Red Mist: Nothing new about Festive Season Formula 1

With Formula 1 in FIA boss Jean Todt’s opinion currently facing the challenge of even racing in 2020, F1 boss Chase Carey’s far more positive approach suggests up to 18 races from an Austrian season-opener early in July over the 25 weekends remaining through to end-December.

All that of course depends on many factors, not least of all a dizzying logistical challenge and permissions to even travel to race, whether there is a crowd or not. But if Carey does get his way, it may very well mean racing well into the Festive Season and even into the New Year.

None of which would be anything new at all. Going back sixty, or even eighty years, the South African Grand Prix traditionally ran on or around New Year’s day.

Won by US Air Commodore Whitney Straight driving a Maserati 8CM, the very first SAGP way back when and long before F1 was even a thing, ran on 27 December 1934. The next race on New Years Day ’36 was won by local hero Mario Massacurrati, who outfoxed works entry Jean-Pierre Wimille to win with his older Bugatti 35B.

Like it has remained traditional over the years in test cricket, the South African Grand Prix continued to run every New Years until War intervened.

The reason for racing at that time was simple — those grands prix ran at the Prince George Circuit at the coastal hamlet of East London and with South Africa closed down for holiday at that time of the year, the GP attracted huge crowds to the picturesque Border beach town, at the best possible time of the year.

Post War, the first SAGP was once again at East London on New Year’s Day 1960 when Paul Frere won in a Cooper Climax after Stirling Moss’ Cooper Borgward hit trouble late in the race, but Stirling won the next South African Grand Prix in a Porsche 718, interestingly enough on 27 December that same year.

So successful was the Festive Season SA Grand Prix, that other local circuits soon added their own ‘Grands Prix’ and there were soon Rand, Natal and Cape GPs that attracted international stars to race against the local F1 circus Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

The jewel in the crown was however always the SA Grand Prix on New Years day, with the entire Sunshine Series running through the holiday season and drawing a huge crowd, most of which followed it around the country as part of their Christmas holidays.

Nothing changed when the South African Grand Prix gained world championship status either — Jim Clark won that race in a Lotus Climax on 28 December ’63, with Graham Hill taking the 1964 World Driver’s and BRM the Manufacturer’s titles when he won the ’65 race on New Years Day after Clark’s Lotus broke while on his way to the championship late in the race.

The South African race stayed on or around New Years Day even when it shifted up to Kyalami, when Pedro Rodriguez took Cooper’s final win in his Maserati V12 powered machine after local upstart hero John Love’s Tasman spec Cooper Climax was forced to stop for fuel because its tank was too small to go the distance on 2 February 1967.

Jim Clark won his last race in the Lotus 49 Cosworth, also the last New Year’s South African Grand Prix. The race then moved out to its thenceforth traditional first Saturday in March date from ’69 as F1 adopted a more business-aligned calendar.

All of which means that should Formula 1 2020 actually happen, there is no reason why the calendar cannot spill into the Festive Season and even into the New Year for a few equatorial and southern hemisphere rounds. That certainly would not be anything new — the precedent is not only there, but it perpetually proved to be a huge success as well.

All of which leaves on to wonder about that return of a South African Grand Prix too…