Accelerating Horizons: Qatar’s Pioneering Role in Shaping the Future of Motorsport in the Middle East

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How Qatar is heralding a new age for motorsport in the Middle East

Marking the series’ first venture into the Middle East – doing so on the same year Formula 1 landed in Bahrain – the Qatar Grand Prix has become a mainstay on the calendar.

In 2008, it made history by becoming the first-ever nighttime grand prix to be held, as that year’s MotoGP campaign opened up under the floodlights. F1 would follow suit months later with the Singapore GP.

In 2021, Losail welcomed F1 for the first time, and again in 2023, as part of a new 10-year deal for the series to race in the country. With that, the circuit has secured long-term deals to host motorsport’s pinnacles in F1 and MotoGP, while the World Endurance Championship will also take to the circuit in 2024.

Last year also saw Losail make a major revamp to the facility to modernize it, heralding a new era for Losail.

Motorsport.com Spain’s German Garcia Casanova sat down with Amro Al-Hamad, CEO of the Losail International Circuit, to find out more about what the future holds for the Qatari venue.

Motorsport
Motorsport (Credits: Motorsport)

It has already been 20 years since Losail International Circuit opened in 2004. What do you think was the maturation of the track?

Amro Al-Hamad: “Since its opening in 2004, Losail International Circuit (LIC), known as ‘the home of motorsports in Qatar,’ has, both regionally and globally, built a reputation as one of the Middle East’s finest sporting venues. This is due in no small part to its world-leading facilities, high-speed track, and talented team with an unbridled passion for motor racing.

“The 5.38km circuit has gone on quite the journey over the last two decades. LIC has proudly hosted MotoGP races since 2004, and in the throes of the Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar 2023, we are thrilled to celebrate this remarkable milestone.

“In 2008, LIC held the first night race in MotoGP history and is the only venue in the championship where spectators can experience nighttime racing and watch the riders compete on high-speed turns.

“In 2021, LIC hosted the first Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix, a resounding success that firmly placed the venue on the sporting world stage. Following this success, the venue signed a 10-year agreement with Formula 1, which marks the beginning of an exciting and transformative decade for motorsports, not just for the country of Qatar, but for the Middle East in its entirety.”

Losail International Circuit became a benchmark in motorsport when the MotoGP race timings changed in order to accommodate the hot temperatures. Back then, how do you view that decision?

AAH: “LIC became the first venue in MotoGP history to host a night race in 2008, and this was more about creating unique and memorable experiences for fans than accommodating hot temperatures. The Qatar MotoGP is usually held in March when daytime temperatures are typically around 23-24 degrees centigrade, and we regularly work with our regulatory body partners, such as the FIA and FIM, to ensure that all our events are hosted at an optimal time of year in terms of temperature.”

Motorsport
Motorsport (Credits: Motorsport)

You have invested in remodeling the circuit. Instead of building a completely new track, why did you think it was better to rebuild the circuit’s facilities?

AAH: “With its speedy pacing and 16 flowing turns, LIC’s track is known as one of the most thrilling in the motorsports calendar, and, quite frankly, we saw no reason to significantly change it.

“The track layout is historic, and moving to a new design would mean losing all the invaluable data we’ve collected over the years with regard to sector timings, speeds, and lap times. Not to mention that Formula 1 drivers absolutely loved the track when they first visited in 2021.

“LIC’s extensive renovation project, in which the popular circuit layout has been retained, but the facilities rebuilt to improve and enhance the experience for all racegoers, involves expanded seating and parking capacity and a wealth of new facilities and technologies. This includes bigger team garages, five-star VIP Areas, a bigger fan zone for the public, and a renovated permanent grandstand with larger capacity.”

“LIC’s goal is absolutely to become one of the world’s top motorsports hubs, and part of achieving this ambition is to ensure that we are offering fans and drivers the very best of the best in terms of facilities.”

What is the refurbished part you are most proud of?

AAH: “It’s difficult to select just one facility. However, we are particularly proud of our pit stops and maintenance areas. All in all, there are now 50 pit boxes at LIC, which is the largest on the list of circuits hosting major motorsports events. This year, we were also awarded the Guinness World Record for the longest pitlane building, which stands at 402.1 meters long.

“The introduction of Losail Hill at Turn 1 is also a fantastic addition to the circuit, which is a dedicated elevated viewing area. Lusail Hill aims to provide more variety across the venue and to give fans the best views from where they can observe all the action up close and at an affordable price.”

When F1 came to Doha for the first time, did the facilities meet the F1 and FIA standards?

AAH: “We would not be able to host Formula 1 without meeting FIA standards. LIC has been awarded the highest possible license levels from the FIA (Circuit License Grade 1) and Circuit License Grade A (FIM), and the FIA made regular visits to the circuit during their licensing process.”

How did the FIA, F1 teams, and fans react to the rebuilding of the facilities and celebration of the Grand Prix? On TV, the spectacle looked massive compared to the past…

AAH: “Our state-of-the-art circuit, which can accommodate up to 40,000 people, received an overwhelmingly positive response from fans and F1 teams. The Formula 1 Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix 2023 was bigger than anything we’ve ever done before at LIC, welcoming up to 120,000 people during the entire weekend, and it was a privilege to share our new facilities with fans.”

Every year, there has been a discussion about the lack of public in the grandstands at MotoGP in Qatar. How are you working with Dorna to enhance this relationship with fans and attract more people to MotoGP races?

AAH: “Our long-term goal at LIC is to keep promoting motorsports in Qatar on a local, regional, and global basis and to inspire the next generation of fans. This year’s Formula 1 tournament was so popular that we’ve found that many local fans have returned for MotoGP™, and tickets have sold out for this weekend’s event.”

Is it your goal to become the best Motorsport ‘Park’ in the world, hosting F1, MotoGP, and WEC at a new level? Do you want to be the benchmark worldwide for other promoters?

AAH: “Yes, absolutely. LIC is already regarded as one of the Middle East’s finest sporting venues. However, our long-term goal is to be viewed around the world as the gold standard in motorsports events hosting.

“By continuing to host the most prestigious events in motorsports, offering fans and drivers the very best in terms of facilities and experiences, and through our highly qualified and enthusiastic team of people, we are confident that this goal is easily within our grasp.”

Having completed this huge project with Losail, what is next for the Qatar Federation and Losail International Circuit? Where are you focusing more now?

AAH: “LIC’s focus now is, put simply, to continue to raise its profile as a global sporting venue in the Middle East, and we will do this by hosting world-renowned events, including Formula 1, MotoGP, WEC, Formula 2, and F1 Academy, making them bigger and better each year. We are also hosting the MENA Karting Championships in December.

“We are determined to inspire the next generation of motorsports fans and to continue to create opportunities for youth in Qatar and MENA, as well as to promote a better understanding among the future leaders of the sport. This is backed up by a solid educational framework through the likes of the Qatar Motorsports Academy (QMA), founded by the Qatar Motor & Motorcycles Federation (QMMF) and managed by LIC. QMMF also proudly hosts the annual Qatar Karting Championship.”

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By Jayson O'Neil

Jayson is a car-o-holic, and you will often find him writing about cars & bikes here at DaxStreet. You can reach out to him at [email protected]

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