Saudi Arabia’s US$20bn F1 bid ‘purely speculation’

Kingdom's Public Investment Fund explored purchase options with Liberty Media, according to Bloomberg.
  • There was no 'serious talk' between the PIF and Liberty Media
  • Gulf state looking to host second Formula One race

Reports of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) exploring a US$20 billion bid to purchase Formula One were “purely speculation”, according to the country's sports minister.

Formula One's owners Liberty Media reportedly rejected a bid from the sovereign wealth fund in January, as revealed by Bloomberg, with the US media giant having purchased the series for US$4.4 billion in 2017.

“What I know is what I read in the news, honestly. I think it’s just purely speculation, I don’t think there was any serious talk about that,” Saudi Arabia’s minister for sport, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, told The Athletic in Jeddah.

“It took a lot of heat and a lot of response and things between them, with the FIA [International Automobile Federation] and so on. But I am in charge of developing sports within the kingdom, not investment or all of these things — (the Saudi Arabian state’s sovereign wealth fund) is. But from what I know, it’s purely speculation.”

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was critical of the news, calling the reported value 'inflated'. However, this led to the 61-year-old relinquishing day-to-day control of Formula One as the commercial matters of the series are not in his remit.

Saudi Arabia already hosts a Formula One race in Jeddah, while the state-owned oil giant Aramco is a global sponsor of the series and title sponsor of the Aston Martin Formula One team. Reports emerged before last weekend's race that the country is preparing to stage a second Grand Prix at a site in Qiddiya.

However, this level of involvement in motorsport has lead to criticisms of sportswashing. This is something the sports minister disputes, as he said: “It helps us develop our youth and develops our programs and delivers on what they want. They have seen it all over the world and they ask why can’t we have it in our cities.”

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If Saudi Arabia is serious in its attempts to purchase Formula One, then it has to distance itself from the reports. Any future discussions need to take place free of media scrutiny.

The desire to be more involved in motorsport is evident, especially after the claims of wanting to host a second race surfaced despite the fact the circuit construction in Qiddiya has not even started yet.

Whether or not this comes to fruition remains to be seen, especially as Liberty Media has no reason to sell with the global motorsport series going from strength to strength.