/ 12 September 2022

Why Kyalami’s 2023 F1 hopes were placed on ice

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The time and logistics needed to host an event of Formula One’s stature mean patience may win us the race in the long run. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Glued to the screen for the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa on Sunday, I was surprised by a carousel news flash stating that Spa will be back in 2023. Just like many South Africans, I was left feeling a little empty at the thought that Kyalami will not happen next year.  But why? I thought everything was going well, or at least that is what a few media publications had sold us.

Chatting to the promoter throughout the process and around the reasons it’s not happening, a statement around any concrete details will not be shared. That is something we can appreciate, given the complexity. But this does leave us to deduce for ourselves the reason behind 2023 not getting the green light.

The fee to host a Formula One race is about $35-million (around R608-million). That’s a lot of money. Think about packages ordered from Europe and the costly import costs and duties to get them here. Multiply those efforts to match what it would take to get an event like F1 with all its infrastructure to South Africa. The trucks, equipment, spares, team infrastructure … Mind blown yet? 

Logistics aside, Kyalami itself is just not ready yet. According to excerpts of reports, about $10-million is needed for track upgrades. The focus in F1, especially since Romain Grosjean’s fiery accident in Bahrain 2020, has heavily centred on improving driver safety. Sure, Monaco gets away with it, but they’re firmly established into the F1 circle. 

Despite having hosted F1 in 1993, we’re outsiders needing to conform to the rules. Significant adjustments such as adding increased run-off room are required. The tec-pro barriers must be sourced and shipped into the country, which takes time. 

Kyalami remains a world-class venue. A friend who races in the Le Mans Cup in Europe on tracks like Imola, Monza, Portimao and the Red Bull Ring confirms it is world-class and in some cases better. That sort of assurance is something valuable to add into the conversation. 

Behind each organisation are prudent business leaders who will not make rash or financially risky decisions just to make something happen. Toby Venter has said, “I’m in for it but not at all costs.” 

Although it is frustrating to those like myself who wanted something to happen sooner, this approach will stand us in better stead. This is not just a once-off event, but possibly an event that will recur long after young guns such as Lando Norris retire. 

Even with the debacle, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. This entire exercise shone a spotlight on the desperate hunger for world-class entertainment. It also showed the enthusiasm from all invested parties, including F1 boss Stefano Domenicali. 

Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and reigning champion Max Verstappen have both voiced their keen interest to race in South Africa. At no point am I trying to make any excuses around this organisation. Rushing anything never works out the best.

So for now, 2023 is a no-go, but as for 2024, that is very much still possible. Until the eventual green light, let’s keep supporting and building that excitement for when it does happen. We will be properly entertained.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.