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SA could host a Formula 1 Grand Prix ‘as soon as 2022’

19 March 2020 - 07:35 By Denis Droppa
SA last hosted a Formula One Grand Prix in 1993, at Kyalami. Picture: CLASSIC FORMULA 1
SA last hosted a Formula One Grand Prix in 1993, at Kyalami. Picture: CLASSIC FORMULA 1

It is claimed that SA could host a Formula One race as soon as 2022, bringing the country back into the Grand Prix fold for the first time in nearly three decades. SA last hosted an F1 race at Johannesburg’s Kyalami circuit in 1993.

Local fans of the sport have become cynical of such announcements after a number of initiatives to return the country to the calendar have failed mainly due to the high cost of the hosting fees. But Warren Scheckter, founder and CEO of South African GP (SAGP), believes an F1 race at Kyalami could be imminent with combined corporate and taxpayer sponsorship.

Scheckter, who is the son of former F1 driver Ian Scheckter and nephew of SA’s 1979 F1 world champion Jody Scheckter, established SAGP in 2015 with the intent of bringing F1 events back to SA.

With a background as a commercial director for racing teams overseas, he has been working for the past four years to make a South African Grand Prix a reality with the assistance of UK-based Jody, who is President of SAGP, and local businessmen Jabu Mabuza and Keith Doig, who are respectively chairman and executive director.

Funding a local F1 race has always been a sticking point, with the hosting fee demanded by organisers proving too expensive to attract corporate sponsorship and government unwilling to support what was seen as a “white elitist” sport.

But Scheckter told Motor News he is close to securing the necessary sponsorship from private and government sources. 

“This is not just a sporting event but an economic driver for the country,” he told Motor News. “The tax revenues generated from Grand Prix events alone far outweigh the costs."

It’s a message he has been pitching to government, particularly the tourism income and job creation opportunities such an event could bring, and he says the venture has received positive support.

As for the “elitist” tag, Scheckter says an SA Grand Prix would be affordable to spectators with ticket prices expected to start from about R200 for the Friday practice session. 

“The desire and the buy in for a South African Grand Prix is there, although there are many details to work out because of so many stakeholders,” he said.  

Scheckter would not quote the hosting fee but said it would be less than the $31m (R509m) usually demanded by F1’s organisers. He said that the sport’s new promoters, Liberty Media, were keen to bring F1 back to Africa and “were working with us to make it more cost effective”.

Warren Scheckter, founder and CEO of South African GP. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Warren Scheckter, founder and CEO of South African GP. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

In May 2019, F1’s commercial MD Sean Bratches announced that the sport wanted to go back to Africa and named Johannesburg and the Moroccan city of Marrakesh as possible host venues.

“We race on five continents now and the last habitable continent we don’t race in is Africa,” he said at the time. “We’ve been having very productive conversations in SA and, to a lesser extent, in Morocco about bringing a grand prix … we’re on it. It’s really important to us.”

Morocco and SA have hosted world championship grands prix in the past, Casablanca in 1958 and SA in East London in the 1960s and Kyalami 20 times between 1967 and 1993.

Scheckter believes SA is the frontrunner for a Grand Prix on the continent due to its long F1 history and its experience in hosting major events like the football and rugby world cup tournaments.

Kyalami is the most suitable venue after being purchased by new owners in 2014 and extensively revamped, though the circuit requires some additional investment to bring it up to F1-level grading.

Scheckter is confident that this won’t be another stillborn attempt get the country back on the Formula One calendar, and is hoping to confirm a date for an SA Grand Prix within the next year. 

* Formula 1 has announced that due to the ongoing global situation regarding Covid-19 the Heineken F1 Joburg Festival due to take place on March 29 has been postponed to protect the safety of fans and participants attending the event.

A decision on a rescheduling will be made at the right time from a public safety perspective, it said.

All fans who purchased tickets for the event will be offered a full refund. Tickets can be returned at any Shoprite, Checkers, Checkers Hyper, Computicket outlets or House & Home stores for full refunds until April 13 2020.

All uncollected tickets and print at home transactions made via call centre and web will be refunded automatically and will reflect within three to seven working days.

For all ticket queries, contact Computicket on 0861 915 8000.