Saudi Arabia is gearing up to host its inaugural Grand Prix this weekend to mark the start of an ambitious 20-year plan to create the kingdom's own team, future world champion and car manufacturer.
The F1 season's penultimate race on December 5 will transform the Red Sea city of Jeddah into the world’s fastest street circuit, while a racetrack is already being constructed for future events at Qiddiya in Riyadh.
It is one of the closest title races in years with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen trading races and barbs as they bid to claim the drivers' crown, which finishes in the season-ending Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 12, and Saudi Arabia will play a key role in who claims the honours.
Prince Khalid bin Al Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile & Motorcycle Federation, revealed the Jeddah showpiece is just the start of some huge investments and pioneering projects in the Kingdom.
“What you see now is only five per cent of what Saudi Arabia plans for,” Prince Khalid told The National. “We are working on building a new generation of drivers who will join the biggest sports events and win championships.
“I want to see Saudis not just as drivers but also mechanics, and a Saudi manufacturing company that creates and exports parts and technologies to other countries in the future. We want to have a Saudi team, a Saudi champion, a Saudi mechanic, Saudi engineers, we want to manufacture cars in the Kingdom.”
The Prince said the country’s motorsports experts are “working on a 20-year programme which requires a lot of investment, time and patience".
The Motorsports City at Qiddiya, due to be completed by 2026, will have more than 25 tracks for bikes, drag racing, rallying and more. Prince Khalid said the country is “very lucky to have the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman” to develop a sporting future, and the current generation of children are already being nurtured in motorsports by the Ministry of Education.
“We can then take this generation, train and let them race in go-karting and place them in single-seaters in F3 and F4. By the time they turn 18 or 20, we hope to have them race in a MotorGP or Formula One,” he said.
“I’m proud of the team and our people, especially events like these which will have a big impact in the next 10-20 years. We want to see this generation not only racing in Saudi but also Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.”
He said the kingdom’s ambitions include creating “everything from marshals to medical teams, pilots, journalists — anything related to motorsports”
He said that the country's biggest source of investment in making Saudi dreams a reality came from its people rather than the country's wealth.
"The mentality in Saudi Arabia is passionate, they are driven, enthusiastic and ambitious. Everyone wants to prove themselves and what they can give to their country. We are blessed," he added.
“The best resource is not oil, but it is the people of Saudi Arabia. It is the mentality of the people.”
Prince Khalid said that changes in the kingdom have created “new and equal opportunities for Saudis, not just men but also women".
“The next chapter involves a lot of investment in infrastructure — including technology, as it is a fast sport,” he said. “We have to ensure safety. We have the manpower, management and support from the government. We created Saudi Motorsports, which will focus on commercial, marketing and sponsorship activities.
“Everybody saw how Saudi Arabia shifted in the past 3-4 years due to the belief of King Salman, who supported the Crown Prince, who with his vision changed the country in all sectors.
“He has helped support motorsports, building state-of-art facilities with investments and focus on the future. Vision 2030 is fuelling and pushing us to achieve all our goals. F1 is not just about sports and entertainment — it is creating jobs and opportunities for men and women. Hosting the event allows us to showcase Saudi Arabia to the world, as people, and being part of the change, is an honour.”