The new race in Saudi Arabia raises questions about the new Formula 1 initiative
Formula 1 (F1) announced their provisional calendar for the 2021 season on Nov. 10, which includes a new race in Saudi Arabia that sparked controversy.
When F1 launched their #WeRaceAsOne initiative back in June in the midst of international Black Lives Matter protests, fans were pleasantly surprised that the sport was taking a stand on the issue.
It is no surprise to long-time followers of F1 that the sport has showcased predominantly white drivers from privileged backgrounds. This new initiative was, according to F1, “aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing our sport and global communities.”
Lewis Hamilton, the first and only Black driver to race in the sport so far, fully supported the initiative and took it upon himself to use his platform to raise awareness on racial discrimination.
At a race this season in Mugello, Italy, the seven-time world champion wore a T-shirt on the podium drawing attention to the Breonna Taylor case. Taylor was shot and killed in her bed by Louisville police officers back in March. The shirt read: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) responded to his statement with a new rule stating that, for the duration of the post-race interviews and podium ceremony, “The driver may only wear their racing suit, which is fastened to the neck and not on their waist.”
The FIA made it clear they did not want to mix politics with the sport, and Hamilton argued his statement was one of human rights and not politics.
This decision left the fans divided, as some agreed that Hamilton’s statement on the podium was of political nature and others were left confused as to where the sport situates itself regarding human rights.
With the unveiling of the 2021 provisional calendar, however, some fans had their answers.
This next season will welcome a new Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia, the 33rd country to host a round of the world championship. The city of Jeddah will be hosting the event, which will potentially be a night race.
As stated by F1, “The final track design has not been decided, but organizers say it will feature a good flow of long straights and tight corners, with no equivalent track on the calendar.”
The hefty deal of $900 million that race organizers agreed on was the subject of controversy.
Amidst the announcement, human rights organization Amnesty International even accused Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing,” a term used to refer to the practice of hosting a sporting event as a means for a country to better their reputation.
Amnesty International said that Saudi Arabia violates its citizens’ human rights by using torture as a form of punishment; being the world’s top executioners; criminalizing public gatherings such as demonstrations; and keeping many outspoken activists behind bars, violating their rights to free speech.
F1 believes, however, that this new deal with Saudi Arabia will help cross borders in terms of sharing a common passion.
“[F1] has worked hard [to] be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits,” the release said. “Sports like [F1] 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.”
The 2021 season will start in Australia and end in Abu Dhabi with a total of 23 races, a jump from the current 17 races the revised 2020 calendar had due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s revised calendar made F1 teams stay in Europe for most of their races and revisit some old fan-favourite circuits such as Germany’s Nürburgring and Italy’s Mugello and Imola.
Contrary to fans wanting these tracks back on the permanent calendar, F1 decided to go a different route and keep the usual big budget Grand Prix races that usually appear on the calendar.
With the unfolding of the 2020 season and the many controversies it brought, many are left to wonder if F1 does #RaceAsOne.
Graphic by Laura Douglas