The deal for the night race in Jeddah is expected to last for 10 years, the latest major sports event set to take place in the country.
Minky Worden, HRW’s director overseeing sport, said: “It is part of a cynical strategy to distract from Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, detention and torture of human rights defenders and women’s rights activists.
“Formula 1 has made human rights commitments and should explain how the company’s operations will improve human rights in Saudi Arabia.”
The Grand Prix announcement comes after Saudi Arabia hosted a series of other major sporting events: a boxing world title fight for Anthony Joshua, the Dakar Rally and the world’s richest horse race, the Saudi Cup.
And Sports Minister HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal denied suggestions it was the latest piece of sportswashing by the regime.
He told the BBC: “Saudi Arabia was criticised for being closed off to the world and now we’ve opened up, we’re criticised for sport washing.
“For many Saudis, this will be a dream come true. It’s a very special moment. We can showcase to the world what we’re capable of.”
Formula 1, meanwhile, defended its move to Saudi Arabia for next season.
It said in a statement: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries, who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”