It looks like Formula One might potentially have a new Grand Prix venue sometime soon. Saudi Arabia has been added to the lineup of prospective countries keen to host a race as early as 2021—and teams have already been asked for their opinion on the matter.
I can’t say that it’s a totally unsurprising move from F1, given that Formula E has already successfully raced in Saudi Arabia and it seemed like it would just be a matter of time before F1 followed suit. Multiple sources have confirmed to Reuters that the rumors are legitimate.
Big issues that F1 is reported to be considering are human rights, gender equality, and media freedom and safety—things that Formula E has seemed to get into order given that the race carried on as planned and that the series even had multiple female drivers test FE cars in Saudi Arabia ahead of the season.
Here’s more from the Reuters article:
The Times suggested a Saudi race could become a reality as soon as 2021, with the schedule already expected to stretch to a record 22 races in 2020.
Formula One and the teams are discussing major sporting and technical rule changes from 2021 and Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said in Hungary at the weekend that could see an expansion to 24 races.
There’s also a hell of a lot of controversy that could come into play regarding the examples set by previous Middle Eastern races:
The Middle East already hosts two races, at Sakhir in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina, with lucrative long-term contracts in place.
Bahrain was the first in 2004 but the race has proved controversial, with rights groups accusing the country’s rulers of using it to ‘whitewash’ abuses and improve their image abroad.
Any Saudi race would likely need to be separated from the other two regional rivals to protect their investment and the uniqueness of the event.
At this time, there isn’t any word as to what circuit a Saudi Arabian race would use—whether it be a purpose-built track or a street circuit inspired by the FE track. Those details likely won’t emerge until an actual serious confirmation comes into play.