Qatar and Formula 1: The Sheikhs' Battle to Position themselves on the Global Map

Not content with hosting the Soccer World Cup in 2022, the emirate of Qatar recently announced its agreement with Formula 1 to host a Grand Prix this season, as well as a contract to be part of the calendar for ten years starting from 2023.

Along with the Saudi Arabian race, this will be two new events this season in that region of the world, joining the existing ones in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. It could be said that four races in the same area is too much chicha for so little bread, if we understand as such the little tradition of all these countries with motor sports. But money rules and in that other race to become a reference destination in the Near East, no sheikh wants to be left behind.

The first to see it was precisely Bahrain, the smallest and poorest (relatively clear) of all the Persian Gulf monarchies that celebrated its first Grand Prix in 2004. Aware that Formula 1 could be the ideal platform to raise the profile of the country and that billions of people could locate it on the map, signed an exclusivity contract with Bernie Ecclestone that allowed them to be the only appointment on the calendar in the area.

The Losail track director is the Spanish Juan Baquero, an excellent professional highly recognized in the motor world who was director of the Jerez Circuit in his day, explained to El Confidencial the enormous challenges he faces to have his circuit ready for next November 17: very quickly, at the end of August the talks began and in the middle of September the agreement was closed ”- explains Baquero-. “In just eight weeks we have to have everything ready and we have six companies working in different areas 24 hours a day. It is quite a challenge as challenging as it is exciting, but we will arrive on time. The most important thing, which is the track, it hardly needs any changes except modifying some pianos, the pit-lane entrance or covering the guardrails with safety barriers and this is something that has already been done ”.

Bahrain was the first circuit in the region to host Formula 1 events and ushered in neighboring kingdoms.

Bahrain: A Success Story

Faced with the overwhelming success that the level of global recognition brought to an almost unknown country, neighboring emirates eager to be part of the showcase began to offer gold and moor (no seconds) to Ecclestone to get themselves a calendar appointment. The first to do so was Abu Dhabi and the choice was not accidental, since the capital of the United Arab Emirates was much less in competition with Bahrain than Saudi Arabia O Qatar, practically a stone’s throw from that one. Thanks to the flexibility of the Bahrainis, Bernie Ecclestone also significantly lowered their annual fee.

The exclusivity contract signed at the time with the Bahraini monarchy ended last year, allowing entry this year Saudi Arabia, leaving Qatar as the only powerful country in the area without the Formula 1 showcase. The cancellations of the Australian and Japanese Grand Prix forced promoter Liberty to look for a reliable and safe alternative to fill the gap at the end of the season and Qatar was the most reasonable option, since logistically it offered all the facilities by being located next to the Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia races on the one hand, with the existence of an excellent circuit such as Losail.

But with the pandemic, Allah has come to see them. A negotiation with the Formula 1 that is looking for you is not like being the one who tries to negotiate with them. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the absolute monarch of Qatar has the last word in this type of matter. And he said that according to Stefano Domenicali to have the Grand Prix ready in just two months in exchange for negotiating an agreement to be part of the calendar in the future.

Qatar, like the rest of the monarchies in the area, want to have Formula 1 as a showcase for the image and progress of their countries

When God (Allah) comes to see you

The Losail International Circuit, located on the outskirts of the capital Doha, was built thinking more about the motorcycles that in Formula 1 and since 2004 they are part of the calendar with Bahrain and open the MotoGP World Championship. The Qatari emirate pays Dorna an annual fee of around € 25 million, which, even a very respectable amount, is half the Abu Dhabi fee or a third of Saudi Arabia this year. Although very popular in some countries, motorcycles are far from the global reach of Formula 1 and it is not surprising that over the years Qataris also wanted to join the party.

Juan Baquero and his team usually execute a three-month plan for the organization of the MotoGP race, since Qatar does not offer the logistical advantages of Europe, where it is very easy and fast to find a supplier of any specific material for this type of competition. But the Spanish manager also sees it as an opportunity to make a series of pending improvements on the track and that this new situation will accelerate in an extraordinary way. “Above all, – ‘added the Jerez manager’ -, we have to expand the stands to increase the capacity from the 10,000 available tickets that we have today to the 40,000 that we hope to reach. It seems like a very ambitious goal, but the truth is that we have just launched the online sale of tickets and the response is excellent. Also, we are going to take the opportunity to make an improvement in the hospitality area of ​​the teams in the paddock and, in general, other improvements that serve both for Formula 1 and for when MotoGP arrives in 2022 ”.

For the autumn of 2022 there will be no Formula 1 Grand Prix in Qatar, because coinciding with the World Cup it is impossible to hold both events simultaneously. With what the sports minister Salah bin Ghanem Al Ali will have time to decide whether the next ten races to be held in the Qatari kingdom from 2023 will be held in Losail or in a new urban layout which would be built in the capital, Doha. Sheikh Al Thani will have the last word and his decision will have a lot to do with how his kingdom and not others in the area is the reference of the Near East.

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