Report on Saudi bid of $20bn to buy F1 was ‘speculation’: sports minister

According to the country’s sports minister, suggestions that the Saudi sovereign wealth fund was considering making a $20 billion bid to take control of Formula 1 were “pure speculation”.

In January, Bloomberg reported that the Saudi Public Investment Fund had explored a bid last year to acquire the sport from Liberty Media, which completed its acquisition of F1 for $4.4 billion in 2017.

F1 did not comment on the report.

“What I know is what I’ve read in the news, honestly. I think it’s just speculation, I don’t think there’s been any serious discussion about it,” he said. Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal told The Athletic in Jeddah.

“It took a lot of heat and a lot of answers and things between them, with the FIA ​​and so on. But I’m in charge of the development of sports within the kingdom, not investments or all those things – (the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi state) is. But as far as I know, this is only speculation.

The heat Abdulaziz was referring to was FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s assertion that F1’s $20 billion valuation was “inflated” and that any prospective buyer should “use common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come up with a clear and sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.

Ben Sulayem’s comments sparked an angry response from F1, whose legal department sent a letter to the FIA ​​president saying he had interfered in the commercial affairs of the series. The FIA ​​is not allowed to get involved in commercial matters, which remain purely under the jurisdiction of Liberty Media as the commercial rights holder of the sport.

The Saudi sports push

Saudi Arabia already has a significant involvement in F1. In addition to its Jeddah Grand Prix, which has been on the calendar since 2021, national oil company Aramco is also a global partner of F1. Aramco has trackside branding and title sponsorship for races, including last year’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, and is also a title sponsor of the Aston Martin team.

Along with football, tennis and boxing, F1 is one of many sports series or leagues to hold an event in Saudi Arabia for the first time in recent years. These beginnings have led to criticism that the push is a form of sportswashing, intended to distract from the state’s human rights record.

The sports minister said the aim of the push was to increase participation in the sport. “It helps us develop our youth and grow our programs and meet their expectations. They’ve seen it all over the world and they’re asking why we can’t have it in our cities.

A second Saudi F1 race?

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit, where F1 made its 2021 debut, was originally intended to be a temporary home for the grand prix in Saudi Arabia before moving the race to the new entertainment city of Qiddiya, which is being developed. construction on the outskirts of the capital, Riyadh.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Motorsport Company which organizes the race, said he expected it to stay in Jeddah until at least 2027 or 2028, while construction continues at Qiddiya. But he was open to the idea of ​​having more races in Saudi Arabia in the future, believing the demand was there to keep F1 at both venues.

“The idea of ​​having two races in Arabia is doable,” he said during a media roundtable. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Saudi Arabia in the near future hosts two races. The demand is there and we will have two great facilities.

Saudi Arabia is also in the running to host the opening race of F1’s 2024 season. It and Bahrain both aim to host their races before the start of the holy month of Ramadan on March 11. Australia, which was due to start the season next year, gave up the spot to attend the Middle East races.

Khalid said that while Saudi Arabia would “love to have the opening race”, he added: “Nothing is set now. I hope we can finalize it soon.

(Photo by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal: Rania Sanjar/AFP via Getty Images)

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