Saudi Arabia Wants to Become the Center of the Formula 1 Universe

The country is trying to entice Aston Martin and McLaren to move their F1 operations to Neom, the linear city that just broke ground in Saudi Arabia.

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A Neom concept render of the linear city
This could be the new home of a Formula 1 team.
Image: NEOM

Saudi Arabia could become the next home for at least two Formula 1 teams, McLaren and Aston Martin. For the last half-century, the United Kingdom has been the center of the Formula 1 universe — seven of F1’s ten current teams are based in the UK. Those teams serve as regional pillars for over 4,000 racing and engineering suppliers, in a region commonly referred to as Motorsport Valley. Now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hopes to create its own Motorsport Valley as it diversifies its economy.

In an interview with Motor Sport, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, outlined his ambitions for Saudia Arabia’s motorsport industry and how he aims to get there. He told the magazine:

“We have a 20-year program that hopefully will launch at the end of ’23, early ’24. Our aim is not just to host international events, we want to be involved more. We want to have engineers, we want to have mechanics, we want to build cars, we want to be creative.”

“We really want to have a champion, a driver that can compete in the championship for Formula 1, who can compete in MotoGP. We are investing a lot in infrastructures, in building tracks in Saudi Arabia. We want to build academies so we can be more involved: Saudi teams with Saudi drivers or other drivers to race in Saudi teams. It’s still a long way ahead but hopefully by 2030, 2035, 2040 we can achieve our goals.”

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The McLaren Technology Centre might need a new tenant and a new name.
The McLaren Technology Centre might need a new tenant and a new name.
Photo: David Goddard (Getty Images)

In the span of five years, Saudi Arabia has become host to several prominent racing events, including the Dakar Rally as well as rounds of the FIA Formula 1 and Formula E World Championships. MotoGP and the FIA World Rally Championship are expected to compete in Saudi Arabia in the coming years as well, and Prince Khalid’s desire to get the country more involved in motorsport could have a massive effect.

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Saudi Arabia wants to convince McLaren and Aston Martin to leave England and relocate their F1 teams to the country. The teams are expected to move to Neom, the conceptual city that’s 110 miles long and built in a straight line. It might be a hard sell: Aston Martin just completed a massive factory expansion in Silverstone, and McLaren just agreed to a two-decade-long lease at the McLaren Technology Centre. However, there are tangible reasons why those teams might take Saudi Arabia up on its offer.

Don’t expect to see a race track in Neom unless it’s a dragstrip.
Don’t expect to see a race track in Neom unless it’s a dragstrip.
Photo: Gongora/NurPhoto (Getty Images)
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Saudi Arabia has board members at both automakers; Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is Aston Martin’s second-largest shareholder, and the country’s state-owned oil company Aramco is a major sponsor of Aston’s F1 team. Additionally, Saudi Arabia is a minority shareholder in McLaren, and while the Kingdom of Bahrain is McLaren’s majority shareholder, Neom is the title sponsor of McLaren’s Formula E and Extreme E teams. The orange-branded automaker also signed a deal to open an office at the Oxagon, Neom’s innovation hub, as a founding member.

I have my doubts that these goals will be achieved, but stranger things have happened, and Saudi Arabia clearly has the capital to entice new partnerships.