When is a Formula 1 deadline not a deadline? When it gets applied to attempts at staging a South African Grand Prix: Last year the 'final' date for completion of contracts between the promoter (headed by Warren Scheckter), Kyalami circuit and Formula 1 was successively stretched in monthly steps from the end of April to the end of August – despite an ‘absolutely final’ deadline of 31 July at one stage having been imposed…
In the interim Spa was kept hanging – all because Liberty head honcho Greg Maffei (F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali’s boss) prematurely committed to a race on the African continent in 2023, having believed a race at Kyalami would be a mere formality.
As we reported, finances proved a major obstacle and at the end of August RacingNews365 revealed that the project was aborted – with Spa being granted a one year reprieve.
You could forgive the Spa Grand Prix for experiencing a deepening sense of deja vu as they – and the thousands of F1 fans who annually pack the classic Ardennes circuit – are once again kept in suspense as the 30 April 'deadline' for a deal, this time with Miami-based sport media investment company 777 Partners, is once again stretched by Domenicali and Co as they chase millions of dollars (and more) on behalf of shareholders.
So, Spa, which spent a fortune on new stands as part of a demanded upgrade programme, does not know whether they will be used by F1 fans in 2024 or, for that matter, ever again…
While there are no doubts the F1 calendar should include at least one round in Africa – and ultimately the commercial rights holder should have realised this at least five years ago and not woken up to it after activist investors asked uncomfortable questions – the bottom line is that all the uncertainty does the image of the sport no good: Fans across the world regularly have hopes raised then dashed as deadlines are elasticised.
Viewed by others:
The current state of play
Where are we now?
Bluntly, in real terms no further than six months ago. Sure, talks are continuing with a different entity (777, supported by Kyalami 9 Hour race promoter Adam Brown rather than with the Scheckter syndicate) and heads of agreements are floating about, but the bottom line is that pen has not touched paper so, as of a day after the 'deadline', there is no deal.
What is the hold up?
Frankly, money – not only to pay the venue rental (to Kyalami) and hosting fees (to F1) but also promoter costs (organisation, infrastructure and marketing) and circuit upgrades. Then there are costs of services which need to be agreed with local authorities.
Of course, such formalities take time – and the more complex a country the more complex the processes – but these should by now have been sorted. The longer they drag the slimmer the chances of a SAGP (or the greater the chances of another Spa reprieve).
What are the chances of a 2024 South African Grand Prix?
The same as of a Belgian Grand Prix at Spa next year: 50/50. True, that is higher than last year's most optimistic wager of 20% for Kyalami, but there is no such thing as a 20% or 50% grand prix; it's 100% or zero. The bottom line is 777 and Brown need to cut deals with Kyalami and F1 – and post haste – or they, too, will run out of credibility!
What happens now?
What happens next?
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem demands that only confirmed calendars are presented to the World Motorsport Council for ratification, which grants F1 a breather until 20 June, when the next WMSC meeting is held (in Cordoba).
Although no revised 777 deadline has been communicated it is likely to be 31 May, giving F1 three weeks to strike a deal with Spa – unless F1 delays a final decision to the 19 October WMSC session. That said, F1 could request an e-vote once the calendar is finalised, but MBS prefers to communicate such formalities – for what is after all the FIA Formula 1 World Championship – in post-WMSC media releases.
So, what will actually happen?
I fear this is last chance saloon for a SAGP, whether at Kyalami or elsewhere.
After all the missed deadlines I would not blame F1 for pulling the plug; equally, constantly shifting timelines have created a somewhat cavalier approach to deadlines, and for that F1 only has itself to blame.
In the days of Bernie Ecclestone, deadlines were just that – projects were dead once missed – but he didn't have FWONK share prices to chase.
What 777, Brown and Kyalami seem to have missed is that the circuit is not the only game in town: Africa is a vast continent, and today's TV technologies means a Grand Prix hosted in the Sahara would pull as many global eyeballs as one staged in South Africa and with a lot less faffing about all while ticking F1's 'every continent' box.
Meantime the chances of Spa edging beyond 50% for the next few years at least increase daily…
Where would you prefer F1 to race in 2024, Kyalami or Spa? Let us know what you think in the poll below and in the comments section!
Balve Bains is joined by RacingNews365.com Editorial Director Dieter Rencken and Asia Correspondent Michael Butterworth to dissect the key talking points from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.