Ad-Diriyah ABB Formula E: A drive towards the future

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Last weekend in Riyadh, I attended Ad-Diriyah ABB Formula E, the opening round of season five. The event attracted more than 40,000 people from all over the world. Many activities and large-scale concerts were held along with the actual race, but what resonated with me the most was witnessing all of these technological advancements while still experiencing the historic atmosphere of Ad-Diriyah.

The Ad-Diriyah Gate Development Authority opened the gates to At-Turaif, which is one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Saudi Arabia, for the first time since it was accorded its UNESCO status. At-Turaif was transformed into an interactive zone that included museums, live cultural performances and a chance to experience the traditional life at the time of the formation of the first Saudi state. Visitors interacted joyously with this one-of-a-kind experience that combined both tradition and modernity.

One can make an assumption that it is simple to preserve a historic site such as Ad-Diriyah. However, adhering to the pre-existent heritage buildings within the context of the fast developments and transformations that are taking place in the rest of the city is not an easy task.

This leads to an important question: How can the developments in Ad-Diriyah serve the heritage of the town without demeaning its values and historical significance?

After Ad-Diriyah hosted the Middle East’s first Formula E race on December 15, Gerard “Jerry” Inzerillo, the CEO of the Ad-Diriyah Gate Development Authority, said: “With all that vision, boldness and welcome, you want to go to the soul, the pearl, the jewel of the Kingdom, and that’s the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ad-Diriyah and At-Turaif.” He then added: “It’ll be the stop-off point for the region. It’s where the region started. Arabia started at Ad-Diriyah.”

Indeed, Ad-Diriyah has its own set of variables that forms a special context for development and these were observed, assessed and dealt with sensitively during the ABB Formula E weekend race in a way that conserves the architectural heritage of the town.

Apart from Ad-Diriyah Formula E, I attended Formula E in Zurich several months ago. In both events, I saw how Formula E acts as a platform for technological and sustainable innovation through e-mobility. The technological advancements of e-mobility, such as battery life and efficiency, have been steadily developing over the past years. For instance, during the Zurich race, drivers had to switch cars during mid-race because the electric single-seater battery cannot complete a race distance. However, six months later, in Ad-Diriyah drivers no longer switched from one car to another during mid-race after an increase of battery capacity. This was the first continuous Formula E race that went for around 45 minutes without a single stop. Also, there were other types of e-cars introduced in Ad-Diriyah race weekend that use fast-charging systems, such as ABB’s that power car batteries in a flat eight minutes to run up to 200 kilometers of range.

All in all, what I witnessed last weekend surpassed, not only mine, but everyone’s expectations. The whole event from start to finish was astounding. From amazing performances by international artists to showcasing the Kingdom’s culture and authentic hospitality, this was truly a successful weekend race added to the motorsport’s history books.

Kariman Abuljadayel was the first Saudi woman to compete in the 100m race at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. She is an accredited architect with a BA and MA in Architecture from Northeastern University in Boston. Currently, Kariman is a lecturer of Architectural Engineering at Alfaisal University. Follow her on Twitter: @TheKariman


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