We want to move McLaren HQ to Middle East, says Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia targets top F1 teams and staff as it aims to rival UK’s motor sport valley

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal at the Jeddah F1 track

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal envisages wide-scale motor sport expansion in Saudi

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Saudi Arabia is looking to lure Formula 1 teams and staff from Britain to the Middle East as it starts work on a major motor racing hub, with McLaren and Aston Martin in its sights.

The Kingdom owns a stake in both brands.

Its head of motor sport said that he hoped this would lead to teams switching their headquarters to Saudi Arabia which is planning its own version of Britain’s motor sport valley in the next 15 years. The Midlands and Oxfordshire region currently contains seven of the ten Formula 1 teams, as well as 4,300 suppliers which support all forms of motor racing.

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, who leads motor sport in the Kingdom, is looking to replicate the model using his country’s oil wealth to hire foreign team members, encourage teams to base themselves there and to build up Saudi expertise with the ultimate aim of creating national teams and developing a Saudi F1 champion.

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal with Carlos Sainz at Dakar 2023

With Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr at Dakar 2023


“We want to create a hub,” he said exclusively to Motor Sport. “We have big companies that can help the future of motor sport.”

Asked if he could see a Formula 1 team relocate to Saudi Arabia, Prince Khalid said: “This is what we are hoping for and this is what we are working for. Hopefully we can bring one of the big manufacturers.

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“With all the investing we are doing in cars — the private investment fund bought shares in McLaren and Aston Martin — we are heading that way. Hopefully we can open and bring headquarters to Saudi Arabia or we hire people that can help us manufacture cars or technology, to create our own brands and have our own IPs [intellectual property rights].”

Motor racing is already a key part of Saudi Arabia’s aims to reduce its reliance on oil revenue. It has a long-term deal to host a Grand Prix in Jeddah, along with Formula E and Extreme E races, and a forthcoming MotoGP round. It is in the fourth year of a ten-year deal to host the Dakar, where Prince Khalid has frequently been seen talking to drivers and team bosses at stage starts and in the evenings at the main camp.

He said that he hoped to “close the deal soon” on a 2024 WRC round in Saudi Arabia. “Hopefully we can have an agreement with WRC which is fair for both of us and can announce it soon.”

But hosting races is just the start, revealed the Saudi official. “We have a 20-year programme that hopefully will launch at the end of ’23, early ’24,” he said. “Our aim is not just to host international events, we want to be involved more. We want to have engineers, we want to have mechanics, we want to build cars, we want to be creative.


Saudi says it wants to do more than just host events

Grand Prix Photo

“We really want to have a champion, a driver that can compete in the championship for Formula 1, who can compete in MotoGP. We are investing a lot in infrastructures, in building tracks in Saudi Arabia. We want to build academies so we can be more involved: Saudi teams with Saudi drivers or other drivers to race in Saudi teams. It’s still a long way ahead but hopefully by 2030, 2035, 2040 we can achieve our goals.”

Much appears to depend on the development of Neom, Saudi Arabia’s grandiose carbon-neutral future city containing twin mirrored skyscrapers that run horizontally for 100 miles.

Prince Khalid said that Neom would host the motor sport hub where teams will be encouraged to relocate. It is due to include Oxagon, an innovation campus where McLaren has already announced that it will open an office in its role as a founding partner.

Construction has already begun on the city but there is scepticism whether the sustainable city can ever be built in full given its scale that relies on technology that is still to be developed.

Even if the infrastructure is built, the Dakar has revealed limited enthusiasm for racing in Saudi Arabia, with drivers including Carlos Sainz and race leader Nasser Al-Attiyah commenting on the sparse spectators on the route.

There is also the question of whether any F1 team would be willing to relocate from an industry ecosystem that has grown up around racing.

Saudi Arabia remains a minority shareholder of McLaren Group, the parent company of McLaren Racing, and is the second-largest stakeholder in the Aston Martin road car firm, which sponsors the F1 team, as does Saudi state oil form Aramco. The team is owned entirely by a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll.

McLaren agreed a 20-year lease on its Woking headquarters in 2021, while Aston Martin will open its brand new factory this year.

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal with FIA President Mohammed Ben SUlayem

Prince Khalid, seen here with FIA president Ben Sulayem and Nasser Al-Attiyah, says the country in closing in on a WRC deal


It isn’t known whether the Public Investment Fund is looking to increase its stake in either company, or how much control it will seek. It currently has members on the board of McLaren and Aston Martin.

However, the fund is attempting to present itself as separate from the government and its policies, due to the Kingdom’s human rights abuses, even though Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sitting on its board.

When asked for comment, McLaren pointed to its previous announcement that it was collaborating with Neom. It is understood that the company is committed to remaining in Woking.