Historically speaking, Saudi Arabia has been quite important with their support of Formula 1 racing teams as they have been marked in the history of the sport as contributors to one of the most prestigious names in F1. Among these names is most notably a British team, Williams F1 Team.
In the late ’70s, the Williams Formula One team found itself in serious financial trouble. The team was low on funding and was then enjoying little success. Williams needed to find the team some new major sponsorship. Frank Williams even resorted to running marathons to raise money. But this only helped their unfortunate situation a small amount.
However, Frank Williams and technical director Patrick Head decided to fly to Saudi Arabia. After a few conversations with some significant Saudi Arabian businessmen, Williams and Head returned back to England with "Saudia" Saudi Airlines and Albilad hotels as their new main sponsors.
In 1977, Saudi Arabia was the first Arab nation to commit major funding to the legendry British F1 team, the Wiliams F1 team or known as "Williams Grand Prix Engineering" back then in 1976.
Most notably, Williams started racing as Albilad-Saudia Racing Team in 1979.
The Saudi backed Williams F1 team did soon become successful though, taking the Albilad-Williams combination to a total of five Grand Prix wins to claim their maiden constructors' championship and driver's title with Alan Jones in 1980.
Today, in line with the vision 2030 plan which Saudi Arabia is going through, all Saudi sectors have been changed to reflect this vision that is built around three primary themes: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation.
The historic vision was developed by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, which is chaired by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It includes a number of goals and reform strategies for the Kingdom’s long-term economic success and reforms to several industries including tourism and sport.
Let me take you to the Saudi Mortorsprt timeline that it has been going through in a very short time with me:
In 2018, Saudi women are officially allowed to get behind the wheel, after a decades-old driving ban was lifted. The change was announced in 2017 by King Salman issues a decree declaring an end to the decades-long ban from June 24, 2018.
This change leads as part of a sweeping initiative to modernize and diversify the economy away from heavy reliance on oil by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was hailed by Saudi rulers and much of the rest of the world as a great feminist leap forward. However, women raced for the first time at a local championship event hosted at Reem International Circuit in Riyadh. It was an overwhelming moment for me to cover such a moment for women in Saudi.
For someone who was born in Saudi Arabia, this was a piece of mega news that year. To some, these stories may seem like baby steps, but they were huge milestones to citizens and residents of the country.
At the same year, February 2-3, 2018, we had an appointment with a prestigious two-day annual auto racing event in Riyadh, Race of Champions - ROCRiyadh.
The Kingdom of Saudi marked as the 10th country to host the end-of-season, head-to-head racing extravaganza as Race of Champions traveled to the Middle East for the first time in its 30-year history. The event also witnessed the first Esports element of Race of Champions "eRace of Champion" following in the footsteps of the WRC and Formula 1. There were big names in sim racing and pit them against each other.
It was a truly global contest where drivers from Formula One, WRC, Rallycross, IndyCar, and other racing competitions were featured along with top-quality entertainment for families.
I was extremely thrilled to interview all drivers as the first and only female journalists at the event. Meeting David Croft and hearing his commentary at the stadium was among the most thrilling moments I have ever experienced in real life. I remember he was following the scores of the premier league from his phone while doing his commentary duty.
Well, the chain of Motorsport surprises continued, I knew that If ROC was hosted in Saudi then we have good reason to expect more international motorsport events to be hosted here in the near future!
So, dear reader, please fasten your seatbelts and take the back seat while we drive the wheel of change our own way.
At the end of December 2018, It was the first time to host the first event of ABB Formula E in the Middle East.
Ad Diriyah ePrix was the name of the event. North-west of the Saudi capital Riyadh was the location, 15 December 2018 was the date.
A very special and successful event in all aspects as Formula E made its debut in Riyadh featuring the introduction of the all-new Gen2, second-generation Formula E car. The race won by António Félix da Costa.
Honestly, it was an emotional moment for me. A single-seater championship at home next door. I never thought I would meet Ex racing driver Susie Wolff who joined the Vinturi Formula E team as the first female team principal that year. Saudi was her debut event.
Along with these motorsport events, there were many other sports event going on in the kingdom such as the Spanish super cup, Italian super cup, international tennis championships, the first female WWE match, European golf tournaments for females and males, free wrestling at the international equestrian federation, SAUDIA equestrian cup, which is considered the world’s most valuable race, and Ad Diriyah historical boxing battle.
It's 2019, another year to write in history. Dakar Rally was announced officially to move to the desert of Saudi Arabia in 2020 after a decade in South America.
Yet, Formula E had another appointment in November but with a doubleheader event this time, at the same place and two days on 22 and 23 November 2019, first day, won by Sam Bird and Alexander Sims on the second. We were eager to host as many races as we can, two nor three were not enough. All fans and the motorsport community were excited about the upcoming racing events.
At the same event, 'Girls On Track – Dare To Be Different' arrived in Saudi Arabia for activation around the Diriyah E-Prix. It was a women's empowerment program which runs by founder Susie Wolff. Aseel Al Hamad, board member of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation (SAMF) and representative of Saudi Arabia on the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission was delighted to be hosting the FIA Girls on Track initiative in her homeland.
The event participated by young girls and attended a number of innovative activities that included media training where I was honored to become an Ambassador for Dare to be Different and teach them how to report a race and become a motorsport journalist.
We took a rest of less than a month until the preparation of Dakar 2020 started.
It started from Jeddah on 5th January and finished in Al-Qiddiya near Riyadh 17th January after completing 12 stages plus a rest day in the capital. Dakar has been done successfully for the first time in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf.
It was another unforgettably challenging event to cover, the main highlight of the prestigious event was the participation of two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso who completed his maiden Dakar in 13th overall. In Dakar, the story is different, finishing the rally and letting your car pass the finish line of the last stage is a win-win situation. He loved the landscape of the kingdom the most and promised us that he will come back, well, next year perhaps with a different car!
More recently, Saudi Aramco signed a long-term deal to become the 6th global partner of Formula 1 earlier this year, alongside DHL, Emirates, Heineken, Pirelli, and Rolex.
Finally, all these Motorsport events were hosted at home. Each of these rounds had a different ritual and status. Each announcement has been more emotional than the other. We lived the dream we always thought it will never happen. Among the most sentimental of all these announcements, was the announcement of hosting the pinnacle of the motorsport, F1 in Saudi F1.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to be hosted in the streets of Jeddah city with a night race in 2021 before it moves to the home of motorsport integrated city, at Al-Qiddiya.
The sky is our limits, we say, but I would say space is our limits and special thanks and appreciation extended for all of the hard work and dedication for our beloved sport to Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal, Minister of Sport and Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, president of Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF).