Qatar’s plans to secure a Formula One race have been boosted with the approval of the development of a new street circuit in the city of Lusail, according to the Autosport website.
Qatar has recently been linked to a 10-year race deal with the motor racing series for which it would pay a reported hosting fee of about £50m (€63m/$78m) per season. Qatar’s 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 now switched to developing a street circuit in the city rather than utilising this facility for F1.
Autosport said the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani, has thrown his official support behind the bid to secure a grand prix. The website added that Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah, a vice-president of motorsport’s global governing body the FIA and head of Qatar’s motorsport federation the QMMF, said that the government had asked that everything be done to finalise the race as it will help promote Lusail. He suggested that the event could happen as early as 2016, but there was a chance it may have to wait until the following season.
Speaking last month, 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, has now denied there is any clause in its contract that would allow it to actually block a race in Qatar – although he suggested that Ecclestone would be unlikely to let it happen without Bahrain’s support. He told Autosport: “The thing with Mr Ecclestone is how he values friendship. He appreciates the step we took (in hosting F1) – as we were the first people to take a chance (in the Middle East). But I wouldn't read too much into (reports of an official veto).”
However, Al Khalifa has hinted that he would be against Qatar securing a race. “I think F1's culture is growing (in the Middle East), and we can see it slowly coming about,” he added. “But my personal opinion of having another race – wherever it is – I don't think we are ready for that.”