The word in the Middle East is that a deal has been struck for a Formula 1 race in the final part of this season at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. The news is yet to be officially confirmed.
The race would be an addition to the calendar to replace Australia, for financial reasons rather than to help F1 get around quarantine problems. At the moment Qatar and the UAE (Abu Dhabi) are both on Britain’s red list. Saudi Arabia is not.
This means that the best course of action would be to have the Jeddah race as the last event, so that the majority of the 10 days after leaving a red list country would be spent in Saudi Arabia, which is on the amber list.
This would not be important if the World Championship is settled before the last race, but Abu Dhabi is believed to pay a premium to host the final event. Having the three races back to back on Nov 28/Dec 5/Dec 12 would guarantee three high-paying races, without quarantine problems if F1 people stayed on for a couple of extra days after the last event.
F1 must wait to see if the British shift some countries from red to amber next week when revisions are due. This is also important with regard to the Brazilian and Turkish GPs, as both are still on the red list. However if both have a race in a non-red list country a week afterwards, the quarantine requirement can be largely avoided. At the moment Japan is scheduled after Turkey but we don’t yet have any event that fits the bill for Brazil.
With Qatar, however, F1 would get the 23 races it wants.
Qatar has long had ambitions to host a Grand Prix, but Bahrain and Abu Dhabi have monopolised the Middle Eastern dates on the F1 calendar. The arrival this year of regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia seems to have changed the landscape somewhat, and the inclusion of Qatar is particularly interesting given the problems in recent years between the country and its Gulf neighbours, which led to diplomatic relations being severed in 2017. A settlement was reached to normalise the situation only in January this year.
Qatar has been hosting MotoGP races since 2004 and held the first MotoGP night race in 2008, but its biggest sporting coup was winning the FIFA World Cup soccer competition back in 2010. The World Cup will take place at the end of 2022 despite claims that the process was conducted in a corrupt fashion. These claims and legal actions pertaining to them continue, but it looks like the tournament will go ahead as planned. Qatar will be the first Arab nation to host the World Cup.
It is not unusual for countries to turn to F1 after other big events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, in order to maintain their international profile, with Barcelona and Sochi being good examples of this concept. Thus it is quite likely that a 2021 race could be a precursor for a bid for a permanent place on the F1 calendar, which might explain Qatar’s sudden willingness to join the party.
This would suit F1 as it seeks to boost the number of World Championship races each year – and the annual revenues of the sport. It could also help other Middle Eastern races as it might boost interest in F1 in the region and generate more spectators at each event, although none of them currently requires ticket sales to pay the race fees.