Having the Extreme E season opener in NEOM leading into the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on back-to-back weekends has put the Middle Eastern Kingdom at the forefront of international motorsport.
The all-electric off-road series has begun every one of its seasons in Saudi Arabia, racing in Al-‘Ula in 2021, NEOM in ’22, and on the edge of the planned smart city in Tabuk province by the Red Sea this year. Formula 1, meanwhile, has raced in the Kingdom for the last two years too. The nation has also hosted Formula E and the Dakar rally in recent years, while a future Nitro Rallycross event in the country is also planned.
The big push for international motorsport events in such a short space of time has even led to it becoming “one of the best places to race in the world” according to Alejandro Agag, the founder of both Formula E and Extreme E.
“With Saudi we have a long, long partnership,” he told select media, including RACER, at the recent Desert X Prix. “We were the first ones to come here with Formula E and since then Saudi has really been leading in motorsport. Saudi now has Formula E, Extreme E, Formula 1, Dakar, so really no country has that many races. This shows their leadership.
“We love coming here,” he added. “We’ve been coming here for years, and it’s one of the best places to race in the world.”
His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Abdullah Al Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabia automobile and motorcycle federation, says that while such events are obviously a point of pride, they are just a part of a wider plan for diversifying its motorsport activities. These include nurturing talent – male and female — for race driving and engineering, as well as developing home-grown race teams.
“Our ambitions are very big — our goal’s not only to host events,” he told RACER. “Firstly, we are big fans of motorsports, we like to watch them, we like to be involved with them, and we have a lot of interest from people, from drivers, from engineers, from other parts.
“We would love to have a Saudi team, we would love to see a Saudi driver, either a male or a female, racing in Extreme E,
Formula 1, Formula E, or a Saudi team – we’ve seen teams that have been sponsored by Saudi companies.
“We want to play or have a bigger part in these events, not just by organizing or hosting these events. We want to have engineers, mechanics, marshals, journalists… it’s bigger than that, so we are working on that. Still we are behind with the knowhow and the expertise but in time we would love to have more presence in these championships, either with teams or more people involved; or maybe we can also produce parts in Saudi or to bring the knowhow to Saudi Arabia with the manufacturers maybe to open headquarters here.”
In the short term, the kingdom’s motorsport interests are centered around a purpose-built facility in Qiddiya, which the prince refers to as “a motorsport city” (pictured, top).
“The thing that we’re really working on now is we’re building a state-of-the-art facility in Qiddiya. It’s a motorsport city — it has more than 13 tracks. It’s for circuit (racing), for cars, for bikes, for drift, for drag, for rallies and motocross so it’s going to be available for our youth to come and enjoy their hobby in a safe place and also for us, give us the opportunity to prepare the next generation of drivers.
“We want to have champions competing in the top events and we need to start from the grassroots. We need to have the infrastructure; we need to have the right places for them so they can learn and participate and hopefully to lead them to have a seat in these top championships.
“But also, we’d like to host and invest more for motorbikes. The track we are designing in Qiddiya should be homologated for Formula 1 and for other types of single-seater and GT races, as well for motorbikes.
“We have a big fan base for motorbikes. Hopefully we can have more than one championship and we are now discussing with (MotoGP organizer) Dorna. We signed a memorandum of understanding with them about six months ago and we have plans to host MotoGP in Saudi.”