Saudi oil group Aramco sponsors F1

Saudi oil giant Aramco has signed on as a global sponsor of Formula One, the firm said Tuesday, in a move seen as part of the conservative kingdom’s drive to soften its international image.

“Aramco, the world’s largest integrated oil and gas company, today announced a long term global sponsorship with Formula 1,” the company said, announcing its first ever major sports sponsorship deal.

Under the deal Aramco will have trackside branding rights at most races, title rights to the US, Spanish and Hungarian Grands Prix in 2020 as well as brand exposure through broadcast and digital platforms.

Saudi Arabia, under fire over human rights abuses, has accelerated investment in glitzy sports and entertainment events in a bid to improve its reputation and boost jobs and investment in the sectors. It recently hosted the world’s richest horse race following up on staging the Italian and Spanish football Super Cups among other high-profile events. Critics have accused the country’s rulers of “sportswashing” to improve their image without tackling underlying issues.