Formula One has confirmed it will race in Qatar later this year at the Losail Circuit and announced a 10-year deal for a race in the country from 2023.
This year's Qatar Grand Prix will take place on Nov. 21 and will be round 20 of 22 in this year's championship. The Losail Circuit north of Doha has hosted Moto GP races since it opened in 2004 but has yet to host an F1 race. F1 is planning to host the race under floodlights -- as Moto GP does with its race.
However, F1 said it would confirm the long-term location of the race in Qatar from 2023 onward at a later date, hinting at a new location. The ten-year deal will follow the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022.
In 2021, Qatar will fill a slot that was previously listed as TBA by F1, following a decision to cancel the Australian Grand Prix for a second year running due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are very pleased to welcome Qatar to the Formula One calendar this season and for the longer term from 2023," F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said. "The Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation and Authorities have been incredible and have moved at great speed to ensure the race can take place this season at the Losail Circuit, famous to many as the host of MotoGP.
"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."
Human rights group Amnesty International raised concerns over F1's decision to race in Qatar.
"It's no secret that rich countries in the Middle East see top-level sport as a means to rebrand and sportswash their images, and a grand prix in Qatar would be more of the same," Amnesty International UK's CEO, Sacha Deshmukh, said. "Having sunk vast amounts of money into Paris Saint-Germain and hired thousands of overseas workers to build stadiums for next year's World Cup, Qatar is clearly attempting to turn itself into a sporting superpower."
Deshmukh added: "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."
F1 responded in a statement of its own: "For decades Formula One has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula One are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.
"We take our responsibilities on rights very seriously and set high ethical standards for counterparties and those in our supply chain, which are enshrined in contracts, and we pay close attention to their adherence."
The 5.380km Losail circuit has the necessary FIA Grade One certification to hold a Formula One grand prix. FIA president Jean Todt said his organisation had been working with Qatar to ensure Losail is ready to host this year's race.
"I congratulate Formula One, the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation and the Qatari authorities, who have worked tirelessly, to quickly and efficiently make the inaugural Grand Prix in Qatar happen in these challenging times," Todt said. "The Losail International Circuit, which will welcome the race, has been working closely with us to ensure they are full prepared for this momentous occasion. We are very proud of this collective achievement.
"I thank the QMMF President Abdulrahman Al-Mannai and the Minister of Culture and Sport Ghanem al Ali for their involvement. This commitment to F1 for the long-term, as well as the organisation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and many other international events, is another example of Qatar's strong passion for sport."
Lewis Hamilton currently leads Max Verstappen by two points in the drivers' championship with seven races left to run. Mercedes leads Red Bull by 33 points in the constructors' championship.
Remaining races on F1 calendar:
Round 16: Turkish Grand Prix - Oct. 8-10
Round 17: US Grand Prix - Oct. 22-24
Round 18: Mexican Grand Prix - Nov. 5-7
Round 19: Brazilian Grand Prix - Nov. 12-14
Round 20: Qatar Grand Prix - Nov. 19-21
Round 21: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Dec. 3-5
Round 22: Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Dec. 10-12