Qatar will stage its first Formula One grand prix in November to fill the slot left vacant by cancellation of the Australian GP. The race will take place at Losail International Circuit, 20 miles outside Doha on 21 November, with Qatar scheduled to join the F1 calendar in a 10-year deal from 2023.
Qatar’s inclusion before Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi host the concluding rounds of the campaign on 5 and 12 December respectively, means Lewis Hamilton’s championship battle with Max Verstappen will end with three races in the Middle East.
Formula One has inevitably faced claims of sportswashing, with human rights issues under scrutiny in the Gulf state, and Amnesty International immediately called on the sport’s drivers to speak out against human rights abuses in the run-up to the GP.
The Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix (on 7 and 14 November) are due to go ahead, despite both countries being on the UK government’s red list due to the high number of Covid-19 cases.
Qatar, the venue for next winter’s football World Cup, will stage the final race of a triple-header on successive Sundays after the complications arising from Mexico and Brazil being on the red list and mandatory enforced hotel quarantine for thousands of staff from the seven UK-based teams. Despite a number of cancelled races this year – including in Singapore, Canada, Japan and China – F1 will complete a record-breaking 22-round season. Hamilton heads into the final seven rounds, beginning in Turkey next weekend, with a two-point advantage over Verstappen.
F1 said: “We are very grateful to the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation and the Qatari authorities for their enthusiasm and support in hosting a race this season, at short notice.
“We are also very appreciative of their efforts to ensure the race can take place in November at the Losail International Circuit. There was a strong will from Qatar to be helpful to F1 and in the course of this process the vision for a longer partnership was discussed and agreed for 10 years.
“As part of the longer-term deal, discussions will continue regarding the location for the grand prix from 2023 with further details to be provided at a later time.”
Amnesty International UK’s CEO, Sacha Deshmukh, said: “It’s no secret that rich countries in the Middle East see top-level sport as a means to rebrand and sportswash their images, and a grand prix in Qatar would be more of the same.
“Having sunk vast amounts of money into Paris Saint-Germain and hired thousands of overseas workers to build stadiums for next year’s World Cup, Qatar is clearly attempting to turn itself into a sporting superpower.”
Deshmukh also highlighted the country’s alleged mistreatment of migrant workers and “its curbs on free speech and its criminalisation of same-sex relations”.
“Formula One should insist that all contracts pertaining to this race contain stringent labour standards across all supply chains. Drivers and their teams should be prepared to speak out about human rights in Qatar in the lead-up to this race, doing their bit to break the spell of sportwashing and image management.”
An F1 spokesperson said: “For decades Formula One has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula One 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. We take our responsibilities on rights very seriously and set high ethical standards for counterparties and those in our supply chain, which are enshrined in contracts, and we pay close attention to their adherence.”