need to travel. If you have an issue with it, by all means don’t watch the race… Or perhaps start a movement that opposes their government. Write a letter to parliament? This is just a race… and I’d really like to watch it. Formula 1 is entertainment. It’s my “off time” where I just get to sit back and watch car racing. I couldn’t care less who hosts it… as long as the race is interesting and the track is unique, I’ll be watching.

        1. John Cousins- Bravo

  13. When it comes to motorsports in particular, Saudi Arabia is different, because there is a precedent of bias here. Despite initial assurances that nobody would be effected by Dakar moving to Saudi Arabia, racer Olga Roučková was excluded from this year’s race basically because the ruling elite did not like one of her sponsors (Penthouse Magazine). And they waited to almost the last minute to tell her, so all her preparation and fundraising efforts went to waste…and the sport simply caved in. I don’t think there was anything positive about that.

  14. I said this when discussing the number of races in a season a few days ago.

    I think an 18/19 race season feature a quality selection of circuits that all offer there own character & challenges will always be better than a 20-25 race season that is expanded by adding a bunch of circuits that all follow similar design characteristics, That all look similar & are held in countries with no Motorsport heritage, That attract few fans or that have poor human rights or other less than positive issues.

  15. Not at all. They should end it…or we’ll do a last-moment cancellation.

  16. I mean, do they really think most F1 fans have the intellect of a 6 year old? They’ve completely lost the plot.

  17. Well, for one thing I do not think that F1 should go to Saudi Arabia at all. An (at best) medieval approach to basic human rights and the outrageous killing of Jamal Khashoggi should tell any decent organization, sporting or other, to give that a very wide berth.

    But, to answer the question as asked. No, I do not in any way believe that F1 can or will be a positive force. On the contrary, it will let itself be abused to legitimize what the regime stands for.

    On top of that I find it highly embarrasing that F1 not only decides to disregard all principles and cynically go for the money, but then insult anyone listning by sanctimoniously claiming that they are doing it for something good. At least stand by the cynicism.

  18. I always hear about how events like this are a “vector for positivity” but I’m not sure the facts really back that up. Yes, a woman was allowed to drive a pace car and women can now drive cars in Saudi Arabia, but that was planned long before the Formula E race there. They just used the race as a giant PR event to publicize what they should have done decades ago. I remember how controversial rock concerts were back in the 70s and 80s that took place in eastern Europe and South Africa. While change did eventually occur in each place, I think you’d be hard pressed to link the rock concerts to those eventual outcomes. What these events do without question is provide a very large, public platform for the regime to legitimize itself in the eyes of the world and to provide a shiny veneer to cover over the gross abuses of power they are performing simultaneously. I will be boycotting the race.

  19. To be honest I cannot think of many examples of countries that changed their views of human rights, because a sporting event came to that country. This was one of the fairytales when the Olympics were hosted in China, but it did not happen.

    In general I think talk about the morals of a sport going to a certain country is a bit hypocritical. In most cases trade with these countries is extensive, so earning money is just fine. But when a big sporting event comes into play, all of a sudden it is immoral to deal with that county. As if a sports union endorses the policy of a country by letting them host an event, but buying there stuff does not do that.
    In this case it is a bit different. Driven by Hamiltons drive to reduce racism, FOM has initiated the We Race as one initiative. They took a stand in this matter of ethics. After that, you cannot ignore other ethic issues that are very similar. I can not understand why it should not be okay if you discriminate people because of their colour, but it would be perfectly fine to do so on basis of gender or sexual preference.
    They risk losing any credibility on their stance against racism.

    1. @mosquito corporations typically take an a-moral or a-political stance. With things like diversity, racism etc. they seem to just want to get good marketing / good will with the people. It’s all hypocrisy.

  20. How can anyone actually think that a place on the UN Human Rights Council has anything whatsoever to do with that countries human rights record? Come on Racefans you can do better.

  21. A racist / discriminating country that use slave labour seems exactly what F1 needs right now.

    1. Yes it allows for diversity of race winners as Hamilton is hogging all the wins for himself. He of course would never race here, he will boycot. So diversity for us with a different winner.

      Would be fun if 1 driver boycots. The “we race as one” will have another part of fine print added.

  22. I could not have cared less for Saudi GP.

    Artificial track in an artificial city in an artificial human right meca.

    But Imola was nice, few more. Of those please!

  23. Haha, the most ironic part is that Saudi Arabia is home to beoutQ. This is a pirate TV network on an industrial scale. The whole country is watching pirated sports and not paying the content producers a cent. Good on F1 for supporting this.

    1. Ummm…. no @aliced
      The whole country is watching it for free on MBC (Saudi owned). And so are other neighboring gulf countries.
      The recent deal with MBC made it free to air, before the MBC deal (about 2 years ago) it was with BEIN (Qatari owned), I don’t know much about beoutQ but a quick google search might make assumption true more than 2 years ago

      1. Might make your assumption*

  24. There’s a long answer to this but the most direct & complete way of answering is no.

  25. Ofocurse it can’t.

    F1 changed nothing in China, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi etc or further back South Africa.

    Its a cynical clasping of the cash. Liberty said they’d do one thing and they are doing precisely the other, more ‘money’ races, and more pay TV.

    Gradually sucking the heart out of F1.

    1. Liberty Media didn’t buy F1 for the love of the sport. They bought it for their love of money. Some of the changes they mad were trite and were just made to show that they could. They’ll suck it dry for all the cash they can get.

  26. I have no problem with this race but I don’t buy into the latest corporate stance fad. A few years ago I worked for a multinational based in London. During the metoo movement. They put out a statement on women’s rights. I asked about our businesses in the Middle East. Crickets. BLM is just another fad. Another one will come along. Also, F1 only has spots for 20 drivers. When the discussion comes up about next year’s drivers, one of the qualifications besides driving is the ability to bring financial backing to the team. How many people of any color can provide that? It is a rich person’s game and all the BLM statements aren’t going to change it.

  27. Saudi is definitely taking steps forward in its international image (and many of its controversial internal affairs too). However, overly pursuing in hosting as many sporting events isn’t the best way to bring international positivity.
    Having Dakar and a FE race was not bad, but pursuing a F1 round really puts them at a fan rejection from the start. The region already has more F1 races than it should, and Saudi specifically already has 2 major motor sports events; fans will be displeased without even taking into account Saudi’s own controversies.
    Now combine this early unapproval with the country’s controversy and you get some of the most fertile grounds for an incredible backlash that borders on to making things even worse for Saudi’s image.
    Rinse and repeat this reception from fans of the many sports Saudi has courted recently.

    1. You make a good point. They’re only trying to improve their international image; sports aren’t that important to the country. They could’ve helped their international image quite a bit if they hadn’t killed Khashoggi.

      1. There loads of other ways, yes including that. @tbogy
        From a tourism stand point they should look past sports.. they have some incredible nature and can do some nice retreats/resorts like Oman, they also have really interesting historical sites (not just Islamic). This whole sports chasing just ain’t it

  28. I just hope the teams’ staff will have personal bodyguards. Lewis has been campaigning against systemic discrimination. Here they’ll be dealing with legislated discrimination… There’d be a long list of offences I’d commit daily or weekly that would see me incarcerated or executed in Saudi Arabia (such as consuming alcohol,
    having kids before marriage and by simply being atheist to name but a few…). I suspect the same would apply to many team members. Definitely not a race on my travel list!

    1. I assume Saudi Arabia would like to host a grand prix for more than just one year. If they were to start incarcerating and executing F1 drivers and staff at the 2021 race, I can’t imagine teams would return for the 2022 event.

  29. Okay, so the FIA cannot back out of this. What’s the penalty for the teams not showing up? As long as it’s less than an exclusion from the championship, there’s no excuse for not staying at home.

    1. I’ll answer my own question:

      If in the opinion of the F1 Commission a competitor fails to operate his team in a manner compatible with the standards of the Championship or in any way brings the Championship into disrepute, the FIA may exclude such competitor from the Championship forthwith.

      Pretty much means that all – or at least the big – teams have to take part in this to avoid any risk because the FIA will not penalize all teams, effectively canceling F1.

      1. Bit puzzled what point your trying to make, think you’ll find the only time teams have refused to race in F1 GPs is for either safety, monetary or regulation gains, losses or admin. Can’t see any of these applying to the Saudi race so mystified why you think any team might even consider boycotting the event.

  30. I dont know what time of the year it wi he bit it would be a terrible shame for anyone to get covid around about then…

  31. If we can race in China and Russia, there no real issue with racing Saudi is there? I mean if we are to take the sloganeering seriously, the calendar would be a lot shorter.

  32. I feel that the force is not strong with this one.

    1. @qeki race in Saudi we must

  33. The hypocrisy of F1 is appalling, but despite that, I actually believe F1 in Saudi-Arabia will be a force for good like the BBC article hints at, even if that’s not the intention.

    Just look at how the 2017 Future Investment Summit in the country made them grant the attendee robot Sophia citizenship, and soon after Saudi women were allowed to drive cars. Very little in the grand scheme of things, but still.

  34. Pretty much every country F1 visits has been a home to controversial policies, religious dogma, dubious human rights records, histories of violence and intolerance. The UK definitely amongst them. If we were to remove every perceived “bad” country we’d be left with Grand Prix only in Antarctica and Wakanda.
    F1 isn’t meant to make the world a better place. It’s a bit of fun for the rich boys who drive, a challenge for the engineers, entertainment for the motorsports fans, and an investment for the men with the money.

  35. No. No it can’t.

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