Saudi Arabia made $20bn bid to acquire F1 franchise: Report
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund considered buying Formula 1 motor racing last year, and remains interested in purchasing the franchise as part of its ongoing expansion into the sports industry.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) valued the racing group at $20bn. But Liberty Media Corp, which owns F1 along with SiriusXM and the Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team, was not interested in selling, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed sources.
The PIF’s offer valued F1 substantially above the $4.4bn Liberty Media Corp paid for the franchise in 2017, underscoring how the international racing platform has gained popularity. Liberty Media’s stock tracking F1 has doubled in value over the last four years, with a market capitalisation of about $15bn.
Saudi Arabia hosted its debut Formula 1 race in December 2021, and a second grand prix in March 2022 in the port city of Jeddah. At the time, some drivers raised concerns about participating in the event inside the kingdom over its human rights record.
In December 2021, seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton indicated he was not comfortable racing in the country.
"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say that I do," Hamilton said at the time. "But it's not my choice to be here. The sport has taken the choice to be here.”
Flush with petrodollars on the back of rising energy prices, Saudi Arabia has binged on sports investments.
In 2021, the PIF acquired the English Premier League football club, Newcastle United FC. The kingdom has backed its own golf league to rival the PGA. In January, soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo became the highest-paid player in the footballing world when he was unveiled with his new club Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia.
The dive into sports has been criticised by many activists as a form of “sportswashing” to distract from the kingdom’s human rights record.
The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s efforts to diversify the country’s economy away from a reliance on petrodollars and encourage Saudis to spend their income inside the country.
Acquiring the glitzy F1 club would be a boost for Saudi Arabia, which is constructing a race track in the city of Qiddiya near Riyadh, intended to be an entertainment hub that will be completed by 2030. Four F1 races are set to take place in the Gulf this year, two in Bahrain, followed by Saudi Arabia in March.
Saudi Arabia is also seeing increased competition in sports entertainment from neighbouring states like the UAE, and more recently Qatar, which hosted the 2022 World Cup.