Formula 1 bringing back an African Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) /

Formula 1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali recently hinted about the return of an African Grand Prix, a prospect which has excited many fans.

Newly-appointed Formula 1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali has raised the prospects of a Grand Prix being held in Africa after he confirmed that recent discussions have taken place and that adding a race on the continent was a priority.

He used his first press conference as Formula 1 CEO to discuss the potential for a race there, which is very telling in itself. He stated the following.

"“This is something that is very important, I think, in terms of having a new place or an old place with great heritage back in Formula 1.”"

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Since then, the idea has supported by senior figures in the sport, with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton saying that it is “the place he wants in most.”

The most recent Formula 1 Grand Prix to be held in Africa was the 1993 South African Grand Prix in Kyalami, which was won by Alain Prost in the Williams-Renault after a late thunderstorm hit the track, flooding the circuit and leading to many spins and crashes. Since then, financial problems meant that the race was shelved and the circuit went through a turbulent time until it was put up for auction in July 2014 and bought by Porsche South Africa chairman Toby Venter for R205 million (US$19.5 million).

The following year, the track underwent major refurbishment work, which included circuit alterations, a complete resurfacing, safety improvements as well as new spectator areas and a newly improved pit building and VIP complex.

It is now a certified as a FIA Grade Two circuit, which allows it to host most international motorsport events.

It is a popular venue for series such as the International GT Challenge with the season-ending Kyalami 9 Hours. However, as the circuit is only listed at Grand Two, it does not comply with the specifications required to host a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

But as the track is owned by someone with substantial backing in the shape of Porsche South Africa chairman Toby Venter, if there is a willingness to host a Grand Prix in Kyalami, I am sure the means to upgrade the venue to the required standard will be forthcoming.

Such improvements have occurred in the past when there has been a desire from the track and Formula 1 to host a Grand Prix, and I do not see any reason why this time would be any different.

The new track is fast, flowing and would create a real challenge for teams and drivers alike if the sport was to return there.

It was a venue that was adored by Formula 1 during the 20 years it hosted the South African Grand Prix, and you can be sure that it will be well-received if the circus returns to Pretoria.

Other options could include a race in Morocco. In 1958, there was a 53-lap race around the 4.724-mile (7.602-kilometer) Ain-Diab Circuit in Casablanca. The race was won by Stirling Moss in the Vanwall after two hours and nine minutes of racing.

While Ain-Diab Circuit is long gone, Morocco has a more contemporary motorsport history on which it can rely.

Marrakech has hosted four Formula E races at the 14-turn, 1.846-mile (2.971-kilometer) Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan. Previously, it was used by the World Touring Car Cup, the World Touring Car Championship and Auto GP.

Formula 1 could either use the circuit as it is or make adaptations for the Grand Prix to incorporate some of the city streets along with the purpose-built track for a relaunched Morocco Grand Prix and the first race in the kingdom since 1958.

Options are scarce in the rest of the continent with very little motorsport heritage aside from the Dakar Rally. The first event took place in 1979, crossing from Paris to the Senegalese capital of Dakar. The event has grown in popularity year-on-year, with the 6,214-mile (10,000-kilometer) rally becoming one of the most prestigious motorsport events anywhere in the world.

With all things considered, a race at Kyalami makes the most sense. It is a circuit with a long history of motorsport and Grand Prix racing, and the track would certainly be one to challenge the drivers and help to mark Formula 1 as a truly international sport.

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Domenicali has said that any announcement is unlikely for a while, but this is the first indication of how the Italian may change from his predecessors. At long last, Grand Prix racing in Africa may soon be GO! GO! GO!