Less than four months on from the first race, the Jeddah Corniche Circuit will once again roar into life as the city’s streets host the FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2022 this weekend. The first-ever Formula 1 race in Saudi Arabia was a huge success, enjoyed by over 140,000 spectators across the three-day weekend.
Following on from the famous Dakar Rally and the opening rounds of the Formula E season, the FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2022 will be the third FIA-sanctioned World Championship event to be organised in the Kingdom this year, firmly establishing Saudi Arabia as the number one destination for motorsport fans in the region.
“We are now the home of motorsport in the region,” says His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Minister of Sport. “In Jeddah we created something truly unique. We didn’t want to replicate other events, we wanted to achieve something Formula 1 had never experienced before — and we want to build on that for our second race.”
In a wide-ranging interview, the Saudi Minster of Sport talks about the incredible achievement of building a new Formula 1 circuit from scratch, the impact of the 2021 race, the changes that are expected this year and the future of motorsport in the Kingdom.
His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal
Saudi Minister of Sport
Q. How proud were you to have achieved something which many people thought was impossible — creating a brand-new Formula 1 circuit from scratch in just under a year?
We were all very proud, considering the timeframe to achieve our goal. We started construction seven months and 20 days before the race, so you can imagine, only by combining all of our efforts did we prove you can achieve the impossible. A lot of media were saying that we would not be ready in time, but we were very happy we proved everyone wrong, to deliver the fastest and longest street circuit in the world.
Huge credit must go to the Saudi Automobile & Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) and the Saudi Motorsport Company, led by its Chairman, HRH Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, and everyone at the Ministry of Sport to achieve this major accomplishment. We worked closely with Formula 1 and the FIA to deliver an incredible first race. We had an amazing battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton that set the championship title fight alight and which was enjoyed by over 140,000 fans across the three-day weekend.
I often get asked how we achieved such a great spectacle, in a short space of time, to such a grand scale and I say that we had a vision that we wanted to truly create something unique. Other races might be held at night, but we didn’t want to replicate other events. We wanted to achieve something Formula 1 had never experienced before. The speed of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit and its location on the shores of the Red Sea, provided our race with a unique offering for the sport of Formula 1 and we want to build on that for our second race.
Q. The FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2021 was the biggest sporting event the Kingdom has ever held. What was the reaction from within the country and internationally?
The support and the excitement from everybody here was overwhelming. To give you an example, ticket sales were very high — we sold over 140,000 across the weekend — and corporate hospitality was sold out within weeks of going on sale. The demand surprised both us and Formula 1, as you must consider we are a young F1 market. This gives us a great platform to build on and we are investigating ways to help increase this offering for future races.
We noticed that a lot of fans were attracted by the additional entertainment we provided off-track, such as the evening concerts or the restaurants and the marina. They came to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit to experience the whole weekend as they wanted to be a part of such a major international event. There are a lot of people still talking about the first race and they tell me how much they are looking forward to the next one. Everyone spoke about the Grand Prix with great pride as it demonstrated that we can deliver world class sporting events in our Kingdom.
I can reveal that ticket sales for the second round have again been very high, particularly with those fans who felt they had missed out on the first race and now don’t want to miss the opportunity second time around. In addition, there has been a much greater demand from international fans who want to attend, which is very exciting for us. Like many promoters we have seen the impact of the ‘Max Factor’ and we’ve had a lot of interest from Dutch fans who want to purchase tickets and support their hero Max Verstappen wherever he races in the world.
Q. The race is clearly important for the uplift of tourism of Jeddah, but what other impacts and legacy will Formula 1 leave for the city?
First of all, it has already transformed the city. We have felt the benefit and impact straight away. One of the most important programmes we run is the Vision 2030 policy which is designed to launch our nation into a progressive future to enrich the quality of life for all our citizens. The construction of this circuit and the regeneration of the Corniche has already significantly enhanced the quality of life for both the visitors and residents of Jeddah.
Our priority was to build the circuit on time, deliver the race and then continue to leverage the power of F1 to drive the Vision 2030 programme. For example, we have signed a MOU with the prestigious King Abdulaziz University so graduates can be enrolled into the event-delivery team to experience working on a major sporting and entertainment event. Additionally, 40 per cent of the workforce at the Saudi Motorsport Company are female and this is something we are actively developing and encouraging.
Plus, the whole infrastructure around the circuit is having a tangible effect on the welfare of the people of Jeddah. We have a new marina, new recreational areas, walkways, cycle lanes and inside the track there are now sporting arenas such as basketball courts and tennis courts. This has been done to ensure the facility is still a place people visit 365 days a year and not just in the week of the F1 race. We have improved the roads and pavements from the circuit to the city and the question is now what more we can develop for the future — particularly with regards to further sustainable projects. We have already built environmentally friendly spaces, extensively regenerated the lagoon and have partnerships with local charities, such as Etaam, the Saudi Food Bank Association, to ensure everyone in the community benefits.
Q. As a country which hosts the Dakar Rally, Extreme E, Formula E and Formula 1 do you think Saudi Arabia is one of the new homes for international motorsport?
I think we are already the home of motorsport in the region. We now host three FIA World Championship events and are looking at more in the future. There is an ambition to expand and develop the motorsport we host and one we are considering in due course is MotoGP. I know that it will require a different type of racetrack to Jeddah, one which has a special specification for bikes, but with our new motorsport and entertainment city currently under construction in Qiddiya, it is something that will be considered for the future.
We have regularly proven over the past few months that we are more than capable of staging major international sporting events, no matter the circumstances or challenges we face. In addition, we have also been supporting grassroots motorsport. Alongside the first F1 Grand Prix we held an electric karting event to help inspire the next generation of young talent and we have held a Ferrari owners car club meeting on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit too. We are offering more opportunities to give motorsport enthusiasts in the Kingdom the chance to enjoy their passion.
I often get asked about whether Saudi Arabia could have a Formula 1 driver one day. It’s do-able, but it’s very challenging. Even the most developed motorsport countries in the world, who have drivers competing from the age of five, find it difficult to produce a Formula 1 driver who makes it to one of the 20 seats available. For now, we are working at building motorsports from the grassroots up to help increase the awareness and accessibility of the sport in the Kingdom.
Q. You mentioned Qiddiya, could you give us an update on the plans for the race there?
I think Qiddiya will be one of the most exciting places to visit in the world. It will have so many things to offer. We are lucky that we have the guidance of our Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as he chairs the board of this project. When we started working on it his direction was this: whatever is in your wildest dreams — let’s make it a reality.
We have spoken to Formula 1 and have said if there were no restrictions, what would be your ideal facility and we will create that. And it will be more than just a racetrack. Qiddiya will have theme parks, top-of-the-range hotels, restaurants, pop concerts. It will be a motorsports and entertainment complex that will be open every day of the year. We have some amazing ideas and are very excited about it. I can promise you it will be truly spectacular.
Q. Prior to the race there had been some criticism from within the F1 community about coming to Jeddah but what did the drivers and teams say to you about the experience of visiting the Kingdom? Lewis Hamilton was very positive for example…
There is a perception from some of the media about the situation in Saudi Arabia, but we are actively developing our country to become a better society and for our citizens to experience a better quality of life. That is our main goal, and we find that major international events are helping us achieve that goal faster.
The world has been critical of Saudi Arabia for not opening up and for not modernising. But the fact is we are now doing that. We are not perfect, but I don’t think anyone is. We are moving in the right direction. The thing I ask of the athletes and teams that visit Saudi Arabia is to help us achieve our aims.
The best example I can give you is Sebastian Vettel who I think was critical of the decision to race in Saudi Arabia. But then he came here and organised an event with young female karters. He then said he could see the changes happening and to be fair we have made a lot of changes in just the past few years alone. Diversity and inclusion are very important to us and the Vision 2030 policy is implementing that goal to achieve a better society.
Just this month, Lewis Hamilton put on his social media a post in celebration of International Women’s Day. In the post he showed a picture of Reema Juffali and mentioned that she couldn’t drive in the country until 2018. But today she is a role model for us in Saudi Arabia. She is a female athlete, like another female racer Dania Akeel, who competes internationally at the highest level of motorsports.
Their global presence and the fact Lewis Hamilton is an advocate for them gives them the ambition and support to reach their goals. We know there is work to do but it’s important that we continue to host major events like Formula 1 to help achieve a more inclusive, diverse and equal society. We don’t mind the criticism if you at least acknowledge the focus and change we are making in the Kingdom.
Q. Finally, what are your thoughts about hosting the second F1 race in Jeddah?
A lot of work went into the creation of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit and with the support of the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the ambition he has, we’ve created a facility and hosted a World Championship race that will benefit the city and the Kingdom for the next 20 to 30 years. It was a collective effort from everybody, and we have achieved that again as we head into Race Two, so soon after the first. I’m incredibly proud of everybody who has worked on this project, and we can’t wait to for our next race. Our mission is to ensure that every time Formula 1 comes to race in Saudi Arabia it will be even more exciting than before!
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