Formula One is considering holding a race in Saudi Arabia, a new report finds. However, several hurdles must be cleared before Saudi Arabia, a country known for human rights violations, could get a race in the world’s top tier of racing.
Sources confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday that officials from F1 have held top-level discussions with Saudi Arabia about holding a race there as soon as 2021. F1 has also reached out to team bosses for input on the possibility of a race in Saudi Arabia.
To be seriously considered for a stop on the racing calendar, F1 and its 10 participating teams are seeking assurances from Saudi Arabia on issues like freedom of the press, gender equality, and human rights. Saudi Arabia only last year lifted a ban on women drivers, and the country received international backlash in late 2018 after it was revealed that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives.
Talks are also not a sign of a guaranteed F1 race. The report noted F1 regularly holds talks with potential host countries that often fizzle out with no deal reached.
If approved, Saudi Arabia would be the third Middle East stop for F1. The current F1 calendar includes races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. The Saudi Arabia race would be a part of F1’s proposal to expand from 21 to 24 races, rather than a replacement for a current event. A possible race would likely be scheduled away from both the Bahrain race, which takes place early in the season, and the Adu Dhabi race, which concludes the season. That would put it in the heart of the summer in the notoriously hot Middle East.
While Saudi Arabia waits to hear back from F1, the country is preparing to host its first Formula E race later this year. The all-electric racing series will also be returning to Saudi Arabia in 2020.
That’s not the only international racing in Saudi Arabia. The country’s King Fahd International Stadium, near the capital of Riyadh, was selected as the location for the Race Of Champions in 2018.