Qatar Airways becomes key Formula One backer


Qatar Airways on Wednesday became the main sponsor of Formula One in a strategic new inroad by the wealthy Gulf state into international sport, the airline announced.

Industry sources said the deal would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Formula One.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker and F1 counterpart Stefano Domenicali announced the accord in Doha ahead of the start of the new season in Bahrain on March 5. They did not give the value.

"Our combined global reach makes us a perfect match," said Domenicali in a statement released by Qatar Airways announcing the "global partnership".

"We have been selective with picking the most selective sports events and sponsoring a variety of new and prominent initiatives," Baker added.

Qatar's state airline has taken over from Dubai rival Emirates, which had reportedly paid $25 million a year since 2013. The United Arab Emirates refused a significant increase when negotiations for a new long-term deal were held last year, media reports said.

The move gives Qatar, which hosted last year's football World Cup, influence in another sport as it steps up a campaign to become an international sports hub.

Qatar, which has faced criticism of its human rights record, has spent heavily on bringing major events to the tiny state. Qatar Airways also spends massively on sports sponsorship.

A major renovation of Qatar's race track is being carried out for the return of a Formula One grand prix on October 8.

Qatar already owns France's Paris Saint-Germain football club and a Qatari banker has made a multi-billion dollar bid for English giants Manchester United.

Authorities are planning a bid to make Qatar the first Arab nation to host the Olympics in 2036.