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Formula 1: Qatar set to host its first Grand Prix in November

Organisers says race will take place on 21 November as rights groups criticise 'sportswashing' by the Gulf state
Drivers take the start of the Formula One Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi on 26 September 2021 (AFP)

Qatar is set to host a Formula One Grand Prix for the first time. The race will take place at the Losail International Circuit, north of Doha, on 21 November.

Announcing the details on Thursday, organisers said the race would form the first part of a Middle Eastern ending to the Formula One season, with the Qatar Grand Prix followed by races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Qatar has also signed a 10-year deal to host Formula One from 2023.

The Australian Grand Prix, traditionally a season opener, was moved towards the end of the season in a bid to ensure it could go ahead in the light of Covid-19 restrictions. In spite of that, it was cancelled for a second year running.

"We are very pleased to welcome Qatar to the Formula 1 calendar this season and for the longer term from 2023," said F1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali.

Lewis Hamilton and the battle for Formula One's place in the Gulf
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“We have shown that we can continue to adapt and there is huge interest in our sport and the hope from many locations to have a Grand Prix.

"The huge effort from all the teams, F1 and the FIA has made it possible to deliver a 22-race calendar, something that is very impressive during a challenging year and something we can all be proud of."

The Losail Circuit opened in 2004 and has hosted Moto GP since then, under floodlights that will also be used for the Grand Prix. 

In its statement, F1 said it would confirm the venue for the race in Qatar from 2023 onward at a later date, suggesting a possible change from Losail.

It is the latest sporting coup for gas-rich Qatar, which will host the football World Cup in 2022.

However, the move was criticised by Amnesty International, which called it an attempt by the Gulf state to "sportswash" its image and establish itself as a sporting superpower.

"Qatar's human rights record is extremely troubling - from the country's longstanding mistreatment of migrant workers, to its curbs on free speech and its criminalisation of same-sex relations," said a spokesperson for the human rights organisation, speaking to MailOnline.

"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."

Speaking before the Bahrain Grand Prix in March, former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Middle East Eye about the deals he struck to bring the motorsport to the Gulf. 

Referring to F1 and rulers in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Ecclestone said: “This is what you wanted to do, to use the brand to promote the country, which is what they wanted to do obviously. It suited us and it suited them.

"You have to pay the price for that. They realised it was cheap anyway for the amount of publicity they got. We all knew exactly what we were doing.”