Formula 1 hosted the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021 on what is the fastest street circuit that the sport has ever visited.
Formula 1 made its first visit to Saudi Arabia for the penultimate round of the 2021 season. Taking place on the 6.175km Jeddah Corniche Circuit, last year’s race was a highly dramatic affair. The city track is the fastest street circuit on which F1 has ever raced. Jeddah Corniche Circuit is also the second-longest circuit on the calendar, behind only Spa-Francorchamps.
Formula 1’s plans for a race in Saudi Arabia first came to light in 2019. Jeddah Corniche Circuit is located on the banks of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia’s second most populous city. Jeddah is the country’s most popular tourist region. It is considered as the gateway to the religiously important city of Mecca, which is a pilgrimage site for millions of Muslims each year. The addition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to the F1 calendar was formally announced in November 2020.
Though Jeddah Corniche Circuit features no fewer than 27 corners, over three quarters of the lap is spent at full throttle. There were three DRS zones for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The race is held at night, avoiding the high 35oC daytime temperatures in Jeddah.
The circuit was designed by Carsten Tilke, son of Hermann Tilke – the designer of most recent additions to the Formula 1 calendar. Construction of the circuit was run to tight deadlines, with some fearing that the track would not be ready in time for the scheduled race date. The final asphalt layering process was complete just weeks before the inaugural race.
Saudi Arabia’s racing history
Saudi Arabia is a relative newcomer to the motorsport scene. It first hosted an international motorsport competition in February 2018, when the Race of Champions took place at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. Former F1 driver David Coulthard won the event, while Team Germany – represented by Timo Berhard and Rene Rast – won the Nations Cup.
Formula E first visited Saudi Arabia in December 2018 for the Diriyah E-Prix. The event returned in 2019 and 2021, the latter being the series’ first ever set of night races. The 2022 Diriyah E-Prix will be the first race of the eighth Formula E season.
In 2020 and 2021, the Dakar Rally was held in Saudi Arabia. In 2021, the event started and finished in Jeddah, with the route taking competitors out through the desert and alongside the Red Sea. The 2022 Dakar Rally will also take place in Saudi Arabia, with the route beginning in Ḥaʼil.
Human rights issues in Saudi Arabia
Formula 1’s presence in Saudi Arabia has been met with criticism from human rights organisations, given the country’s poor human rights record. Organisations such as Amnesty International have accused the country of “sportswashing” – using sporting events in the country as a means of distracting from serious human rights abuses.
The president of the Saudi Arabian motorsport federation, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, has denied the claims, arguing that the event will help Saudi Arabia “open up” to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Formula 1 said that the sport is “uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.”
The future of F1 in Saudi Arabia
According to a spokesperson for Formula 1, Saudi Arabia’s contract to host a Grand Prix will run for “a decade, if not longer”. However, there is potential for the event to move away from Jeddah in the future.
When the rumours of F1 racing in Saudi Arabia first came to light, they did so due to a new motorsports complex which is to be constructed near Qiddiya. The project was conceived by former Formula 1 driver Alexander Wurz and was officially confirmed in January 2020, with an event attended by current and former F1 drivers.
Designed to FIA Grade 1 standards, making it eligible to host the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the Qiddiya track was originally expected to open in 2023. It is located around 50km from Riyadh, in a mountainous area – meaning the track will feature elevation changes. The site is also expected to feature the world’s fastest rollercoaster, which will run adjacent to the track.
In January 2023, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix organisers announced that the event would remain at Jeddah Corniche Circuit until at least 2027 – but confirmed plans for the race to move to Qididiya in 2028 at the earliest.
In December 2022, when giving an update on the future of the Australian Grand Prix, the Premier of Victoria revealed that the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be the season-opening race of the 2024 Formula 1 season.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Fast Facts
- Jeddah Street Circuit was the 75th different venue to join the Formula 1 calendar.
- With the previous race marking F1’s first visit to Qatar, the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was the first time that the sport visited two new countries in succession since the inaugural season in 1950.
- Top speeds at Jeddah Street Circuit reach 322km/h. The average speed of the circuit is over 250km/h. Monza is the only faster circuit on the current calendar.
- Women were forbidden from driving in Saudi Arabia until June 2018. In 2002, salaries of chauffeurs driving women in the country accounted for 1% of the national income.
- Saudi Arabia shares borders with three other countries which host F1 races in the Middle East: Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
- Fernando Alonso recorded the 100th podium finish of his Formula 1 career at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
- Formula 1’s links to Saudi Arabia go all the way back to the 1970s, when the Saudia national airline sponsored the Williams team.
- The hairpin at Turn 13 of Jeddah Corniche Circuit features twelve degrees of banking. It’s seven degrees less steep than the banking at Zandvoort.
- Saudi Arabia has a total land area of 2,150,000 km2, but there are no rivers in the country! It is the largest country in the world without a river.
Prior to the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the Saudi Automobile & Motorcycle Federation promoted the race by building the world’s biggest Lego F1 car. It was made up of over 500,000 bricks.
Memorable moments at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: Crashes galore in first Saudi race
The first running of the Saudi Grand Prix was punctuated by a number of collisions and crashes. While Max Verstappen crashed out in the final stages of qualifying on Saturday, the race itself featured two red flags, two Safety Car call outs and no fewer than six Virtual Safety Car periods.
Mick Schumacher caused the first red flag of the evening, making heavy contact with the barriers on Lap 10. Racing had barely resumed when the red flags were shown again, this time for a collision resulting from Sergio Perez tagging the wall. In the ensuing melee, Nikita Mazepin crashed at high speed into the back of George Russell’s Williams, ending both drivers’ races.
2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: Tensions rise between Verstappen and Hamilton
The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was the penultimate round in Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s season-long duel for the Drivers’ Championship. At both of the race’s restarts the pair went side-by-side through the opening corners. Verstappen led until 13 laps from the end, when Hamilton attempted an overtake – but the Red Bull ran both drivers wide.
Verstappen was instructed to give the position to Hamilton but did so clumsily, resulting in Hamilton hitting the rear of the Red Bull. Verstappen let the Mercedes driver through once more a few laps later but took the opportunity to immediately re-pass Hamilton. Verstappen subsequently collected a five-second time penalty.
Hamilton finally passed Verstappen and went on to win the Grand Prix by over 20 seconds, despite his broken front wing. The result of this race left Verstappen and Hamilton level on points heading into the last round of the season. Watch the highlights.
2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: A battle of wits
Max Verstapen and Charles Leclerc duelled for victory in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. A battle of wits played out in the closing stages as the leading driver tactically slowed before the DRS detection point, trying to dupe their opponent into giving them DRS activation on the next straight in order to stay ahead. On Lap 43, both nearly came to a standstill as they approached the DRS line! In the end, Verstappen won the race by just half a second. Watch the highlights.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Race Facts
|Jeddah Corniche Circuit
|Race first held
|6.174km (27 turns)
|50 laps (308.450 km)
|1:30.734, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, 2021)
|1st Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 1:21:14.894
|2nd Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +5.355s
|3rd Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +20.728s