The president of the Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) says he doesn’t blame Formula 1 fans for being wary of the country’s addition to the F1 calendar, but wants to change preconceptions and “would love” to host the W Series in 2021.
A street race in Jeddah was announced just over a week ago, before it was confirmed on the provisional 2021 calendar as part of a doubleheader with Abu Dhabi. Given the country’s human rights record, the announcement was met with criticism from fans claiming it doesn’t tally with F1’s #WeRaceAsOne campaign, while Amnesty International called on drivers and media to highlight the plight of human rights campaigners in the country. Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal says he understands the reaction the race has had.
“I know, I don’t blame them,” Prince Khalid said. “When you don’t know a country and when you have a certain image of a country — I remember myself when my parents used to tell me we were going to go to the U.S., especially to New York, I was frightened — I was thinking that I was going to walk the streets and somebody is going to come and shoot me, because I’d never been there.
“So I know why they’re not excited about it, because of a lot of issues with the human rights, because they’ve never been to Saudi. That’s why now for us opening up and hopefully people coming to Saudi Arabia and seeing the country and then going back and reporting what they saw, maybe this will make people change their mind and come.
“This happened to us with the Dakar (first hosted in Saudi Arabia this year) — it’s a big event and in terms or participants and drivers, most of them had the same impression and they were not happy. Even with Formula E, I remember BMW and other teams said they didn’t want to go to Saudi Arabia. But after they came to Saudi Arabia (pictured above) and after they saw us and met us, they changed their perspective of Saudi Arabia.
“So this is one of the issues, why we had this bad image, it was because our country is closed. So part of the vision and part of opening up our country is we would like people to come and see who we really are. That’s why we would like to invite you, we don’t have anything to hide. If we want to ‘sportwash’ our image or something, we would close our country because we would not let you come and see and meet with our people.
“I saw it, I read it, I feel sorry for it. Hopefully with honest press who report what they see — not what they need to say — when you come to Saudi Arabia, and just report your experience. Either it’s good or bad, just give us the opportunity to welcome you and for you to come and see who we really are and have the chance to meet freely with our people.”
Women were only given the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018, and with the all-female W Series announcing it will run as a support race at eight F1 events next year, Prince Khalid says he wants one of those races to be Jeddah.
“I would love to, personally — I would love to see and host them in Saudi Arabia. I know there are eight rounds and hopefully we will be one of the lucky countries to host them in Saudi Arabia. For us, over the last two years, we really are promoting women and especially women in motorsports, so it is something we would love and we would like to inspire our locals and would like to bring them these kinds of events and like to see more women racing in Saudi Arabia.
“Now we are starting with the karting and we have Reema Al Juffali, who is racing in Formula 4 in the UK. For us it is very important to bring them here.
“The sport is for all and we are really pushing for women in motorsport in Saudi Arabia, and it is going to be something good to inspire our women here in Saudi Arabia. Hopefully we can get an agreement and host it along with Formula 2.”