Saudi Formula E race promoter welcomes F1’s expansion into the country

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The promoter of Formula E’s race in Saudi Arabia has welcomed Formula 1’s move into the country, saying the growth of motorsport in the region will be positive for both events.

Formula E’s third event at the Diriyah street circuit outside the capital city Riyadh begins this weekend. Formula 1 is due to hold its first event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, in December.

Carlo Boutagy, the promoter of the Formula E event, told RaceFans Formula 1’s arrival will help to further raise the profile of motorsport in the region.

“A lot of people think that ‘you’re mad that F1 is coming’,” he said. “No, it educates the people more.

“The more events like this that we have, corporate events that need to get sponsorship and all that, the more they understand it, they see it.”

Formula E is racing under lights this weekend
“It’s nice because you walk into an office to try and sell sponsorship or hospitality anything corporate and they know what it is,” he added. “They budget for it now, which is nice to see. The company already has a budget allocated, it’s becoming in their routine. We’ve seen that in 2004 in Bahrain and 2009 in Abu Dhabi.”

Motorsport’s expansion into Saudi Arabia has been met with criticism due to the country’s highly conservative culture, lack of women’s rights, oppression of its LGBT community and poor human rights record, among other concerns. Boutagy said motor sport has already been a positive force for change in that regard.

“Keep in mind, before FE came to town, there was only football and only males were allowed to attend,” he said. “And it’s only three, four years ago that females are allowed to attend football stadiums. They had to put women’s bathrooms in football stadiums because there wasn’t any women’s bathrooms.”

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Among the liberalisations which accompanied the Formula E race was the suspension of the requirement for women to wear the abaya, a full body-covering garment. This was one of five major changes which can be attributed to the series, said Boutagy.

Carlo Boutagy
“FE is more than just a race” – Boutagy
“For the locals FE is more than just a race. It’s a stepping stone. Formula E changed five big laws here. It was the first event ever to have mixed gender, without having to be separated [from men].

“It was the first event ever to have no abayas. So when they entered the event, you could have removed it, it was like if you were in a western country. And then the tourism visa, which is another thing, and music and dancing. We had big live international entertainment concerts, they were allowed to dance and everything.

“It was a stepping stone, like the Berlin Wall falling.”

This year’s Formula E race will be the first held at night under artificial lighting. To reduce the impact on the environment energy-saving LED lights will be used with vegetable oil as part of the fuel source. “Our goal is eventually in the next few years to have it fully sustainable,” said Boutagy.

However plans for this year’s race to welcome a full contingent of fans had to be shelved due to the pandemic.

“We have all the protocols in place,” said Boutagy. “We’re very lucky and thankful that the government here is allowing us to race.

“We had fans, we had the okay and the approval, but then with the second strain from the UK it made everything a bit harder for us. So we decided to just better safe than sorry and we are just now allowing 2,000 fans.

“Which is still cool because I think we’re still going to be one of the first races to have the emotion and be open and live and all that. I’m looking forward to delivering a race, the night race. The floodlights look beautiful and amazing. We’re looking forward for this.”

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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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  • 7 comments on “Saudi Formula E race promoter welcomes F1’s expansion into the country”

    1. Well I won’t beheading there anytime soon…

      1. Zach (@zakspeedf1team)
        26th February 2021, 12:59

        Especially as Bahrain is just a stones throw away anyway.

        1. I really want to lashout at F1 for even considering a race there- probably via email. Hopefully it won’t be a success, and it will amputatesome of the Saudi’s cash.

    2. I was all ready to get into this season only to find out that the first race is on a Friday (annoying but understandable if they don’t want to race on a Sunday) and then the second round on Saturday isn’t on BBC, only Eurosport.

      I like the races but not enough to pay for them and I can’t see they have the fanbase to justify it. YouTube would be a better option for them

    3. Please enjoy the racing but please don’t forget to think about the oppressed people in Saudi Arabia, the damage caused by Wahabist terrorism world-wide, sponsored theological suppression in muslim countries & the dire consequences of global warming disavowed & disinformed by the Saudi regime, corporations and allies.

    4. They have 8 months left to cancel it. I hope it’s cancelled.

    5. I know it’s only symbolic and personal but I’m just not going watch any F1 events in Saud Arabia. There’s just no rationalization that works for me re: holding events there. I don’t know how this will play out but *IF* a significant number of fans skipped watching that race, it might at least make news.

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