Taking place under floodlights, drivers will encounter a circuit over six kilometers in length, which runs through the city’s scenic waterfront, featuring 27 corners and an average speed of about 252 km/h. At 50 laps, the race distance will measure about 309 km (192 miles), the website says.
“Formula One has a very big fan base in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
The maiden Saudi Arabian GP is one of a handful of F1 races located in the Persian Gulf, alongside Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
“[We] don’t fear that we will be competing with other countries in the region,” Al Faisal said. “We see it as we all complete each other.”
But as Saudi Arabia emerges as a powerful stakeholder in global sport, the country’s human rights record is being criticized.
Earlier this year, human rights group Grant Liberty estimated that Saudi Arabia has spent about $1.5 billion on “sportswashing” since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched his Vision 2030 master plan, which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil exports.
While F1 drivers haven’t yet spoken out against Saudi Arabia’s 10-year deal, reportedly worth $650 million, they have previously questioned where races are being staged — notably Bahrain.
“We are probably one of the only ones that goes to so many different countries, and I do think as a sport we need to do more,” he added.
“He has all the right […] to speak up.”
“I’m a big fan, and we want him to come even before the race. … Everybody’s opinion matters to us,” he added.
Cracking down on dissent
In December 2020, women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to over five years in prison on charges of harming national security, seeking to change the Saudi political system, and using her relations with foreign governments and rights groups to “pressure the Kingdom to change its laws and systems,” according to a charge sheet her family published.
In 2018, former Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that Khashoggi’s murder was a rogue operation gone wrong.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry released a statement following the February US intelligence report where they made similar claims, saying the kingdom “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.” It added that Khashoggi’s killing was an “abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the kingdom’s laws and values.”
“What happened to Jamal Khashoggi is a tragedy for us,” Al Faisal told CNN’s Davies. “The way that he’d been murdered, it was brutal and especially for me as a Saudi or one from the royal family.”
“This is something that shocked us all, and especially Saudi Arabia. We’ve never heard about someone being killed or murdered,” he said.
Al Faisal added: “I know that Saudi Arabia was known about a lot of things of human rights. But for assassinating or killing someone, this was something shocking for us, especially where he was killed and how he was killed.”
“We never expected something like that [to come] out from Saudis, especially […] official Saudis,” he added.
“This doesn’t mean that this is how we do things.”
The US intelligence report concluded that bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi because of his “control of decision-making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation,” and his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.”
An ‘appalling’ track record
“It is part of a cynical strategy to distract from Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, detention and torture of human rights defenders and women’s rights activists,” Worden added.
“For decades, Formula 1 has worked hard [to] be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement,” F1 said in a statement to CNN.
“We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered. We clearly always take a close view on all venues that we race in, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, we are taking note of developments in the country.”
While Al Faisal recognizes critics’ widespread condemnation, he says he’s not concerned that politics could overshadow the country’s inaugural F1 event.
“Formula One […] is wise enough to know what’s good for them and their reputation, and if they felt that Saudi Arabia is one of those countries, they would have never agreed to come,” he said.
“We want the people to come to Saudi Arabia and then see [with] their own eyes and then they can have their opinion. I respect someone’s opinion, but I need to know what is based on and what is the motivation,” he added.
“Saudi Arabia changed a lot to the positive. And hopefully, we will also continue development and opening up and changing our country to what is best for our people who live in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Despite Al Faisal’s prediction that political discourse won’t dominate coverage of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, athletes have shown increased political engagement over the past year, using their platforms to shed light on social issues within their sport.
Come December 5, when the race will be staged, it remains to be seen whether the conversation will be just about fast cars.