Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

The fifth stage of the Saudi Tour took the peloton from AlUla Old Town to the finish line 142.9 km away at Maraya. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 03 February 2023

Local cyclists complete mission as Saudi Tour wraps up in AlUla

  • Final stage concluded in Maraya mirrored building in Ashar Valley

ALULA: The Saudi Cycling Federation team ended the 2023 Saudi Tour with some valuable racing experience under their belts, having competed alongside world-class cyclists in the AlUla desert.

Stage five offered a fitting finale after four grueling stages around the ancient desert city. 

The 142.9km sprint took the peloton through the streets of AlUla Old Town and Al-Jadidah’s arts and culture district, before passing the farms and verdant oases of the area and moving through Hegra, Saudi’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

The riders had to navigate a tricky gravel section at pace, before finishing with a sprint in front of Maraya, the iconic mirrored building and multi-purpose entertainment venue in the Ashar Valley.

The stage also had a lighter moment when the peloton was joined by a herd of donkeys which ran along the roadside.

Reflecting on the Saudi Cycling Federation’s impressive debut on the Saudi Tour, team member Hassan Al-Jumah said: “It was a wonderful experience to ride in the Saudi Tour in AlUla with these international athletes and teams was unforgettable and will play a big part in our progress. There is a big gap in levels, we can see how hard the international teams work and how much experience plays a role.

“This race is a big part of our development and if we continue, we should be getting better year on year and the gap will be closer to the professionals.”

Abdulaziz Al-Hashim was the best placed of the Saudi team on stage five, just one minute and 50 seconds behind winner Simone Consoni of Cofidis (3 hours 10 minutes and 13 seconds), with fellow Saudi team-mates Al-Jumah, Azzam Al-Abdulmunim, Murtadha Al-Shaghab and Hani Al-Mrhoon finishing in a group further back.

Verstappen shrugs off bug to top practice in Saudi Arabia

Updated 18 March 2023

Verstappen shrugs off bug to top practice in Saudi Arabia

  • The defending double world champion clocked a best lap in one minute 29.603 seconds to outpace two-time champion Alonso's Aston Martin by 0.208 seconds
  • Sergio Perez was third in the second Red Bull ahead of Esteban Ocon of Alpine, George Russell of Mercedes and Pierre Gasly in the second Alpine

JEDDAH: Max Verstappen showed no ill effects from a stomach bug on Friday as he topped the times for Red Bull ahead of Fernando Alonso in Friday’s second free practice at this weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The defending double world champion, shaking off the stomach upset that had delayed his arrival in Jeddah by 24 hours, clocked a best lap in one minute 29.603 seconds to outpace two-time champion Alonso’s Aston Martin by 0.208 seconds.
Sergio Perez was third in the second Red Bull ahead of Esteban Ocon of Alpine, George Russell of Mercedes and Pierre Gasly in the second Alpine.
“I think we had a positive day, but I think there’s still quite a few things we can improve,” reported Verstappen.
“It’s just fine-tuning, with the downshifts. Things we do all the time,” he added.
Perez revealed he had suffered mechanical issues.
“Hopefully, we can sort it out for tomorrow,” he said.
“And it will bring us more pace so I can have a better idea of where this car is. Today it was inconsistent, difficult to get a proper read.
“We seem to be strong, but the competition is there as expected.”
Alonso’s Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll was seventh ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Haas and the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, both of whom were equipped with new power units.
Leclerc already has a 10-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race for taking a third electronic control unit of the season.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was 11th for Mercedes, with a best lap of 1:30.599, a second slower than Verstappen, on the day he announced he was no longer working with his long-serving performance coach Angela Cullen.
Alonso’s performance confirmed his speed this year after a strong showing to finish third in the season-opening race in Bahrain, but it was Verstappen who set the pace with some ease.
After Verstappen’s early supremacy in a Red Bull one-two in opening practice the second session began in cooler conditions, the air temperature descending to 25 degrees and the track from 44 to 31.
Stroll was the first man out, Sainz the early pace-setter, but only for five minutes before the world champion once again went top only for Alonso to reply, two-tenths faster.
Stirred again, both medium-clad Red Bulls responded. Verstappen with 1:29.952 ahead of Perez until Alonso, on softs, split them again. His Aston Martin appeared to be the only car capable of fighting with them.
And then Perez clocked a 1:29.902 as last year’s pole sitter Leclerc emerged unscathed from a close brush with Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas.
The close dicing at the front continued with the Red Bulls narrowly ahead of Alonso and then a gap of two-tenths to the pack led, after half an hour, by Hulkenberg and Gasly.
The top three were separated by 0.012 before Verstappen, again, lifted the bar in 1:29.603 after switching to softs for a brief simulation of what may lie ahead in Saturday’s qualifying session.
At this time, Russell climbed to fourth for Mercedes, but Hamilton was 11th.
“We need to make some big changes,” said Russell in a stern voice. “Yes, copy,” retorted his pit wall, seemingly sensitive to the team’s need for a changed approach as they seek to reverse their slump.

Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix returns to the coastal jewel of Jeddah

Updated 18 March 2023

Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix returns to the coastal jewel of Jeddah

  • The Kingdom’s third race event, now a fixture in the Formula One calendar, gets underway on March 19
  • Having hosted the Dakar Rally, Diriyah E-Prix, and Extreme E, Saudi Arabia is fast becoming a motorsports hotspot 

JEDDAH: When, in the late hours of Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, then-reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton took the checkered flag to win the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he set up what would turn out to be, a week later in Abu Dhabi, the greatest-ever finale in the sport’s history.

The seven-time champion’s win under the Jeddah floodlights meant that he had drawn level with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings going into the last race of the season in the UAE capital.

What happened at Yas Marina Circuit would go down in legend, Verstappen winning a scarcely believable, and infinitely controversial, race in the final few seconds to claim his first title. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that that “sliding doors” moment has altered the course of F1 history since.

The first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix had delivered drama, crashes, safety cars aplenty and the Hamilton win that set up that denouement in Abu Dhabi.

The second Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2022 had its work cut out to provide such drama. Now the second, instead of the second-last race of the season, it arrived only months after the inaugural race, taking place on March 27.

Champion Verstappen strolled to victory in what would become a procession for the Dutch driver, Ferrari’s early challenge fading to leave Red Bull as the undisputed champions of the drivers’ and constructors’ title.

And so to Sunday, March 19, 2023, and the third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, now a fixture in the F1 calendar.

Gone is the novelty of the Kingdom hosting one of sport’s showpiece events, now replaced by an undeniable, and deserved, sense of permanence for the fastest street circuit in F1 history, with its track length of 6.174 km and 27 turns. F1 is in Saudi Arabia to stay.

Track changes this year, to improve visibility for the drivers, have been welcomed by the two-time champion Verstappen.

He said: “It’s a really cool street circuit, with quite a lot of grip, so I always enjoy going back there to race.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. (Supplied) 

The 25-year-old will be a strong favorite to repeat last year’s success, while the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will be hoping for better luck, and decision making, if they are to mount a challenge.

Lurking behind will be Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in their Mercedes, no longer the dominant car that strolled to seven drivers’ titles, and eight constructors’, in a row.

And keep an eye out for Aston Martin, with the grinning, grizzled figure of Fernando Alonso and the rapidly maturing Lance Stroll hoping to make a major leap from mid-field to title challengers.

That Saudi Arabia has become a hub for some of the world’s most high-profile races is no longer news.

Already in 2023, as in recent years, we have seen several global competitions take place in the Kingdom.

The Dakar Rally has successfully been transported to the desert of Saudi Arabia since 2020, while Riyadh first hosted Formula E’s Diriyah E-Prix in 2018, and since 2021 as a nighttime double-header.

Jeddah Corniche Circuit. (Supplied)

Extreme E, another all-electric racing series, has just concluded its season-opening race in AlUla for the third year running.

And then there was Rally Jameel, the first global race dedicated to female drivers only in the Middle East; a reminder that such previously unimagined events are not taking place in a cultural vacuum, but in a fast-evolving society.

But F1 remains the undisputed king of the road, a happening that transcends mere sporting competition.

“Formula 1 has put motorsport on the map in Saudi,” said Reema Juffali, Saudi’s first female racing driver and founder of Theeba Motorsport. “Four years ago, I remember having to explain the difference between F1 and rallying, so it’s great to be sharing the sport I love with everyone at home.”

The middle of the last decade might have seen a waning of interest in the sport as Mercedes and Hamilton won race after race, championship after championship.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton before practice at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)

But in recent years, F1 has seen an unprecedented resurgence in popularity thanks in huge part to the emergence of a crop of exciting young drivers like Verstappen, Leclerc, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

But perhaps the biggest, and most unexpected, factor in this new lease of life came from the Netflix series “Formula One: Drive to Survive,” now five seasons in, which has been nothing short of revolutionary in taking the sport to a new audience, especially the previously unconquered US demographic.

Hamilton, speaking to Arab News ahead of the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December 2021, said the show had “changed the sport for good.”

No longer are casual fans focusing on the one or two drivers that dominate each season. Today even viewers with the most cursory interest know the highs and lows of Yuki Tsunoda’s season, the sad departure of Daniel Ricciardo from McLaren and the return of Nico Hulkenburg to F1.

Behind the scenes, Netflix has introduced its viewers to the bitter rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull team principals Toto Wolff and Christian Horner; the colorful figure of Haas boss Guenther Steiner; and the almost unbearable pressures on Mattia Binotto as he tried to lead an iconic name like Ferrari back to glory.

Alpine's French driver Pierre Gasly (foregound) drives ahead of Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso during the first practice session at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023, ahead of the 2023 Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP)

And Saudi fans can now even have a team to nail their colors to: Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team.

The green of Aston Martin will this season carry the names of two Saudi juggernauts: Aramco and, as of last week, its new official flying partner Saudia.

It is not the first time that Saudia has lent its name to an F1 team.

The Kingdom had been the first Middle East country to be involved in Formula One when its national carrier sponsored Williams Racing from the late 1970s.

“Our association with Williams Racing began in 1978 and ran for almost two decades, during which time we enjoyed many successes,” Khaled Tash, chief marketing officer of Saudia, told Arab News.

Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso sits in his car in the garage during the first practice session at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on March 17, 2023. (AFP)

“Formula One fans will remember that the Williams Racing team dominated the competition and won nine Constructors' Championships thanks to worldwide talent like Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

“Saudia played a vital role in Williams Racing’s victories and our partnership was one of the most successful sponsor-team collaborations in F1 history, paving the way for future partnerships within the motorsports industry.

“We believe that our partnership with Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team provides a further opportunity for us to expand the reach of the sport and bring unforgettable experiences to fans everywhere.”

Such a partnership will inevitably lead to questions of bigger Saudi involvement in F1.

“Our Kingdom’s love story with F1 has even led us to hosting a race, the Jeddah Grand Prix, and who knows, we may one day have our own Saudi F1 team,” Tash added.

It might be early days yet, but it is an intriguing prospect that could materialize in the medium or long term.



“Today, after successfully hosting two races in the previous two years, we have some genuine F1 fans and many who are interested in breaking into the sport,” said Juffali, who herself has competed in F4 and now races in the International GT Open. “One of the most common questions I get asked is: ‘How can I be an F1 driver?’”

There is already talk of a new, permanent racing circuit at Qiddiya, one that would host the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix among other races, and, reportedly, provide unprecedented views for spectators.

With motorsport’s popularity on the rise, the next big target will be to nurture local talent, be it male or female, and produce drivers that can take to the track alongside the world’s best.

“I believe it’s only the beginning for us and, with all the level of investment going into motorsport, it’s only a matter of time before we see a Saudi driver climbing the junior formula ranks,” said Juffali.

Saudi fans of F1, too, will hope it is a matter of when, not if.



Veloce Racing claims maiden victory at Desert X Prix Round 1 in NEOM

Updated 11 March 2023

Veloce Racing claims maiden victory at Desert X Prix Round 1 in NEOM

  • Nico Rosberg’s RXR were on course winners, but after receiving a penalty for speeding under a yellow flag dropped to third

NEOM: Veloce Racing secured their first-ever victory in Extreme E following a penalty for on course winners Rosberg X Racing (RXR) in the Grand Final of the opening round in NEOM.

Kevin Hansen and Molly Taylor put in a consistent drive for the Desert X Prix Round 1 Grand Final, and while it looked like an outright win was within their grasp, they ended the race in second behind Nico Rosberg’s outfit.

After crossing the finish line in first place, RXR received a penalty for speeding under a yellow flag, dropping the team from first to third and ensuring Veloce Racing took the top step on the podium for the first time. The Acciona Sainz XE Team finished third on course, but jumped up to second after RXR received their time penalty.

Winners of the series’ first Redemption Race were the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team having seen off championship debutants Carl Cox Motorsport. Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour came out as best of the rest in a race of two halves, as the session was red flagged following racing incidents for Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E and ABT Cupra XE.

A victorious Hansen said: “It feels great. To come back to Saudi Arabia and get my first Extreme E win with this new team, with Molly, and in the country that I had such a career changing accident, this is such a highlight.

“Both of us believe so much in what the engineers and mechanics are doing, so we feel so safe when we get in the car. We believe in what we are going to drive and I think that is also giving some results.”

Meanwhile, team-mate Taylor said: “I think all of us in the team clicking right from the beginning and developing and improving. We were able to start at a really good level in Uruguay form there they've been really good at bringing the best out of every aspect that we look into.

“Our team principal Luc (Alphand) knows what it takes to win. Having that faith in someone like that, who's got the scores on the board, who knows what you're feeling, and knows how to translate that into results, I think that's a real advantage for us.”

The remaining five teams fought it out in the Redemption Race to determine sixth to 10th place in the Desert X Prix Round 1 standings.


Grand Final:

1. Veloce Racing 11:56.291

2. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team +16.709

3. Rosberg X Racing +2:08.041 (PENALISED)

4. X44 Vida Carbon Racing DNF

5. No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing DNF

Redemption Race:

1. NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team 28:55.292

2. Carl Cox Motorsport +5.552



5. Andretti ALTAWKILAT Extreme E DNF

Championship Standings:

1. Veloce Racing: 26 points

2. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 21 points

3. Rosberg X Racing: 15 points

4. X44 Vida Carbon Racing: 13 points

5. No.99 GMC HUMMER EV Chip Ganassi Racing: 11 points

6. NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team: 8 points

7. Carl Cox Motorsport: 6 points

8. JBXE: 4 points

9. ABT CUPRA XE: 2 points

10. Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E: 1 point


Cristiano Ronaldo scores another hat trick as Al-Nassr go two points clear

Updated 26 February 2023

Cristiano Ronaldo scores another hat trick as Al-Nassr go two points clear

  • Saudi league leaders stroll to 3-0 win over Damac
  • Portuguese star has now scored eight goals in four games

It is looking increasingly likely that Cristiano Ronaldo is going to shoot Al-Nassr to the Roshn Super League title as the Portuguese star scored his second hat trick in three games as the league leaders defeated Damac 3-0 away from home on Saturday.

The 38-year-old has netted eight times in his last four games and, more importantly, the Riyadh giants are two points clear of Al-Ittihad at the top of the table. Ronaldo, and the team, are starting to look very ominous indeed.

Anderson Talisca, top scorer in the league and at Al-Nassr, was suspended and then injured, but with the team’s new signing in such form, the Brazilian has been barely missed. And there’s more. Ronaldo is not that far behind his teammate in the goal scoring charts. After just six appearances (and he did not find the net in his first two games), Ronaldo is, incredibly, joint fourth. Only Talisca, Carlos of Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad's Abderrazak Hamdallah have found the target more times.

Damac may have shown over the last two seasons that they are a force to be reckoned with but lost the game in the space of five first-half minutes. After 18 minutes, Ronaldo fired home from the penalty spot. Sami Al-Najei blasted the ball goalwards only for the shot to be blocked by Farouk Chafai.

There were mass appeals for handball and while the referee did not initially give it, a look at the replay left little doubt that the defender had used an arm and there was little surprise when, after consulting the pitch-side monitor, the official gave a penalty.

Ronaldo sent Moustapha Zeghba the wrong way but even had the Algerian guessed right, there would have been little he could have done.

Al-Nassr kept coming and soon Ronaldo received the ball outside the area from Sultan Al-Ghamman and despite the attention of three defenders, fired home an unstoppable left-footed shot that fans of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus would recognize. Once again Zeghba had no chance and over 13,000 fans in attendance could only be impressed.

The contest was over just before the break as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner got his third and it was a beautiful team goal. The lively Abdulrahman Ghareeb carried the ball out of defense, sprinted down the left to curl a perfect crossfield pass into the path of Ayman Yahya on the right side of the area. He laid the ball off and Ronaldo, charging in from the penalty spot, did the rest.

Damac had not conceded more than two goals in match all season but found themselves three down in the space of 45 minutes.

The second half was largely comfortable for the visitors. Damac pushed forward in a vain attempt to get back into the game but there was always a sense that had they grabbed a goal, then the visitors had an extra gear in reserve.

As it was, Al-Nassr had the opportunity to hit on the break and midway through the half, Ronaldo swept home from just inside the corner of the area but was ruled just offside. The decision was greeted with a philosophical shrug of the shoulders from a player who knows that he is going to continue scoring whether in this game or the ones to come.

So the game ended 3-0 and the week ended perfectly for Al-Nassr. Second-placed Al-Ittihad were held to a goalless draw by Al-Raed earlier in the week.

In terms of goal attempts, it was 17 to one in favor of the Tigers but, without the injured Hamdallah, they just could not find a way through and it was very much a case of two points dropped.

With the two other Riyadh title challengers, Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal, both busy with Asian Champions League commitments, Al-Nassr are sitting very pretty at the top of the table. With Ronaldo in such great form, and it bears repeating that he has now scored eight in four, they are going to take some stopping.


Luis Saez lifts International Jockeys Challenge with all-round show

Updated 24 February 2023

Luis Saez lifts International Jockeys Challenge with all-round show

  • US-based rider beats Yuga Kawada and Joanna Mason

RIYADH: A consistent performance from leading US-based rider Luis Saez in Riyadh saw him seal the International Jockeys Challenge, presented by STC, at King Abdulaziz Racecourse on Friday.

It turned out to be the ideal culmination for the competition, with five of the 14 riders from around the world still in with a chance of winning by the last of the four legs.

Saez, a visitor to the meeting in the past, ended up winning one race and finishing second in two others, including the Round 4 finale.

“It’s super exciting, I want to say thank you to everybody for this magnificent moment — my family, well, everybody — I’m pretty happy,” he said.

“Over here I don’t understand the form too much, I could only see how my horses ran last time and so I studied every horse, which was a bit difficult,” Saez said. “But I had a good feeling, I have a lot of faith in my horses, I feel like they are going to run good and every horse ran pretty good so I’m pretty happy. 

“I rode the horses like they told me, pretty much. When you break from the gate, when you are in a good position, be kind, be confident and try and win the race.

“This place is very special for me, I really love this course, I love the dirt, I love everything here, the people, I feel like this is home here.”

Saez’s immediate impact in Round 1, the dirt contest over 1,600 meters, proved decisive. Partnering the Mohammed Aldugish-trained trained Wajaab, the Panama-born 30-year-old came with a powerful closing run to pass Joanna Mason and Najm Alenaya close to the line and win by half a length.

The roles were reversed just half an hour later in Round 2, over 1,400 meters. Mason was positive once again with front-running tactics aboard Medbaas, although Saez appeared on her shoulder as the field rounded the home turn.

However, Saez and Kareem could never quite assert their authority and the Bin Khyoot family-owned Medbaas found more for the urgings of the British rider, eventually stretching three lengths clear.

“To come second in the last and win this has been amazing,” Mason said. “I just got told simple instructions, jump out, get to the rail because he likes being in front and push on from the 600 meters, he’s all speed. That’s what he did and he went on again.

“When the horse came to me he pulled out that bit extra. I’m not experienced on the dirt but it rides beautifully, I’ve been on a first and a second, I really can’t complain.”

An amateur rider from as far back as 2006 who has also competed in jump races, Mason has made a striking impression in a couple of full seasons as a professional, steering home 46 winners in the UK last year, and has been clocking up many miles in the car during the current domestic all-weather season.

She continued: “To even be picked to be out here, as much as representing the UK and the rest of the world and the females, to have a second and a winner, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It’s a dream come true, everyone has been so hospitable.”

The best finish of all came in Round 3, the 1,200 meter turf sprint. Both Frankie Dettori and Aasser, and Bauyrzhan Murzabayev on Hapipi Go Lucky, had looked to have come with perfectly-timed late challenges as Yuga Kawada and Groom began to weaken well inside the last 200 meters.

It was Murzabayev who got the verdict by a head and a neck, with a horse who was a late reserve for his scheduled mount.

“It’s very beautiful, it was Frankie in the finish,” said Murzabayev, the rider from Kazakhstan who has become the dominant force in the German championship.

“My original horse was a non-starter and then I looked at this one and I thought he would have a chance. He turned out to be my best chance today. A lot of things have changed since the last time I rode here and I am delighted to be back and to be riding in this challenge. It’s a great day to be here and it gives me a lot of exposure, which is great.”

Round 4, the 2,100 meter turf event, had seen Saez holding a small lead from Mason, with Joao Moreira, Murzabayev and Kawada still in the hunt. In the end it was a straightforward win for last year’s Japanese champion jockey Kawada, who coasted four and a half lengths clear aboard Starcat, with Saez and Incumbent following them home.

The victory enabled Kawada to finish overall second from Mason in third.