By Ben Morse, CNN
The Losail International Circuit will host the country’s first ever F1 grand prix on November 19-21, which will be round 20 of this season’s 22 races in the 2021 championship.
F1 also announced a 10-year deal to host races in Qatar from 2023, although the location of the race will confirmed at a later date.
“There was a strong will from Qatar to be helpful to F1, and in the course of this process, the vision for a longer partnership was discussed and agreed for 10 years,” an F1 statement said.
“The step from the gesture to be helpful to F1 in 2021 to a long term strategy was short and simple and the vision for F1 to be the showcase for Qatar after the FIFA World Cup in 2022 was the driving force behind this long term agreement.”
A race in Qatar means the final three races of the 2021 season will be held across the Middle East, with the Qatar GP followed by the first ever Saudi Arabian GP on December 3-5, with the season rounded off by the Abu Dhabi GP on December 10-12.
The Saudi Arabian race has raised uncomfortable questions for F1 regarding “sportswashing” — a phenomenon whereby corrupt or autocratic regimes invest in sports events to whitewash their international reputation.
Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), told CNN in September that F1 “would never have agreed to come” if they had concerns over the impact of the country hosting a race on the organization’s “reputation.”
In response to questions regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali told CNN earlier this month that he believed F1 could serve as a “facilitator” for change.
“The beauty of the sport is that we need to talk about sport. In our culture, the human rights are crucial and important to be followed,” Domenicali said.
“We believe that with Formula 1 in the country, there’s no scope or space not to think the truth. We are going to be facilitators, to anticipate the change that maybe in a different situation would have taken a longer time.
“On the other side, we cannot expect to switch in a blink of an eye, a change of a millennium, thousands of years of culture in something.”
The Losail International Circuit has hosted MotoGP races since 2004, but has yet to host a F1 race.
“We are very pleased to welcome Qatar to the Formula 1 calendar this season and for the longer term from 2023,” Domenicali said in the statement.
“The Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation and Authorities have been incredible and have moved at great speed to ensure the race can take place this season at the Losail Circuit, famous to many as the host of MotoGP.
“We have shown that we can continue to adapt and there is huge interest in our sport and the hope from many locations to have a Grand Prix.
“The huge effort from all the teams, F1 and the FIA has made it possible to deliver a 22-race calendar, something that is very impressive during a challenging year and something we can all be proud of.”
With seven races left of the 2021 F1 season, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton leads Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by two points in the drivers’ championship.
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