F1 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix doubts raised as track completion going down to the wire

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The F1 title race won’t be only thing going down ‘to the wire’ amid fresh doubts that the track in Saudi Arabia will be ready in time to host the penultimate race of the season. This weekend, drivers head to Qatar for a third Grand Prix in as many weeks, and will then take a two-week break ahead of a first ever F1 event at the Jeddah Street Circuit, from December 3-5.

And the rollercoaster campaign then culminates in Abu Dhabi the following week.

After a thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday, which saw Sir Lewis Hamilton come back from 10th on the grid to take the chequered flag ahead of title rival Max Verstappen, the championship remains up for grabs.

The Red Bull driver’s lead over the seven-time world champion is down to 14 points, and the superior straight-line speed of Mercedes in Interlagos puts them in a seemingly strong position heading into the trio of races in the Middle East.

However, what part Saudi Arabia plays in the conclusion is now in doubt, with F1 race director Michael Masi understood to be heading there straight from Qatar to see how work on the Hermann Tilke-designed track, previously dubbed the ‘world’s fastest street circuit,’ is developing.

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Masi is reportedly confident that the race will go ahead as planned – but F1’s sporting director, Steve Nielsen, has admitted organisers still “have a lot to do” to ensure things are ready on time.

“They are up against it,” Nielsen, who plays an instrumental role in approving facilities at new venues and assiting promoters to meet race standards, said to Motorsport.com.

“They are literally working 24/7, as they have been for quite a long time now. I saw some more photos this morning and they have made huge progress. But still a lot to do.

“It’s an ambitious project – it will be a great facility.”

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Work only began on the circuit in April, and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali admitted not everything at the venue will be completed until the scheduled 2022 race in March.

“It will be perfect, I’m sure, in the next season, but it will be very, very good already for this year,” said Domenicali.

“The track will be done – the priority we know is there.”

The Saudi Arabia Grand Prix first appeared on the first draft of the 2021 F1 provisional calendar in October 2020, and a month later it was announced that Jeddah would host the country’s inaugural race. 

The announcement prompted controversy with many questioning whether F1 should be staging a race in Saudi given their human rights record.

The issue has been prominent in other sports of late, with Anthony Joshua criticised for fighting Andy Ruiz Jr there in December 2019, while the Saudi led takeover of Newcastle United was also much-maligned.

Domenicali however, has said he believes holding an F1 race there can help instigate “cultural change.”

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