Written by Sasha Macmillen
Not since the 1993 season has Formula One graced the African continent, with the South African Grand Prix, held at Kyalami Circuit, pulled from the calendar. Kyalami, as well as the East London track, have held F1 races in South Africa, and Morocco is the only other African country that has hosted a Formula One race, in 1958.
Formula One calls itself a global sport, and duly visits locations around the world. However, it fails to hold a race in Africa, with every other continent receiving a Grand Prix. Can you really call yourself a global sport, if you don't visit every single continent? The calendar is euro-centric, and recent announcements have seen the USA bumped up to a total of three races in a single season. Formula One also continues to expand in the middle east, with four countries currently holding contracts. Political challenges continue to destabilise the security of said races, and fans' opinions are being shifted. Deserving tracks and countries are missing out, and the African continent, specifically South Africa, is a prime example of this issue.
The South African Grand Prix was historically a popular event, Jim Clark being the most successful driver, with four wins. The 1981 event saw the FISA-FOCA war, in which teams failed to agree on the championship status of the race, leading to a major split and the race not counting towards the championship. The Kyalami Circuit has also seen Ayrton Senna score his first F1 point in the past. The government's policy of apartheid spelt the end of F1 in South Africa. The early 90s saw a brief return, yet running costs spelt the end of that.
25 years have passed and there is silence over F1 in South Africa, before April 2018, when Adrian Scholtz, the CEO of Motorsport South Africa, stated that Kyalami comes close in terms of facilities that the FIA requires to host an F1 race(grade one status). The years pass and F1 leadership changes, with Stefano Domenicali coming in at the start of 2021 to lead the sport. He begins to use rhetoric that moves towards the likelihood of a race in Africa, and is open about it, as well as hinting at the now recently announced Las Vegas Grand Prix.
In September 2021, news reports emerged that Formula One was in talks concerning a return of the South African Grand Prix, and this April, further reports emerged that a deal being struck was likely. The circuit is currently of FIA Grade Two standard, and the circuit authorities say that there isn't too much work to do for the necessary Grade One standard to host an F1 race. Lewis Hamilton also stated after the Las Vegas announcement:
“The one I really want to see is South Africa. That’s the one I want to hear announced next.”
“We’re pretty much on every other continent, so why not?"
“Ultimately, my ancestors are from there so that’s why it is important for me personally."
“I think it’s important for the sport to go there. If they’re in every other continent, why not?”
Toby Venter, owner of the Kyalami circuit has confirmed that they are in constant contact with Liberty Media and F1, but will only make the necessary track changes if they have a guarantee of a spot on the calendar.
What would an F1 return to South Africa mean? Formula One's global reach would expand even further, with races on all continents and its African market would surely receive a huge boost. The race would begin to give the calendar a little more diversity, as F1 attempts to leave its image as euro-centric and expand, leaving a "positive impact" on the communities and locations it visits. We Race As One, Formula One's diversity and inclusion campaign, would likely be prominent in a country that bears the marks of past horrors, and has moved on admirably.
The track layout itself would be a highly popular addition, with a variety of flowing, fast corners and a long start-finish straight providing a great mix-up of characteristics. Fans have expressed their excitement at this possibility, particularly in South Africa itself, with some claiming there would be no issues filling the grandstands. All in all, F1 returning to South Africa would be a success, for the sport's marketability, the fans and the country itself.