The inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will take place in Jeddah later this year as part of a 10-year deal for the nation to stage an F1 race, with a view to moving to the new entertainment city of Qiddiya in the future.
But the decision to hold a race in Saudi Arabia has led to criticism from bodies such as Amnesty International, which said the event would “be part of ongoing efforts to sportswash the country’s abysmal human rights record”.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has previously mentioned the “massive problem” surrounding human rights in some of the countries F1 races in, and spoke to officials in Bahrain about the matter earlier this year.
The promoter of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, said that he would be happy to discuss such concerns with “not only Lewis Hamilton, with anyone, in terms of a normal person, or the media”.
“I met at Silverstone with a couple of drivers,” Prince Khalid revealed in a select media roundtable on Monday including Autosport.
“I’m not going to name their names, but Lewis Hamilton wasn’t one of them. I addressed their concerns and I spoke with them openly.
“I said, listen, I’m not going to tell you anything, you come to Saudi Arabia and you see it, and if you want to come here before the race, you can come, and you judge by yourself.
Pitlane building, Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Photo by: Saudi Motorsport Company
“Whatever I say about my country, it’s better for you to come and see it yourself, meet with the local people, and then you can have your opinion.
“I’m sure you have friends from teams that came for Formula E or for Dakar. You can ask them, and they can give their opinion.
“You can come and have a chance to see our country freely, and then you can say your opinion about our country, because we’re confident about what we progress and where we are going. So we have no issues [discussing it].”
Saudi Arabia has been hosting a rising number of major international sporting events in recent years, including a Formula E event at Diriyah since 2018 and the Dakar Rally since 2020.
F1 has been vocal in its own CSR programme, We Race As One, since the start of the 2020 season, pushing to make the series more diverse and inclusive, as well as highlighting other important social matters.
Asked by Autosport what the race was doing in line with F1’s own We Race As One programme, Prince Khalid said they were “working closely” to “align in our missions”.
“As of now, things are progressing really good between us,” he said.
“This is part of our strategy, in Saudi Arabia, to open up our country.
“We want to prove the quality of life for anybody, for the Saudis or anyone that visits Saudi Arabia. This will help us achieve our goals.”