Saudis make promise new circuit will not be another F1 white elephant

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Saudi Motorsport CEO Martin Whitaker has vowed the country’s proposed half-a-billion dollar new circuit will not become another of F1’s white elephants.

Construction on Qiddiya’s Speed Park has yet to start, but is due to be one of the jewels in the crown of a giga-project city slated to become a global entertainment attraction as part of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ initiative.

Earlier this month, details were released about the track designed by Hermann Tilke and former F1 driver Alex Wurz. It includes an elevation difference of 108 metres across the 21-corner lap, and is due to include three DRS zones. Notably, there will be a 70-metre incline to the first corner known as the ‘Blade’, and which will be illuminated with LED lights.

In the past, venues in South Korea and India were constructed at considerable expense, only for both to fall by the wayside after four and three years respectively.

Saudi Arabia currently has the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, self-proclaimed as the fastest street track in the world, yet the grand prix is due to switch to Qiddiya later this decade.

“It’s definitely happening,” said Whitaker, in an interview with RacingNews365. “Using a Monopoly board analogy, we’ve got past ‘Go’, and when I say ‘we’, Saudi Motorsport will be the promoter of the race, as we are in Jeddah, and we will also be the operator of the circuit 365 days of the year.

“It’s difficult at this moment in time to say exactly when we will race there. One of the prime considerations you’ve got to remember is that Qiddiya is not just a racing track, it’s a whole city, like a huge theme park, in a sense.

“You’ve got other many sports, golf, soccer, motorsport, and you’ve got all the entertainment that goes with it, and then you’ve got residential, retail, hotels. It’s the whole nine yards, a spectacular venue.

“When we’ve talked about it, we’ve always thought of Qiddiya as just being somewhere where we’re going to go and stage Formula 1 in the future, but in actual fact, it’s so much more than that.

“It’s also important to consider that when it comes to staging a Formula 1 race in Qiddiya, everything’s got to be right. You cannot run on a circuit that might be finished but where the infrastructure around it isn’t. Essentially, everything needs to come together at the same time, which I’m sure it will.”

The grand prix in South Korea was held in Mokpo, a city at the southern tip of the country, and a four-hour train journey away from the capital, Seoul.

A promise was made at the time that infrastructure would be developed around the circuit, only for it never to materialise due to the proposed costs involved.

“The difference here is the commitment of the Saudis,” added Whitaker. “Once they commit to doing something, that’s it. It’s happening. There’s no turning back. They’re going to achieve it.

“And the reason why Qiddiya is because it’s one of these giga projects that they’re doing in Saudi, which is evolving so rapidly.

“I came here six years ago and it was a completely different country to what it is today. One of the prime objectives of what’s called ‘Vision 2030’ is tourism. Obviously, any country wants to attract tourism.

“Of course, very few people have really had much exposure to Saudi. People didn’t travel to Saudi like they do today, and like they’re going to in four or five years’ time. It’s rapidly evolving.

“And Qiddiya is great because we’ll have another circuit we can race on. In a sense, we’ve done all the high level stuff quite well. We’ve done Formula 1 reasonably well, we’ve done Extreme E, Formula E and Dakar Rally.

“Now we’re starting to concentrate on growing the grassroots of the sport here in the Kingdom, and for me, that’s almost more exciting for me because now we’re starting to produce new race circuits, new kart tracks, new bike tracks, new off-road facilities, and we’re starting to build academies for young people to come and race on.

“And it’s not just about racing, it’s about gaining engineers and technicians. We work really closely with local universities to make sure that these people have a potential career path. So that’s what we’re now concentrating on as well, and to have another circuit is great and will only help that cause.”

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