• The Inside Line

F1's new (old) frontier?

Kate Walker January 22, 2015
South Africa used to be a mainstay on the F1 calendar © Sutton Images
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Africa is the only inhabited continent which does not play host to a grand prix. Since F1 left Kyalami in 1993, there has been a sizeable void in the world championship calendar, and recent weeks have seen increased chatter surrounding the viability of a race in South Africa.

Rumours of a return to Kyalami reappear every few years, and what sets the current South Africa story apart is that it features a race in Cape Town.

Bernie Ecclestone told the Press Association that he could see a race taking place as early as 2016, which points at a likely street race. Cape Town is home to the Killarney Motor Racing Complex, a facility which was upgraded to Formula One standard back in 1959, but while the venue remains popular for local racing, it's not exactly suitable for F1 as it is today.

Anthony Hamilton, father of world champion Lewis, is said to have been working on a Cape Town F1 project for the past two years, while an organisation called Cape Town Grand Prix was first founded in 2007 with a view to putting South Africa back on the F1 calendar by 2014. That project floundered in 2013, as did a number of other attempts to put on a race, when local councillors vetoed the proposed circuit and voiced concerns about costs to the city itself.

In March 2013, Cape Town tourism, events and marketing executive director Anton Groenewald - who still holds the position today - told local media: "We are not in favour of it because of the huge cost implications to the city."

"Talk of a Cape Town Grand Prix is more likely to be a scare tactic to speed up a different race discussion somewhere else in Africa."

So far, talk of a race in South Africa has come from Formula One, and not from anyone in Cape Town putting their weight behind a bid. The city government website makes no mention of a race either fixed or proposed, while in her most recent State of the Province address, Premier Helen Zille does not include it in a list of projects aimed at promoting growth in the region.

All of which implies that talk of a Cape Town Grand Prix is more likely to be a scare tactic to speed up a different race discussion somewhere else in Africa than it is an ongoing negotiation.

In terms of its GDP, South Africa is the second-largest African economy. But there are plenty of other countries with the financial clout to put on a race should they choose to do so. The Nigerian government may have its hands full with Boko Haram, but in the finest tradition of panem et circenses may find sport to be a convenient means of distracting the public from the realities at hand.

Late last year an economic restructuring saw Kenya jump into the top ten African economies, and with tourist infrastructure already in place it could be an ideal location for a race if the government finds Formula One an appealing prospect for international promotion. Similarly, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco can also be found in the top ten economies and are possessed of decent tourist infrastructure and hotel stock.

Increased economic growth in recent years has seen numerous African countries reclassify their GDPs to account for the increased role of tourism and other sectors where once their economies were almost fully resource-reliant. As these sectors grow and economies continue to mature and diversify, one or more African countries will see the appeal in using Formula One to boost their international profile while playing host to some corporate heavy-hitters.

Just don't expect that country to be South Africa...

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.
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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'.