Is South Africa warming to Grand Prix return?

south africa f1 david coulthard

It is no secret that a Grand Prix is on the cards in South Africa. But what is the sentiment back home toward a Formula 1 return? And what would the race mean to the country?

South Africa is slowly coming to terms with the likelihood of its first Grand Prix in 30 years in 2023. Grands Prix are nothing new on the subcontinent.

The first race was in East London in 1934 and SA was a regular part of the World Championship, initially in the ‘60s at East London, and later at Kyalami, almost annually until ’93. Besides an occasional test and demo, it’s however been slim pickings ever since for the F1-crazy nation.

Now, however, it seems that Formula 1 is back on the Kyalami threshold. A Grand Prix company has quietly been pecking away at an F1 bid over the past few years. There was talk of a race already this year. But lockdown happened. Only this week, South Africa was one of the last countries to drop its final lockdown measures. That was believed to be one of the final hurdles to remain in the path of a South African Grand Prix return.

The bid is in the hands of SA Grand Prix royalty

South African Grand Prix

Before we continue, let’s get back to that ‘SAGP Bid Company’. Headed by Warren Scheckter, son of former F1 driver Ian, the bid is understood to have the explicit backing of Warren’s famous uncle Jody. You may recall that Jody happened to be Ferrari’s 1979 Formula 1 World Champion. So, if anything, the Grand Prix return bid is in the hands of South Africa’s Formula 1 royalty.

Now, it’s no secret that F1 capo Stefano Domenicali was in South Africa, or more to the point, at Kyalami a week or so back. He certainly was not there to view game. It is understood that Domenicali, Kyalami owner Toby Venter and the Scheckters made good progress in discussions.

Reliable sources suggest a deal is done. Others stories doing the rounds include a tale that F1 freight partner DHL already has a contract in hand to bring F1 back to Kyalami. Where there’s smoke…

All of this has had an interesting reaction from the South African public. Many still doubt that such a thing as a Grand Prix will ever happen again in South Africa. Two weeks ago, any suggestion of such a race would have met with almost universal condemnation.

On all sorts of grounds, from the cost to the country’s ability to host such a big event to infrastructure and security, and so much more.

A South African Grand Prix will be a runaway success

aerial view kyalami south africa grand prix future

Of course the faithful always bounces back, reminding the trolls of the 2010 FIA World Cup. And who are the reigning World Rugby champions, after all? Most interestingly, Kyalami was the only track around the world to host a fly-away international motor race.

And for that matter, any major sporting event in the jaws of lockdown at the 2020 9 Hour. That race also went ahead again, against all odds and albeit delayed, amidst that most recent Covid scare earlier this year…

Sentiment towards a Grand Prix is however rapidly changing in SA as it becomes apparent that a 2023 race may very well be on the cards. Response to suggestions of that DHL contract on popular and influential SA Facebook motorsport group Auto & Sport has been considerably more positive since Domenicali’s visit.

And if anything, far from scepticism, should the race be confirmed soon, it is likely to have a profoundly positive effect on the country on a whole.

In short, Kyalami, bar a few small updates to meet full FIA F1 safety spec, is ready. Johannesburg has always been ready. And South Africa is without a doubt ready for a Grand Prix return. Should tickets be priced right and within what the rand exchange rate permits, there’s no reason why a South African Grand Prix should not smash all local sporting attendance records.

And even challenge world marks. 30 years is a long time. It is time. Bring it on!