Qatar’s dream of hosting a Formula One race has hit a major snag after a top racing official revealed that Bahrain – which was the first Middle East country to stage a grand prix – can effectively veto the addition of other races in the region.
For more than two years, motorsport enthusiasts in Qatar have been pushing for the Losail International Circuit to join Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in hosting a Formula One grand prix race.
In 2012, Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation president Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah made a pitch to the sport’s governing body to host pre-season testing. In addition to the training activities, he told AFP that he’d like to see an actual Grand Prix come to Qatar.
“We have great ambitions to host F1,” Al Attiyah said at the time.
Last month, several motorsports publications reported that Qatar was poised to be added to the calendar. Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of the Formula One Group, subsequently confirmed that discussions were well underway.
“We are looking at all possibilities there. Qatar is not signed but they are ready to go,” he said, according to a report in The Independent.
But less than three weeks later, Ecclestone was quoted as saying there was “a bit of a problem.”
“I made a deal with the people in Bahrain and they said, ‘If we are going to be something new in this area, which we are, will you give us a guarantee you won’t put another race on in the area, in the Gulf?’ I said yes. Typical Ecclestone handshake deal with the Crown Prince,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Officials in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi were able to reach an agreement ahead of the emirate being added to the calendar in 2009. However, discussions this time around haven’t appeared to go as smoothly.
“Then this other race (in Qatar) has been proposed and I put the people together and said ‘Can you sort this out between you?’ and they haven’t managed to do it,” he said.
Bahrain receives a significant number of tourists during its race, which is estimated to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into its economy.
There has been little speculation or commentary as to why the country would object to Qatar’s entry. However, relations between the two Gulf nations have been strained in recent months.
Bahrain was among the three GCC states that pulled their ambassadors from Doha due to political reasons, but the spat has now apparently been resolved. Its envoy from Manama returned to Qatar earlier this month.
Al-Attiyah could not immediately be reached for comment.
Qatar is working to establish itself as an international sporting hub by hosting major athletic events such as next month’s Men’s Handball World Championship, the 2019 World Championships in Athletics and the 2022 World Cup.
The Losail International Circuit was constructed in 2004 at a cost of between $60 million and $75 million, according to various media reports. The 3.375-mile road course currently hosts motorcycle races MotoGP and GP2, as several other events such as rallies and endurance races.
Qatar has also previously worked to establish itself as a racing hotspot off the track.
Up until a year ago, the Qatar Science and Technology Park was home to the Williams Technology Center, an arm of a racing engineering firm that focused on developing and commercializing technologies with origins in Formula One.
In a statement to Doha News in January, Williams said it was restructuring the center and moving it key R&D programs to the UK.