Qatar is ready to pay a vast sum for hosting a Formula 1 race, but racing fans don’t want yet another Grand Prix in the Middle East.
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Abu Dhabi has one. Even Bahrain has one. But financially mighty Qatar doesn’t have one, a Formula One Grand Prix. When in 2004 the gates opened at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit to host MotoGP, Bahrain was able to top the feast by welcoming the inaugural Formula 1 race on Middle Eastern soil. A fact that’s still a massive thorn in Nasser bin Khalifa Al Attiyah’s side.
Whatever it takes
The President of the Qatar Motorsport and Motorcycling Federation has thus taken action to finally agree with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone on hosting a Grand Prix in the parliamentary monarchy. A Grand Prix in Qatar would raise F1’s tally of races in the Middle East to three joining the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi events. However, Ecclestone has revealed that Bahrain, which as the pioneer was given the right to approve to other races in the region, is blocking Qatar’s F1 bid.
That would be something entirely different from what Bahrain has to offer. Hence, this concept could work out.
The 84-year-old added that although he arranged for settlement talks between Bahraini and Qatari officials, he was unable to find a solution yet. According to Al Attiyah, who is also an FIA vice-president, a deal for a 2016 or 2017 race debut is now imminent. This was made possible as Qatar agreed to hosting a street race in Doha rather than using the Losail circuit. “That would be something entirely different to what Bahrain has to offer. Hence, this concept could work out”, Ecclestone added. Bahrain International Circuit boss Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa has confirmed that “the talks are still on. I don’t know though what sort of impact it will have on our race.” An agreement might be reached quickly if the Qataris confirm paying all of minnow Bahrain’s hosting fee for the GP though.
Different to Bahrain (annual GDP USD 32 billion), Qatar has been using its enormous wealth (annual GDP USD 202 billion) to buy itself into the top sports event hosting countries in the world. In the new millennium alone, the 11,600 km2 nation – about half the size of Sicily – has hosted nine world championships and eleven Asian championship events including the 2009 Volleyball Club World Finals, the 2010 Indoor Athletics World Championships, the 2011 Asian Football Cup, the 2011 Arab Games, and the 2015 Handball World Championships.
The Road Cycling Worlds, the Outdoor Athletics World Championships and the FIFA Confederations and FIFA World Cup have also already been awarded to the peninsula state. Moreover, the Equestrian Global Champions Tour, the WTA Tennis Tour, the IAAF Diamond League and of course MotoGP have all found a home in Doha, too. No other nation has hosted so many top category sports events in the past two decades. The country is on the verge of becoming one of the biggest players in hosting world sport, and thanks to its BeinSport network is also chasing the leading sports TV channels in buying broadcasting rights.
Fuelling the fire
Running a third Grand Prix in the region would certainly reignite discussions that “Big Bernie” did not care about the sporting side of Formula One, but merely aim for financial profit. In 2015, 20 Grands Prix will be run with the Mexican GP re-joining the calendar. Azerbaijan is due to join in the next 2-3 years and there are also rumours about a second race in the USA. A Qatar GP will add another large sanctioning fee to the commercial revenues post, of which over 60% goes to the teams. But it will also continue to exert pressure on traditional events like the German GP, the Italian GP or the Belgian GP – all three of them events loved by drivers and fans alike. Moving into new markets, away from F1’s heartland Europe – still by far the largest TV audience with 60% of the global viewership – will provide Bernie’s critics with more ammunition. They are already claiming that the Brit was taking the sport into the arms of several questionable regimes and selling out the elite category of motor racing in favour of his own profit. Awarding a race to the much-maligned Arabian state may yet be another step in the wrong direction on the increasingly growing list of erroneous steps the sport has taken in the recent past.