Shaikh Mohammad and Prince Mohammad Bin Salman attend the Formula E championship race at the historical Saudi city of Diriyah Image Credit: WAM

Diriyah: His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi Crown Prince, on Saturday attended the Formula E championship race being held at the historical Saudi city of Diriyah to mark the beginning of the fifth season of the FIA Formula E Championship.

Shaikh Mohammad expressed his happiness at attending the Diriyah race, congratulating the Prince on the success of such an international sporting event in terms of organisation and participation as well as huge public turnout.

Shaikh Mohammad stressed that Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and the support of the Crown Prince, is pressing ahead confidently towards the future.

He also expressed his pride in the deep-rooted historical relations between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which are based on their common destiny.

The event was attended by Shaikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, National Security Adviser, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Shaikh Shakhbout Bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, UAE Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as well as other Shaikhs and senior officials.

The Diriyah competition is witnessing the participation 22 drivers representing 11 teams from 11 countries: Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, France, Brazil, Portugal, Thailand, Argentina and Switzerland

Under a new visa system, thousands of fans flocked to Riyadh’s historic Diriyah district for the Formula E race and concerts by David Guetta and Black Eyed Peas.

Most were Saudis still unaccustomed to such entertainment in their own country, where cinemas and public concerts were banned until changes in the past two years.

Jason, an American, is spending a week here with his German wife, riding quad bikes in the desert and visiting heritage sites in Ushaiger, 200km northwest of the capital.

“The race sounds interesting but to be honest it was a means to see the country. We’re happy to be here,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to come for many, many years ... I’m so happy to be here and that they’re letting us be here.”

Aaron, a 40-year-old software engineer, travelled from New York for two days. He and a few dozen other adventure travellers seeking to visit every country in the world checked the desert kingdom off their list this weekend.

“Saudi Arabia’s always been an exotic place ... and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to come here,” he said as circus performers entertained guests in between races.

Some 1,000 foreigners from 80 countries received the new “sharek” visa, which is linked to a specific entertainment event, the authorities said.

That is a fraction of what they eventually hope to attract.

“Hopefully we will learn from this and see what we need to do for the future, but I can tell you from now that there is a lot of demand,” said Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal, vice-chairman of the General Sports Authority.