Formula 1 looks set to return to Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit

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Lewis Hamilton defied the odds to win the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo on Sunday Photo: Buda Mendes / Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton defied the odds to win the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo on Sunday Photo: Buda Mendes / Getty Images

SPORT


Formula 1 is seemingly on the brink of welcoming back the South African Grand Prix on its calendar as early as next year.

If all goes well, the event will be staged at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Johannesburg, which last hosted Formula 1 machinery back in 1993, after it played host to 21 races.

As a part of F1’s push to race on all continents – to truly give the championship its “world championship” status – talks have been continuing regarding a return to South Africa for some time.

READ: Excitement builds around F1's possible move to SA as Kyalami plots compliancy upgrade

F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali previously travelled to the country to meet Kyalami officials in a bid to seal the deal.

An announcement of the South African Grand Prix would ensure that the F1 reaches its 24-race limit, putting the likes of Belgium and France at risk of being axed from the calendar.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has been pining for a return to the continent.

The [thing] that is most important for me is to get a race back in South Africa. It’s a place that I really feel is dear to my heart. There is a great following out there and I think it would be great to be able to highlight just how beautiful the motherland is.


Since Liberty Media took control of the championship five years ago, it has been the company’s ambition to extend the championship to Africa, while also adding further races in both America and Asia.

Domenicali told journalists in March: 

On top of America, on top of China, I think there is a potential also to be in Africa very soon.

In previous months, there have been mixed reactions from locals to the imminent return of an F1 weekend.

Many were doubtful on all sorts of grounds, including the cost and the country’s ability to host such a large event, as well as infrastructure and security.

The noise being made thus far should keep a smile on South Africans’ faces, though, as most of it suggests that a return of the sport is likely to have a profoundly positive effect on the country.

The F1 comes with huge financial backing that South Africans can take advantage of.

The sport has 506 million fans around the globe, with an average race attendance of more than 200 000, creating multiple cultural and economic benefits for any host country.

READ: SA MotoGP ace Brad Binder backs Kyalami for Formula 1 return

Its return to South Africa will positively affect local and national tourism, as well as global visibility, enhanced economic activity and job creation.

The real economic firepower that the F1 possesses was made clear in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw a $277.3 million (R4.7 billion) increase in economic value in 2016 and 2017 combined.

On average, it costs about $40 million a year to host an F1 race, without any track maintenance expenses, which are normally a long-term multiyear deal.

And while the event may not make all of its money back solely from the F1, feeder series and other race categories may use the venue throughout the year, which normally balances the books annually.

While the track organisers may struggle to make much of a profit, the sheer amount of money poured into South Africa will be astronomical, making the F1 one of the world’s most powerful tourism adverts.

The Kyalami circuit does require an upgrade to make International Automobile Federation Grade 1 status, though, mainly due to a few safety concerns for the high-speed cars.

Government should supply help, if needed, to the organisers to sustain the track and the event.

It is a happy and proud moment for South Africans to see the sport return, as the country has been starved of action since Alain Prost’s win in 1993.

The 33% increase in F1 fans in the past two years should make for many a new local fan’s special moment when they experience their first race in Kyalami.

It seems like only a matter of time before we can say the F1 has returned to South Africa, at long last!


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