Formula 1 has announced a new global sponsorship deal with the Saudi Arabian state-owned oil giant Aramco, joining the likes of DHL, Emirates, Heineken, Pirelli and Rolex on the commercial rights holder’s roster.

The press release announcing the news describes Aramco as “the world’s leading integrated energy and chemicals company” with the partnership – reportedly worth £50 million a year – aspiring to “connect Aramco to an engaged audience of 500 million fans and allow it to better communicate its success stories to the world”.

The oil giant’s banners have already been erected around the Albert Park circuit ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix (pictured above).

Aramco is the world’s largest polluter, singlehandedly contributing 4.38% of the world’s total carbon emissions since 1965.

The statement continues: “Formula 1 and Aramco will combine their considerable shared expertise to identify opportunities for the advancement of sustainable fuels, enhanced engine efficiencies and emerging mobility technology.

Following the announcement of Formula 1’s sustainability plans in November 2019, this partnership has the potential to further develop and accelerate its plans towards a power unit fueled by advanced sustainable fuels.”

The announcement could not do more damage to Formula 1’s sustainability plans announced last year, where the sports pledged to be completely carbon neutral by 2030.

Aramco was ranked by The Guardian as the world’s single biggest polluter, singlehandedly contributing over 59 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution since 1965. That’s 4.38% of the world’s total carbon emissions since 1965.

Saudi Arabia already has a partnership with the FIA Formula E Championship to host the season-opening Ad Diriyah ePrix and there is little reason to suggest that F1’s new partnership with the Saudi government won’t be the pathway to a Grand Prix in the country in the very near future. This would be a disaster.

For all that the country tries to trumpet its apparent social change, the key beneficiaries of a Grand Prix – which could happen as soon as 2023 – would be to Liberty Media’s coffers and the country’s rulers. Not to its citizens, not to the fans, not to the sport.

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

F1’s involvement with Saudi Arabia serves only to further the country’s pattern of sportswashing and legitimise its repressive regime.

This is a country with a human rights record that Amnesty International described as “heinous”.

Women were allowed to drive only in 2018, and up until the middle of 2019, they were not permitted to travel without formal permission from a male member of their family. That is to say nothing of Saudi Arabia’s broader human rights track record: imprisonments without trial, mass public beheadings and media clampdowns that characterise daily life in the kingdom. And let’s not get started on its international record, with the brutal murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi (which the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered) and its involvement in Yemen which has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Questionable press, environmental and human rights records abound in the vast majority of countries that Formula 1 stages its Grands Prix.

There are host countries that are utterly inactive when it comes to addressing climate change (Australia, USA, China). There are those whose governments’ treatment of minorities, immigrants and refugees could at best be described as rampantly discriminatory (Hungary, Britain, Russia, USA, Australia, Brazil, Bahrain, UAE, China, Azerbaijan, Singapore). There are too many host nations that do not constitutionally enshrine equal rights for women (practically every host country).

The argument that ‘everyone else is doing it’ cannot wash any more.

The impact of further involvement with the Saudis would further diminish the reputation of the country, but more importantly the sport. A Formula 1 Grand Prix does not gift a country with human rights, diversity, equality, or any of the other things we might want to pretend it might offer a country that stumps up the asking fee.

Big money does not herald a new dawn of social change and Formula 1 is no exception – that has been comprehensively debunked with its partnerships with Russia, China, Azerbaijan, and more – and to fig-leaf that this is anything more than a money-grabbing exercise isn’t fooling anyone.

“There is no evidence that F1 going to a place that seriously represses human rights has improved conditions there,” Human Rights Watch director Minky Worden said recently. “On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence F1’s presence has degraded human rights conditions and worsened conditions.

“From our research in Bahrain and Azerbaijan, the arrival of F1 led to abuses and did not help the human rights conditions. There is quite a bit of evidence F1 has ignored its own human rights commitment [made in 1995] by going to these countries and overlooked human rights abuses and taken no action to make them better.”

F1’s involvement with Saudi Arabia serves only to further the country’s pattern of sportswashing and legitimise the kingdom’s repressive regime.

It is a sad day for the sport.

Images via Qiddiya and XPB


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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.