My obsession with Formula 1 (F1) grand prix racing started when I was living and working in London more than 20 years ago. Growing up in Riyadh as a teenager, soccer was the only sport that captured our time and attention. But, from the first month of living in London, I developed the habit of being glued to TV screens every weekend watching live coverage of F1 grand prix races — not to mention buying tickets to some European-based racing tracks including Silverstone in the UK.
It was music to my ears last week to hear the minister of sport, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, announce that Jeddah will host the F1 grand prix for the first time in Saudi Arabia next year. It will be the third in the Middle East after Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has become a hub for sports and entertainment, hosting major international events including boxing, Formula E, the Dakar Rally and boxing.
Saudi Arabia has been supporting F1 for decades with the national airline carrier Saudia sponsoring the Williams team. The investment proved a significant event in the team’s history, with the “Fly Saudia” branded team winning their first world championships in 1980. Saudi Aramco has also been a global F1 partner with talks to develop and accelerate plans toward a power unit fueled by advanced sustainable fuels.
After Jeddah, the Saudi round is expected to move eventually to Qiddiya, located 40km from Riyadh and covering 334 sq km. Qiddiya Investment Co. (QIC) is set to become the Kingdom’s capital of entertainment and sport with components to include the world’s largest “Six Flags” theme park, a world-class waterpark, motorsports including the F1 grand prix, and a 18-hole championship golf course.
By 2030, QIC is expected to welcome 17 million visitors annually with a SR20 billion ($5.3 billion) contribution to gross domestic product.
Recently, QIC announced the appointment of Philippe Gas, the former CEO of Euro Disney, as its new CEO. I am sure his appointment will bring a wealth of experience to manage this giga project, including hosting the F1 grand prix track in the future.
In my opinion, as the Saudi Vision 2030 aspires to grow household and visitor spending on entertainment and tourism through the creation of world-class attractions of the highest international standards, hosting the F1 grand prix will have a noticeable impact on the plan, locally and internationally.
The F1 Saudi Grand Prix is ground-breaking news and will be the biggest sports event hosted in the Kingdom.
Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.
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