The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship opener at Diriyah in Saudi Arabia is still set to go ahead despite Saudi Arabia closing its borders to travellers from 20 countries tomorrow.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior on Tuesday announced the temporary suspension of entry for non-Saudis, diplomats, health practitioners, and their families for those coming from the 20 countries due to the current situation in the coronavirus pandemic. It comes into effect from 9pm local time on Wednesday.
The list includes the United Kingdom, the USA and France. All three countries have significant team and organisational personnel that are intrinsic to the running of the Formula E races on February 26-27.
In a statement issued on Tuesday evening the Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior said it had ‘decided to suspend entry to the Kingdom – for non-citizens, diplomats, health practitioners and their families due to the importance of preserving the epidemiological situation and public health in the Kingdom.’
But a dispensation given to Formula E means this decision will not affect the races.
The Race understands that both UK and German personnel from Formula E organisations and teams have organised charter flights to Saudi Arabia from February 18 onwards in readiness for the event, which was confirmed as hosting the first season-opener last month.
Some airlines have recently cancelled the majority of, if not all, flights to Saudi Arabia, including British Airways.
In response to a request from The Race, series promoter and organiser Formula E Operations Ltd issued a statement saying that the event is still expected to go ahead.
“Formula E is still planning to stage the season-opening double header on February 26 and 27,” it read.
“Due to an exemption granted by the Kingdom, Formula E visas [are] to enter remain valid.
“We are working on solutions to get all personnel there in the safest manner possible.”
The details of the exemptions are not known but are believed to include specific protocols which will be used to guarantee tight screening and testing of all those working at the circuit.
Everyone attending the event will undertake a mandatory 48 hour quarantine and then have to take a further PCR test at a Saudi medical facility before gaining accreditation to be on site. Further tests will then be carried out for all in attendance throughout the week of the race.
The double-header will effectively be run behind closed doors after a decision last week to halt plans for international partner guests and a small number of fans to attend the races.
Until early January Formula E had a degree of confidence that the race could host some fans but it was decided in conjunction with local promoters and the Saudi sports ministry that this plan should be called off.
Preliminary work has already been carried out on the Diriyah track site, with the circuit having being laid, grandstands erected and some of new innovative sustainable LED lighting rigs for the brace of night races having being assembled.