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F1 poised to join Saudi Arabia sportwash as it gives green light to £50m-a-year race from 2021 despite appalling human rights record as motor sport follows in footsteps of boxing, football, tennis and golf

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 13/01/2020 Jonathan McEvoy for the Daily Mail

Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel steers his car at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, during the final race of the season, on December 1, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images) Ferrari's German driver Sebastian Vettel steers his car at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, during the final race of the season, on December 1, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Formula One is closing in on a £50million-a-year deal to stage a grand prix in Saudi Arabia.

Sportsmail understands the inaugural event could be staged as early as next year. An option under consideration is a one-off street race in Jeddah in 2021 while a purpose-built circuit is completed for 2022.

However, the timing might be affected by whether there is immediately space on the calendar after — as we can also reveal is likely — Miami is confirmed as another new venue, almost certainly from 2021.

Video: Formula One: 1000 races in numbers (The Independent)

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MAJOR SPORTS EVENTS SHIPPED TO SAUDI

Formula One is just the latest in a string of major sporting events that Saudi Arabia has snapped up in recent years:

Spanish Super Cup final - Real Madrid beat their bitter rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties in Jeddah.   

Joshua v Ruiz II - Anthony Joshua reclaimed his IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles in the 'Clash on the Dunes' last month.

a man in a boxing ring: Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world titles in the 'Clash of the Dunes' with Andy Ruiz © Provided by Daily Mail Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world titles in the 'Clash of the Dunes' with Andy Ruiz Saudi International - European Tour -Rory McIlroy has ruled out competing in golf's visit to Saudi this year, confirming there was a 'morality' behind his decision as he turned down a £1.9m appearance fee.

Khan v Dib - Before the 'Clash on the Dunes', Saudi Arabia had fronted Amir Khan's WBC international welterweight title fight against Billy Dib during July 2019. Khan side-stepped Amnesty International's criticism of the fight and claimed Saudi was undergoing social change. He took home a £7m purse.

WWE's 'Crown Jewel' - Tyson Fury made his WWE debut in Saudi Arabia last year, flooring Braun Strowman to 'win' by count-out at the King Saud University Stadium. Amnesty were again critical of the hosts' 'abysmal human rights record'. 

Supercoppa Italiana - The Spanish FA are not the first to take their equivalent of the Community Shield to Saudi. Italy have hosted their version there for the last two seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner for Juventus this time last year.

Cristiano Ronaldo et al. standing in front of a crowd: Cristiano Ronaldo holds the Italian Super Cup after Juventus' win in January last year © Provided by Daily Mail Cristiano Ronaldo holds the Italian Super Cup after Juventus' win in January last year Saudi Cup - The world's richest horse race will be held in Saudi Arabia during February 2020. The £15.2m Saudi Cup will be run over nine furlongs on dirt at Riyadh's King Abdulaziz Racetrack. 

Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters - Even snooker is getting in on the act now. October will see the first edition of a 10-year partnership of tournaments with a top prize of £500,000 matching that of the World Championship.

A source close to the proposed Saudi deal, which will invite accusations of 'sportswashing' human rights abuses, said: 'It's as good as done.'

Sportsmail has learned that Formula One and Aramco, the desert kingdom's state-owned oil giant — the richest company in the world, valued at $2trillion — have already agreed a global sponsorship deal. This affiliation, which has not yet been made public, is likely to result in the event being called the 'Aramco Saudi Arabian Grand Prix'.

Gallery: How Michael Schumacher prepared for the race of his life (Starsinsider)

Formula One is a regular caller to the Middle East, having staged more than 20 races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. The sport's involvement in Bahrain became so hot at the peak of the anti-government protests there that the 2011 edition was cancelled.

F1 visits other countries with dubious human rights records, most notably Russia, China and Abu Dhabi. But motor racing's governing body, the FIA, has sought to bat away criticism by insisting it is a non-political organisation.

a screenshot of a cell phone © Provided by Daily Mail Since Saudi Arabia was first mooted as a destination, Formula One's owners Liberty Media have promised to demand guarantees to protect the sport's travelling party of teams, sponsors, journalists and fans.

Motor racing is following a trend for sport events being staged in the kingdom, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is credited with being the chief reformer. The 'Clash on the Dunes' between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jnr was the most high-profile example. Football, golf, tennis, cycling, football and horseracing are also on the schedule.

Not every sports star, though, has accepted the petrodollars on offer, with Rory McIlroy turning down his invitation to compete in the European Tour's Saudi International this month.

This cultivation of sport is part of Vision 2030 — a state attempt to branch out from reliance on oil revenues. Central to the project is a 130 square-mile 'entertainment city' in Qiddiya, south-west of the capital Riyadh. Logic suggests that F1 will be based at this site from 2022, among the high-end theme parks, safari areas and more relaxed Western-style rules. However, Riyadh remains an alternative under discussion.

a fighter jet sitting on top of a runway: The sport's involvement in Bahrain became so controversial, the 2011 edition was cancelled © Provided by Daily Mail The sport's involvement in Bahrain became so controversial, the 2011 edition was cancelled The race is being earmarked for an early-season slot. The searing summer heat precludes a race between May and September.

A spokesman for the Bahrain International Circuit, who run the Gulf country's grand prix in late March, said: 'Since our first race in 2004, our goal has been to grow the fanbase for motorsport in the region. We would, therefore, welcome initiatives which can support that growth and believe that a future race in Saudi Arabia would be complementary.'

As for Miami, Formula One bosses are increasingly confident that local objections will be overcome and that they can deliver on their long-stated pledge to stage a second race in the US, alongside the grand prix in Austin, Texas.

No races will be axed to make way for Saudi Arabia and Miami, potentially extending the number of rounds to a record 24, though some current destinations may be lost if they do not renew their contracts. Formula One declined to comment.

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