Qatar’s long-held ambition to host a Formula One grand prix looks like it may have stalled again after the head of the F1 group indicated he was not looking to add another race in the region.
Just a few months ago, Qatar appeared to be on the verge of signing a deal to bring the grand prix to the state for the first time, which would make it the third Gulf nation after Bahrain and Abu Dhabi to host the event.
However, F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone has now downplayed Qatar’s chances, telling reporters at the Bahrain Grand Prix this week, “I think we’ve got enough here, don’t you?”
For three years, motorsports fans have been waiting for Qatar to be given the green light to host the event, after Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) President Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Attiyah said in 2012 that he was keen to have F1 come here.
In February, the dream looked like it was close to happening, as Al Attiyah reportedly told AFP:
“We are about to sign contracts to organize a Formula One race. We have completed all the steps and there are only a few details before the official signature.”
At the time, the deal looked like it would happen by 2016 or 2017, and that the race would either be at the Losail International Circuit or a new street circuit in Doha, Sky Sports said.
This comment followed months of speculation as to whether Qatar was likely to be added to the F1 calendar.
In November last year, a number of motorsports publications said Qatar was a contender, and Ecclestone confirmed that talks were ongoing.
“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.
However, just weeks later the plans were put on hold after the F1 chief said that Bahrain, as the first Gulf state to host the event in 2004, had veto rights on any other cities in the region joining the schedule.
According to Reuters, Ecclestone said:
“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.”
While negotiations to add Abu Dhabi to the circuit in 2009 went through, including Qatar appears to be a trickier proposition.
Still, Bahrain circuit chief executive Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al-Khalifa has reportedly down-played the state’s option to block Qatar from joining.
“It’s not for us (to say). It’s for the rights holder. We welcomed Abu Dhabi when they came on board and we’ll wait and see,” he added. “I think Mr. E appreciates the loyalty we have kept with him,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Referring to Qatar’s bid to join the F1 circle, he added: “It’s nothing we have seen that is serious, so until it is then we can’t (answer).”
Bahrain’s existing deal to host the Grand Prix expires next year. Al-Khalifa reportedly said talks were ongoing to extend the contract, and that he hoped that the state’s slot would get pushed to earlier in the calendar from its existing fourth place, which was in mid-April this year.
With Abu Dhabi closing the season in November, Qatar faces a question about when it would host an F1 event, to avoid being too close to those already set by its Gulf neighbors and also steering clear of the hot summer months.
Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, situated near Lusail city north of Doha, opened in 2004 and hosts motorcycle grand prix including MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 events as well as a number of rallies and endurance competitions.