DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia will play host to a Formula One race next year, a move aimed at attracting well-heeled globe-trotting visitors and raising the kingdom’s profile internationally as a tourist destination.
Gulf locales including Manama, Bahrain, and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, already play host to F1 races, which see A-list Hollywood stars, royals, billionaires, ministers and social media influencers gather for days of partying, discreet talks and deal-making.
Last year, 21 cities hosted races, but that has been scaled back this year because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Some cities in 2020 have hosted multiple races. Concerns about large crowds amid the pandemic have also caused most races to be held without fans.
The 33rd country to host a round of the Formula 1 world championship
“Motorsports for us is very important,” Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. “We would like to host these events as long as we can because our local people here in Saudi Arabia like to attend these events and be entertained and meet people from all around the world.”
The kingdom did not say how long its contract with F1 will last, but the country has plans to build a race track in the capital, Riyadh, by 2030. Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s oil and gas giant, is already a global sponsor of the heavily sponsored race.
The cost of hosting the F1 could exceed $100 million, though Prince Khalid said he also expects it will generate revenue for Saudi Arabia as the country races to diversify its economy away from dependence on the export of oil, which has plunged to less than $38 a barrel amid weaker global demand.
One standout feature of the Saudi race will be the absence of champagne popping by the winners and alcoholic beverages flowing in the stands and at the afterparties. Consumption of any alcohol in the Muslim kingdom is outlawed.
“The priority is for our own people. We assure that we’re going to throw a lovely event, a nice event. People will not be concerned about if there is alcohol or not, they will come for the event – not for the alcohol,” Prince Khalid said. “We are proud of who we are and how we do things in Saudi Arabia.”
The kingdom has experience hosting the electric Formula E series, which was held on the outskirts of Riyadh. Prince Khalid said international visitors then have respected the cultural differences.
By hosting major sporting events, Saudi Arabia aims to draw attention to the sweeping social changes underway in the country and encourage Saudis to turn their attention to sports. Yet some big-name athletes have stayed away amid criticism the events are also an effort at “sportswashing” by diverting attention from the kingdom’s human rights record.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reputation took a hit following international outcry over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Turkey in 2018.
Human Rights Watch launched a campaign in October to counter what it says has been an effort by the Saudi government to spend billions of dollars hosting major events as “a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator.”
“If we wanted to cover anything up, we wouldn’t open up our country so people can come and see our country and meet our people and talk freely with them,” Prince Khalid said when asked about such criticisms. “Maybe we do some things differently than others in the world, but for us we are improving, we are opening up, we have nothing to hide so there’s nothing to wash.”
Hours before the Saudi announcement, the U.N. women’s rights committee issued a statement calling for the immediate release of Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been imprisoned for two-and-a-half years on vague national security charges related to her calls for greater freedoms for women. The 31-year-old al-Hathloul planned to start a hunger strike from prison last week amid multiple postponements of her trial.
She is among several activists, writers, economists and moderate clerics detained in recent years – part of a far-reaching crackdown on dissent overseen by Prince Mohammed as he consolidates power and pushes through an ambitious overhaul of the kingdom.
Jett Lawrence wins Pro Motocross opener, remains perfect at Fox Raceway; Hunter wins in 250s
PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.
No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).
He well surpassed expectations.
“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”
By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.
While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.
Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).
Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.
“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”
With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.
Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.
“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”
In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.
Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.
Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.
“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”
The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.
I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.
The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.
“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”
Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.
Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.
Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.
Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.
“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”
RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.
“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”
It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.
Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.
Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.