Another Desert Dream

Another Desert Dream

A street race in Saudi Arabia is looking odds-on for next year’s Formula One world championship.

It’s the next step in a massively adventurous Saudi motorsport plan that already includes hosting Formula E single-seaters and Dakar desert racers, major grand prix sponsorship by Aramco through this year, and will eventually see an Alex Wurz-designed F1 track joining the title trail in 2023.

It’s believed that next year’s Saudi GP will run at the end of the season around the streets of Jeddah before the finale in Abu Dhabi.

With the 2021 season set to be announced within a few weeks, Liberty Media is keen to pick up where it left off before Covid-19 interrupted proceedings with an expanded 22-race calendar that will take in new races in Holland and Vietnam.

However, with Brazil missing another deadline for its new Rio circuit and its contract at Interlagos already expired, a vacancy is waiting to be filled which the Middle East is ready to accept.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia well advanced with its motorsport ambitions, and part of Aramco’s F1 plan is to develop a synthetic liquid fuel.

It’s being pitched as a replacement for petrol and an emissions-free alternative for combustion engines to lift the reliance on electric vehicles and lithium mining.

Aside from sponsoring the championship, Aramco has also held the naming rights for this year’s Hungarian, Spanish and Eifel GPs.

Earlier this year, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud elevated the country’s General Sports Authority into a Ministry and appointed 37-year old Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal as its Sports Minister.

A Red Bull-endorsed athlete, Prince Abdulaziz is a graduate of the Formula BMW race school and has competed at LeMans sharing a Porsche GT3 RSR with the late Sean Edwards in 2012.

He plans to make motor racing a cornerstone of the Kingdom’s “Saudi Vision 2030” sporting reform plan with the purpose-built track in the capital of Riyadh forming the basis of a new multi-billion dollar Qiddiya entertainment complex.

“Having Formula E here for the past two years is part of the overall plan of hosting big events and promoting sports,” Prince Abdul Aziz told the local newspaper, Arab News.

“Dakar, I believe is the biggest motorsport event you can host. It spans 12 days, travels across the Kingdom and is almost 9500 kilometres long with 351 participants and we’ve signed it for 10 years,” he said.

Prince Abdulaziz won the Middle East GT3 Championship taking nine wins from 12 starts driving a Porsche GT3 RSR, finished first in the Algarve round of the European GT3 Championship with Shubert Motorsport in a BMW Z4 V8, has competed in the Middle East Porsche Cup with Lechner Racing and is a twice winner of the Dubai 24-Hour enduro in 2015 and 2018 driving a Mercedes AMG SLS GT3 and AMG GT3 for Team Black Falcon.

He commissioned former F1 driver turned circuit designer, Alex Wurz, to construct the new facility and recently invited Grand Prix Drivers Association Chairman and Haas driver, Romain Grosjean to inspect its progress.

“The track Alex has designed is great,” Grosjean said.

“He knows what we like and what we don’t like, so I guess he’s lucky to have this close relationship with us, because he often comes to ask us questions.

“The project is huge, super beautiful and the place is extraordinary. We are the ones who are on the tracks, who know what is good or not for overtaking so it’s great to be asked for our opinions” he said.

“When you look at golf, as soon as a new course is built, you go straight to a golf player to get his opinion. That’s not something that’s often been done in Formula One.”

Once approved, Saudi will give the Middle East three F1 GPs with Bahrain and Abu Dhabi already locked into long-term contracts.