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Qatar closing in on Formula One race deal, says official

Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) president Nasser bin Khalifa al-Attiyah has said the nation is close to agreeing a deal to host a Formula One race.

Al-Attiyah, who is also a vice-president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), said Qatar’s debut on the calendar of the motor racing series would be in 2016 or 2017, with a contract poised to be signed.

“We are about to sign contracts to organise a Formula One race,” he told the AFP news agency. “We have completed all the steps and there are only a few details before the official signature.”

Al-Attiyah added that Qatar would offer the choice of two circuits on which to race, either an existing facility in Lusail, or a specially-designed street circuit through the capital Doha. Qatar has been linked to a 10-year race deal with Formula One in recent months for which it would pay a reported hosting fee of about £50m (€66.25m/$75.15m) per season.

Losail International Circuit already hosts rounds on the MotoGP and Superbike World Championship (WSBK) motorcycling calendars and will stage the World Touring Car Championship’s (WTCC) maiden night race next season. However, it is believed that attention has switched to developing the new street circuit rather than utilising Lusail’s facility for F1.

Speaking in December, Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone said any ambitions from Qatar to join the calendar are likely to be curtailed by the terms of the sport’s existing race contract with Bahrain. Ecclestone revealed that Bahrain effectively has the power of veto over the possibility of Qatar landing a F1 race.

Bahrain held the Middle East’s first F1 race in 2004, with Abu Dhabi joining the calendar in 2009. However, while Ecclestone said the Middle East could easily support three races a year there are contractual issues preventing more than two happening.

Chief executive of Bahrain’s F1 race, Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, last month denied there is any clause in its contract that would allow it to actually block a race in Qatar – although he suggested to the Autosport website that Ecclestone would be unlikely to let it happen without Bahrain’s support.