RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Mar 18 – Saudi Arabia’s first ever Formula One Grand Prix in December will feature the fastest street circuit in the sport, organisers said on Thursday.
They predicted the race in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah will see average speeds of around 250 kph (155 mph) and the circuit will run over 6.175 km (3.8 miles), making it the second longest track on the calendar.
“The fastest street track in Formula 1 history –- that’s what the drivers will be taking to when they line up for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah on December 5,” F1 organisers said in a statement.
The floodlit circuit, which is located along the Red Sea, will feature 27 corners.
“The design brings out the best of a modern street circuit but also has fast paced free flowing areas that will create fast speeds and overtaking opportunities,” said F1 managing director Ross Brawn.
“The setting is incredible, on the Red Sea, and we can’t wait to see the cars on track in December.”
The event is set to be the penultimate event of a 23-race calendar for 2021.
“We are looking forward to welcoming motorsport fans to Saudi Arabia,” said Prince Khalid bin Sultan, president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorsport Federation (SAMF).
“Even though this is the first time we will host a Formula 1 Grand Prix, delivering such important international events is further confirmation of the kingdom’s ability to manage and organise these events to the highest standards.”
Formula One has come under close scrutiny over the staging of a race in Bahrain and the addition of Saudi Arabia is sure to escalate criticism from human rights watchers.
The kingdom already hosts the Dakar Rally, a 12-day marathon through the Arabian desert, and the all-electric Formula E series, in addition to an array of boxing, golf and tennis events.
Under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” master plan, Saudi Arabia is aiming to project a more moderate image and jettison a reputation for rights abuses and the export of hardline ideology.
However the campaign, in a country which forbids alcohol and is notorious for gender segregation, has come under fire from activists who accuse it of “sportswashing” — using events to distract from a poor human rights record.