Qatar will host Formula One races in November as part of a ten-year deal announced today.
The Gulf state became the third Middle Eastern setting for the grand prix after Bahrain hosted the first circuit in 2004 and ABu Dhabi in 2009.
The deal with Qatar is for a race in November at the Losail circuit outside Doha and then for ten years from 2023 once the gas-rich country has hosted the 2022 soccer World Cup, Reuters reports.
Saudi Arabia, also signed up for at least a decade, will make its debut in December with an eye-catching night race in Jeddah while Qatar gets in first on 21 November. Abu Dhabi ends the season on 12 December.
Formula One, a European-based sport whose commercial rights have been controlled by US-based Liberty Media since 2017, is keen to stretch the calendar and reach out to a new and younger demographic.
“The region is hugely important to us and with 70% of the population of Saudi being under 30 we are excited about the potential to reach new fans,” former F1 chief executive Chase Carey said last year when the Jeddah race was confirmed.
Race hosting fees are also a key element of the sport’s business model, along with revenues from television and sponsorship.
The sport already plans a record 23 races in 2022, after 22 this season and only 17 in 2020, with Miami also due to come on board as a second US race along with Austin.
Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, whose Yas Marina circuit was billed as the most expensive racetrack ever built when it came on the scene, are each estimated to pay in excess of $40 million annually in hosting fees.
Saudi and Qatar could be the most lucrative yet — good news for a sport whose revenues took an $877 million hit, a 43 per cent drop, last year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellations and races without crowds.
Saudi state-owned energy giant Saudi Aramco is a global partner of Formula One and Saudi companies have sponsored teams in the past.
Bahrain’s Mumtalakat sovereign investment fund owns 62.55 per cent of McLaren and last July Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and global investment firm Ares Management provided $547.12 million of new capital to the McLaren Group.
Saudi Arabia has the Dakar Rally, Extreme E and Formula E while Qatar has hosted MotoGP since 2004.
Human rights campaigners accuse Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of ‘sportswashing’, using high-profile international events to create a positive image. Qatar’s treatment of low-paid migrant workers has also come under close scrutiny.