Report of Saudi Arabia’s $20bn bid to buy F1 was ‘speculation’: sport minister
Proposals that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has considered making a $20 billion bid to take over Formula 1 are “pure speculation,” the country’s sport minister said.
In January, Bloomberg reported that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund last year reviewed a bid to acquire the sport from Liberty Media, which completed its 2017 acquisition of F1 for $4.4 billion.
F1 did not comment on the report.
“What I know is what I’ve honestly read on the news. I think this is pure speculation, I don’t think it has been seriously discussed,” Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, told The Athletic in Jeddah.
“It took a lot of heat and a lot of reaction and things between them, with the FIA and stuff like that. But I’m responsible for the development of sport in the kingdom, not for investments or all those things – (the Saudi Arabian state’s sovereign wealth fund). But as far as I know, that’s pure speculation.”
The heat Abdulaziz was referring to was FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s claim that a $20 billion valuation of F1 was “inflated” and that any potential buyer would “use common sense, the greater good.” of sport and come up with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.”
Ben Sulayem’s comments sparked an angry reaction 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 must not interfere in commercial matters, which remain the sole jurisdiction of Liberty Media as the holder of the sport’s commercial rights.
Saudi sport is pushing
Saudi Arabia already has a significant involvement in Formula 1. In addition to the Jeddah Grand Prix, which has been on the calendar since 2021, state-owned oil company Aramco is also a global partner of Formula 1. Aramco has trackside branding and title sponsorship for races, including the last year’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas and is also the title sponsor of the Aston Martin team.
Alongside football, tennis and boxing, F1 is one of several sports series or leagues to hold an event in Saudi Arabia for the first time in recent years. Those debuts have led to criticism that the push is a form of sports washing to divert attention from the state’s human rights record.
The sport minister said the aim of the push was to increase participation in sport. “It helps us develop our youth and develop our programs and deliver what they want. They’ve seen it all over the world and are asking why we can’t have it in our cities.”
A second Saudi F1 race?
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit, where F1 made its debut in 2021, was originally planned as a temporary home for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix before the race moved to the new entertainment city of Qiddiya, which is being built on the outskirts of the capital Riyadh.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, the chairman of the Saudi Motorsport Company, which runs the race, said he expects it to remain in Jeddah until at least 2027 or 2028 as construction work continues in Qiddiya. But he was open to the idea of hosting multiple races in Saudi Arabia in the future, believing there is a demand to hold Formula 1 at both venues.
“The idea of holding two races in Saudi Arabia is feasible,” he said at a media interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Saudi hosts two races in the near future. The demand is there and we will have two beautiful facilities.”
Saudi Arabia is also in the running to host the inaugural race of the 2024 F1 season. It and Bahrain are both aiming to host their races before the holy month of Ramadan begins on March 11. Australia, which was due to start the season next year, gave up the spot to support Middle East racing.
Khalid said while Saudi Arabia “would love to have the opening race,” he added: “Nothing is set as of now. Hopefully we can finish it soon.”
(Photo by Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal: Rania Sanjar / AFP via Getty Images)