FORMULA ONE chiefs are on a collision course with human rights activists after confirming the Saudi Arabian GP is on the schedule for 2021.
F1 have released a mega 23-race calendar that includes the controversial GP in Jeddah, while a purpose built track is under construction in Qiddiya that will be completed in 2023.
But the move has been blasted by Amnesty International, who claim it is an attempt to ‘sportswash’ the country’s poor human rights record.
In more controversy, there is no place for the Vietnam Grand Prix, which was on the 2020 calendar until it was redrawn during the coronavirus pandemic.
The circuit was completed in February but following the arrest of Hanoi People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung, one of the main supporters of the race, it has been pulled from the schedule.
The loss of Vietnam is a huge blow to F1’s owners, Liberty Media, with CEO Chase Carey having invested vast amounts of time in trying to complete the initial deal.
F1 has already lost the Korean, Indian and Malaysian GPs and there are growing concerns about the future of the Chinese GP.
Plus the Singapore GP will be in the final year of its contract in 2021, leading to concerns that the sport will lose a massive slice of the Asian market.
Further problems for F1 include another controversial decision to switch locations in Brazil.
For 2021, the race is penciled in for Interlagos in Sao Paulo, pending an agreement with the promoters, who themselves are furious that F1 is looking to move to Rio.
Interlagos bosses have spent fortunes updating their paddock buildings in the hope of securing future F1 races.
However, the sport is poised to switch to a purpose-built track – only the site identified is in a 500-acre forest and would require the removal of almost 200,000 trees.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has overseen devastating levels of deforestation, has supported the plans.
However, it is proving extremely unpopular with local residents and environmental groups that are sure to present F1 with yet another headache.
Meanwhile Carey says he is confident that fans will be able attend next season’s races.
The new calendar will see the season start in Melbourne on March 21 and Australian GP bosses say they can create a ‘Covid-safe venue’.
Oz GP boss Andrew Westacott said: “We continue to work closely with health authorities and the Victorian Government as we develop our plans for fan attendance, which will be announced when finalised.
“We’re adopting a sensible, adaptable and flexible approach, ensuring that a safe environment for fans and participants is our top priority.
“Our massive parkland venue with 10.6km of track frontage provides us with the perfect opportunity to create a Covid-safe venue.”
The British GP is scheduled for July 18 while there is also a new race in Zandvoort in Holland.
However, there is still a slot up for grabs for April 25, which could mean either the return of the German, San Marino or Portuguese GP.
Chase Carey, Chairman and CEO of Formula One, said: “We are pleased to announce the 2021 provisional calendar after extensive conversations with our promoters, the teams and the FIA.
“We are planning for 2021 events with fans that provide an experience close to normal and expect our agreements to be honoured.
“We have proven that we can safely travel and operate our races and our promoters increasingly recognise the need to move forward and manage the virus.
“In fact, many hosts actually want to use our event as a platform to show the world they are moving forward.
“We are delighted to see Saudi Arabia become part of the schedule and are equally excited to return to the venues we hoped to race at in 2020.
“We want to thank all our promoters and partners for their ongoing enthusiasm and collaboration and look forward to giving our fans an exciting season on the track.”
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton can win his seventh world title at this weekend’s Turkish GP.
The Brit, who has won nine times already this season to open up an 85-point gap over his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, only needs to finish ahead of the Finn.
Meanwhile, Bottas must outscore Hamilton by at least eight points to roll the title fight on to the following round in Bahrain.