Diriyya promoter Boutagy in Formula E interview: "You will see a very big difference".
The Diriyya E-Prix has been a permanent fixture on the Formula E racing calendar since 2018. Even though there were rumors in the past about a relocation of the race to another city in Saudi Arabia, the electric series will start again in Diriyya next week. e-Formel.de had the opportunity to talk to Carlo Boutagy, CEO of Diriyya E-Prix promoter CBX, before the season opener..
Saudi Arabia once signed a 10-year deal with Formula E. So up to and including Season 14 (2028/29), the championship will race on the Arabian Peninsula - initially continuing in Diriyya. The historic old town on the outskirts of Riyadh is currently undergoing major renovation. The first changes will be seen as early as this year, however.
Mr. Boutagy, what can we expect from the Diriyya E-Prix 2023?
The plans for 2023 are that we will have a "double-header" under floodlights in Diriyya. So it will be a night race again, like in the past years. There will be a gala dinner on Wednesday and then two consecutive races with the new Gen3 car. This year, however, it will be the second race of the season rather than the first.
The Formula E race is not, after all, the only event to be held in Diriyya.
This year we are again part of the "Diriyah Season", which takes place over several months in Diriyya. In the past two years this had to be cancelled because of COVID. The "Diriyah Season" is organized by the Ministry of Sports, so it is all about sports events. It started with an equestrian tournament in October, then we had a tennis tournament in December, among others, in which the top twelve players in the ATP rankings took part. Now comes the Formula E race, followed by a boxing match. We are happy to be back as part of this series of events.
Why didn't Diriyya get the season opener this time?
We couldn't be the first race because Formula E wanted to start its season in mid-January. However, the Dakar Rally ended that weekend. We didn't want to have two motorsport events in Saudi Arabia that overlapped. That wouldn't have made any sense at all. So the only date for the Formula E race was at the end of January, just like last year, unless we would have gone into December. I don't think that would affect us. It wasn't Formula E's decision either, it was ours.
The area around the circuit was a major construction site last year. Is that still the case?
Yes, there is still a major construction site. It is, after all, one of the giga-projects of the kingdom. A first section called "Bujairi" has already opened. There are many high class restaurants here. This year we will no longer have temporary pop-up restaurants, but permanent locations. The already opened part already looks good.
What visual changes can fans expect?
More than a million trees have been planted since last year's race. So you will see a very big difference in the aerial photos in terms of landscaping. But on the left in the area of turns 4, 5, 6 and 7, we have one of the largest excavation pits in the world. Here they have already dug 60 meters deep. It's very impressive, but unfortunately it's still a construction site. However, one feels it much less as such because of the landscaping.
Spectator interest at the Diriyya E-Prix has left much to be desired in recent years - especially in comparison with Mexico, where the season opener was again a full house. What is the reason for this in your opinion?
For one thing, we have a street circuit, which is not the case in Mexico. Therefore, 40,000 spectators can come to Mexico, whereas we (normally without a construction site) only have a maximum of 15,000 grandstand seats. In the past two years, we also had severe restrictions. In 2021, we had no fans on site at all, apart from guests in the VIP area. Last year, we were only allowed to use 50 percent of the capacity.
So this year will be different?
This year we have returned to normal and are at 100 percent capacity. The COVID restrictions have been completely lifted. And we are looking forward to having the Gen3 cars on the track. So I'm sure the ambience and environment will be much better than the last two years.
Are you expecting the Diriyya E-Prix to be sold out?
We have already sold a lot of tickets before we even announced who will perform at the fringe concerts. This is a very good sign. We have already broken all the pre-COVID sales records. So I think we will have a full house by the end of January.
How many viewers are we talking about here?
Our total capacity is more than 20,000 spectators. We have to leave out some grandstands because of the construction site, so we have 10,000 grandstand seats (this year). On top of that, we have another 10,000 people who have access to the event area. And then we have another 2,500 people in the VIP area. That makes a total of about 22,500 spectators.
A highlight of the night race in Diriyya is the light show before the race start. Do you have this year again such a show planned?.
We have something up our sleeve for the opening ceremony. The show will definitely be even better than last year.