Johannesburg - Every couple of years the rumour mill goes into overdrive about South Africa’s possible return to the Formula One calendar.
The latest news to get local F1 fans abuzz is the recent change of ownership, with the takeover of the sport by Liberty Media and the exit of long-running ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone.
The sport’s new chief executive, Chase Carey, is keen to expand F1 on a global scale and has hinted at potential new Grands Prix in the United States and Britain. But what about a South African Grand Prix?
Sky News has set up a poll as to where fans think F1 races should be run in future and an SA Grand Prix is featuring strongly in third place with more than 12 000 votes (behind London and the Netherlands). The link for the poll is goo.gl/cvFCDV.
“Like Argentina, South Africa is a grand prix many of today’s drivers would like to experience,” proclaims the website. “Kyalami hasn’t hosted a race since 1993, but is now reportedly close to F1 standards.” The latter statement refers to Kyalami’s recent multimillion-rand revamp which sees it graded for every form of motorsport except F1.
R1 billion for a slot on the calendar?
If a promoter made a good business plan for hosting a local grand prix, perhaps with a race deal running over several years, then it would be worthwhile to upgrade Kyalami to F1 spec, says its spokesperson, Christo Kruger. Most of the facilities are up to scratch, but some of the run-off areas would most likely need to be extended to make the track safer for F1 cars.
However, having a suitable venue isn’t the biggest obstacle to staging an F1 race in South Africa, but rather the high fee that was demanded by Ecclestone to bring his motorised circus here.
It’s the same hurdle that has put paid to every attempt to bring F1 back to South Africa since the last race was held here in 1993, including reputed plans to host a Grand Prix on the streets of Cape Town.
Azerbaijan reportedly paid $75 million (R1 billion) to get its slot on the calendar, and that’s likely a fee too large for any local sponsor to cough up. Ticket sales? At Kyalami’s crowd capacity of 70 000 it would cost each spectator more than R14 000, and that just won’t wash.
Don't hold your breath
Government funding would be the next step, but against so many other more pressing matters (housing, roads, education, hospitals, etc), spending so much taxpayer money on bringing 20 playboys to circulate a racetrack for a weekend pales into insignificance.
Even richer countries have said the price is too high, with Germany’s contract ending after the 2018 race at Hockenheim.
The only hope of getting a GP run on South African soil is to make the asking fee much cheaper. Perhaps there is some hope of this with new blood running the circus, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Better to wish for a cheaper way of watching F1 races on the screen, and here there is a real prospect.
Carey has said that streaming F1 online is part of his plan, which would bypass traditional television broadcasters and make it much cheaper than signing a DStv subscription.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Follow Denis Droppa on Twitter @DenisDroppa