As revealed by RacingNews365.com, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali held discussions with South African Grand Prix Corporation executives and key government and commercial stakeholders after an overnight flight to Johannesburg from Baku.
Domenicali is believed to have been tasked by Liberty Media, holder of F1's commercial rights, with striking a deal for a grand prix in Africa, the only continent without a round of the Formula 1 World Championship.
He is hopeful of a 2023 date – potentially March/April or October/November – should a deal eventuate, with either the Belgian or French Grand Prix making way on the calendar for an African fixture. Both events are out of contract after this year, with the chances of renewal for either looking bleak.
Although there are various prospects for a race on the continent – including a street race in Cape Town and a circuit event in North Africa – Domenicali is determined to exhaust all options offered by Kyalami, which staged Grands Prix between 1967 and 1985 and again in 1992/3 before being dropped from the calendar.
Discussions with Kyalami
Kyalami was sold to entrepreneur and former racer Toby Venter, the local Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley importer, in July 2014. Kyalami has been extensively refurbished since, but currently holds an FIA Grade 2 licence and would require further upgrades to meet F1 (Grade 1) standards.
The contingent, which included provincial and national government officials and tourism representatives, met in the Sandton Sun hotel immediately after Domenicali's arrival for preliminary talks before proceeding to the Kyalami circuit situated in Midrand – midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria – for further discussions and track inspections.
Domenicali is well acquainted with Venter from the former’s tenure as Lamborghini CEO.
RacingNews365.com's Dieter Rencken talking with Toby Venter in April 2022
How close is a deal?
Although details are sketchy, a source emphasised to RacingNews365.com that no deal for a South African Grand Prix had yet been struck, but that the talks were "both positive and very productive", and that all parties were hopeful of a deal. "If you ask me whether agreement was reached today, the answer is a categoric 'no'."
The source stated that government officials had been most co-operative and offered their full support, but that no funding for the event would flow from the South African fiscus.
"The event would have to wash its own face," added the source, who was not authorised to comment. "It's a very complex deal: SAGPC need to do ten different deals to do that one big deal."
Amongst the funding options are a separate tourism levy or some form of tax structure whereby incremental tax revenues accrue to a grand prix fund, but an element of private backing would still be required.
SA Grand Prix Corporation CEO Warren Scheckter, nephew of 1979 Ferrari F1 world champion – who is chairman of SAGPC – is believed to have attracted the support of consortium of influential local businessmen, some of whom attended the meeting.
The next key date is August: not only does F1 need to finalise its calendar during F1's summer break, but Kyalami, which would effectively supply what is known as a "white label" circuit to SAGPC for a fee, is believed to require at least six months' notice to effect upgrades and prepare sufficient grandstands to accommodate a projected 60,000-strong crowd.
"If we don't have a deal by then, 2023 is off," said the source. "Although SAGPC is still hopeful of 2024."
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Dieter Rencken comments:
"As a South African who fell in love with F1 at Kyalami, I would love nothing more than reporting on a 'home' Grand Prix; it would be the pinnacle of my career as an accredited F1 journalist. Equally, I initially fell in love with F1 as a fan and can identify with the hopes of millions of passionate fans in South Africa.
"However, I fully understand the socio-political and economic challenges faced by South Africa, particularly when converting 'soft' Rands to 'hard' dollars and how exchange rates impact on ticket prices. Thus, I am sceptical about a SAGP in the near future much as I hold thumbs for the chances of SA F1 fans being treated to a race at Kyalami – which, incidentally means 'My Home' in Zulu.
"One thing is for sure: If this initiative fails it will not be for lack of trying by Warren and his partners or by Stefano and F1 – the will is most certainly there, but making the numbers add up is an enormous task under present circumstances. I fear, though, that this is the last chance for a SAGP."
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