MARCH 26, 2008

Qatar looks to F1

Qatar has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world thanks to healthy oil and natural gas revenues. The country is booming and the country has began to look at reducing its dependence on oil (which currently accounts for 85% of export earnings). As with many of the other countries in the region, Qatar hopes that tourism will help and to this end the government funded the construction of the Losail International Circuit. This was designed for motorcycle racing and currently hosts both MotoGP and Superbike races. It recently held the first MotoGP event to be held until lights.

But this does not seem to have satisfied the locals, who have watched as Bahrain, Dubai and Abh Dhabi have all invested heavily in automobile racing. While Bahrain's claims of half a billion dollars of revenues generated by the F1 Grand Prix may be somewhat fanciful, (the figure is around 10 times the total that is claimed by most other F1 races), there is little doubt that car racing is a more successful route that bikes.

Qatar Motor and Motorcycling Federation president Nasser Khalifa al-Attiyah has now gone on record to the Gulf Times to say that the country is soon going to invite tenders for construction to bring the Losail facility up to F1 standards. He added that Qatar would like to bid for a Grand Prix "when the time comes". It is going to be tough to convince the F1 fraternity that there is space on the calendar for a third race in the region, although money works wonders in F1 circles, but there is no doubt that there may be more demand for testing facilities.

The 3.3-mile track will need major safety changes with new run-off areas around the track. The track, which was built in 2004 for just $58m has seen a few car races, notably the Grand Prix Masters series in 2006.

The circuit is located 20 miles from Doha International Airport from where Qatar Airways flies to over 70 destinations worldwide. The city boasts a significant number of hotels including a Marriott, an Intercontinental, a Movenpick, a Ritz-Carlton, a Four Seasons, a Grand Regency and a Mercure.