Formula 1 - Heading to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a country that is rapidly burgeoning into a hub for sports and entertainment with many major events under its belt in recent years. And yes, Formula 1 will also be making its way to beautiful Saudi Arabia from their 71st season; indeed, a major milestone In 2021, Saudi Arabia will become the 33rd country to host a round of the coveted Formula 1 World Championship, showcasing the inaugural of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Here’s everything you need to know about this exciting addition to the calendar. The inaugural of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be held in the nation’s second-biggest city by population – Jeddah, on the striking West Coast. The race will run on a street track, however, there are plans to move to a purpose-built circuit in the future. What makes this place special is the fact that Jeddah is a picturesque city of around 3.5 million people, situated on the beautiful Red Sea coast. While the final track layout is yet to be confirmed, it’s set to be situated on the Corniche - the 30 km coastal resort area of the city. The track is expected to hug the seafront, providing a marvellous natural backdrop for all the action. Organisers believe it will feature a good flow of long straights and tight corners, with no equivalent track on the calendar. Another unique aspect of this is that the organisers hope the race will take place at night under the lights, adding another phenomenal layer of atmosphere. They expect the city to come alive with excitement for the race, with everyone coming together to celebrate Formula 1. The question that kills our curiosity is, F1 cars have never raced in Saudi before, does it have motorsport heritage? Yes, Saudi Arabia has connections with F1 that reel back to 1978, when the airline Saudia sponsored Williams, alongside a few other Saudi businesses. The investment proved a significant event in the team’s history, with the 'Fly Saudia' branded team winning their first world championships in 1980 with Alan Jones. Moreover, Saudi Arabia recently played host to both Formula E and the Dakar Rally, while Saudi Aramco - the world’s leading integrated energy and chemical company - is a global F1 partner, with both sides saying the partnership has the potential to further develop and accelerate plans towards a power unit fuelled by advanced sustainable fuels. No Saudi driver has ever raced in F1 before, but at the 2018 French Grand Prix, Saudi woman Aseel Al-Hamad drove some demonstration laps in a Renault F1 car, on the same day Saudi Arabia allowed women to obtain a driving licence. In addition to Formula E and the Dakar Rally, Saudi Arabia has hosted international football – including the Spanish Supercup and the Italian Supercup - European Tour men’s and ladies golf, WWE, boxing, international tennis, FEI equestrian championships and the Saudi Cup. It is also set to host the first stage of Extreme E in 2021 – the new off-road championship in which Lewis Hamilton is a team owner. Being the first-ever of its kind, what do the people of Saudi Arabia think about the coming of F1? It’s fair to say they are excited. In 2018, when Riyadh hosted Formula E, it had live music concerts and entertainment alongside the racing action, with over 40,000 people attending each of the three nights - a first for the country. With 70% of the population under the age of 30, Saudi people want to be like the rest of the world – they want to go to the biggest live events, they want to have fun and they are embracing and welcoming new opportunities. Formula 1 has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural perks. Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement. “We are excited to welcome Saudi Arabia to Formula 1 for the 2021 season and welcome their announcement following speculation in recent days,” said Chase Carey, Chairman and CEO of Formula 1. After the 2020 schedule was heavily revised, cancelling 13 races due to the COVID-19 pandemic, F1 has been clear in its plan to run a calendar next season that is closer to normal. Teams were handed a first draft of the schedule in an F1 Commission meeting on Monday, featuring all 10 competitors as well as officials from F1 and the FIA. Autosport has learned that the provisional calendar for 2021 features 23 races, adding the Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia to the existing 22 rounds that were planned for this year. The 2021 F1 season is scheduled to start in Australia on 21 March, followed by the Bahrain Grand Prix one week later. A two-week gap will follow before the Chinese Grand Prix on 11 April, with the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix set to be held two weeks after that. One of the biggest changes from the planned schedule in 2020 is a shift of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort to an autumn date slot. The race was due to get the balls rolling on the European season at the start of May this year, but will now form part of a European triple-header with the Belgian Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix after the summer break. F1 first attempted a triple-header in 2018, running races in France, Austria and Great Britain on consecutive weekends, but had agreements from teams not to do so again due to the pressures it placed on personnel. By forming a triple-header with Singapore, Sochi and Suzuka, F1 has created an extra one-week gap in the calendar for the event in Saudi Arabia to join the schedule, with a street race in Jeddah planned for late in the season. It will see F1 become the latest major international series to stage an event in Saudi Arabia following similar moves in Formula E - which has hosted its last two season openers in Diriyah. The race is set to mark the first move into Saudi Arabia for F1 amid plans to construct a new circuit in Qiddiya on the outskirts of Riyadh in the future. The event will see the world’s best drivers and constructors lock horns on the city streets in a spectacular night race. His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki AlFaisal Al Saud, the Minister of Sport added: “Saudi Arabia is accelerating forward and the speed, energy, excitement of Formula 1 perfectly reflects the transformational journey the country is on. As we’ve witnessed in recent years, our people want to be at the very heart of the biggest moments in live sport and entertainment. And they don’t come any bigger than Formula 1. “Today is ground-breaking in every sense,” added HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, President of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation. “I firmly believe the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be the biggest sports event hosted in our country’s history and has the potential to change lives, perceptions and reach new audiences and communities like never before. To have the icons of the sport and historic teams’ race in Saudi in front of young fans and families is truly game-changing. What may come as a buzzkill, spectators have been barred from most races. Organisers said they expect spectators to return next year. Despite concerns about the viability of some events due to the uncertain nature of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, F1 has not officially informed teams of any potential back-up races as it hopes to stick to the planned schedule. Pre-season testing is also set for a shake-up, with at least one test moving from Barcelona to Bahrain next March before the season-opener in Australia.

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