Formula E bumps Hong Kong as star attraction with Saudi Arabia awarded season five opening race
Saudi Arabian capital city Riyadh will kick off the new electric racing series’ new season in December, with future of Hong Kong E-Prix still uncertain
Hong Kong was bumped as the opening race on the Formula E calendar on Thursday, when it was revealed Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh will kick off season five of the all-electric series in December.
The street race will mark Formula E’s debut in the Middle East, while the future of the Hong Kong E-Prix remains uncertain.
“Bringing racing to Riyadh for the first round of the new season is the perfect setting for the next phase of the ABB Formula E Championship,” said Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag.
“An exciting and vibrant country that is focusing on its future, Saudi Arabia will be the ideal venue to mark the competitive debut of the next generation Formula E cars.”
A senior official has said there is a “90 per cent” chance Formula E will return to Hong Kong, but a season five race would now not take place until 2019.
Hong Kong E-Prix organisers saw an increase in revenue from the HK$50 million hit they took on the city’s first Formula E race in 2016, with around 87 per cent of grandstand tickets sold for last December’s season four-opening double-header.
But the 2017 races still delivered a big deficit, while there are also issues surrounding the Central Harbourfront’s 1.86-kilometre circuit.
New FIA rules will require a circuit length of 2.4km for E-Prix races next season, with more cars expected on the grid following manufacturers Nissan and BMW’s entry into Formula E.
While Hong Kong’s status on the race calendar is seemingly in limbo, Formula E has reached a 10-year agreement with Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority and the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation.
The announcement was made by Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Bin Abdullah AlFaisal, president of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, and Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, vice-chair of the Saudi Arabia General Sports Authority, together with Agag.
The Riyadh E-Prix is expected to take place on the streets of the Ad Diriyah district, pending confirmation of the calendar by the FIA World Motor Sport Council.
“We think Saudi Arabia – with the new vision of Prince Abdulaziz, Prince Khaled and the country – is a fitting location to launch the latest chapter of the electric street racing series,” added Agag.
“Many other sports are already increasing their presence in Saudi Arabia and we’re proud that they’ve chosen Formula E over other categories in racing.
“Most countries are now looking to Formula E, especially Saudi Arabia which is concentrating on the development of new technologies, renewable energies and electric vehicles.”
Saudi Arabia has attracted criticism over the limitations placed on women’s rights, but Prince Abdulaziz believes the Formula E deal can help affect positive change in society.
“Saudi Arabia is looking to the future and Formula E is the motorsport of the future, that’s why this is such an exciting opportunity,” said Abdulaziz.
“It aligns perfectly with the country’s 2030 vision and offers the prospect of world-class racing on the streets of the capital for the first time in our history.
“For all fans, men, women, young and old, the dream of a hosting a ‘home race’ will now come true. As a driver myself, who cares about growing the sport, nothing could make me happier.
“The length of the partnership will give Saudi Arabia and Formula E the platform to create a lasting legacy for both the sport globally and the Kingdom over the course of a decade.
“This is the latest in a series of game-changing sports events that the people of Saudi Arabia will now be able to enjoy as families, with benefits that go far beyond the sport to deliver a positive impact across our society.
“Also for the next generation of Formula E, perhaps with a future champion, technician, engineer or team manager watching from the crowd in Riyadh and being inspired by the sport.”
Details on the location and circuit layout for the Riyadh E-Prix, which will be the first fully-electric race in the region, are still be confirmed.
“The interest and passion for motorsport among the people in the Kingdom is already vast, with a rich heritage in rallying, drag racing and other forms of motorsport – but the sport in Saudi Arabia is about to be supercharged by this development,” said Prince Khaled.
“This event and all that surrounds it, from welcoming world-class teams to the global television coverage, represents a watershed moment.
“By hosting Formula E in Riyadh, the enthusiasm for motorsport and sustainable technologies will be heightened further to leave behind a valuable footprint in the Kingdom’s landscape and showcase its growing credentials as a sporting destination.”
The Riyadh E-Prix will also see the Formula E debut of Felipe Massa, who retired from Formula One in 2017 after 15 years with Sauber, Ferrari and Williams. The 37-year-old has signed up to drive for the Venturi team next season.