London - Formula One wants to go back to Africa and Gauteng's Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit is keen to host a race, as is the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, the sport's commercial managing director Sean Bratches said on Thursday.
"It's a marketplace in which we would like to race," Bratches said at a Sport Industry Breakfast Club event, two days after Formula One announced the return of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in 2020 after a 35-year absence.
"We race on five continents now and the last habitable continent that we don’t race in is Africa," said Bratches.
"We've been having very productive conversations in South Africa and to a lesser extent in Morocco about bringing a grand prix... we're on it. It's really important to us."
Kyalami spokesperson Christo Kruger told IOL: "We support all efforts and remain committed to hosting a Formula One Grand Prix at Kyalami."
However, any further comment would be pure speculation at this stage.
A Formula One Grand Prix in South Africa is thus still more of a desire than a concrete plan, it would appear. This is also not the first time that a Formula One return to South Africa has been mooted by series organisers, and many variables, including funding models, would need to be worked out before the nation could hear the scream of F1 engines again. The cost of hosting a grand prix is known to be prohibitive, and although there is no official rate card, the hosting fees alone are believed to be in excess of $30 million, or R420m in our money.
South Africa has hosted plenty of world championship grands prix in the past, with East London featuring in the 1960s and Kyalami 20 times between 1967 and 1993.
Other African countries also interested
Bratches said there was a "high degree of interest" from Morocco in a circuit race in Marrakesh, with the authorities seeing Formula One as an economic engine for growth and tourism.
The all-electric Formula E series already holds an annual street race there.
"The vast majority of our grands prix are underpinned by government and it's because it works. We shine a bright light on these cities," said Bratches.
Formula One's director of Strategy and Business Development, Yath Gangakumaran, told reporters that Rwanda and Nigeria were also keen to be involved in fan events.
"I think Rwanda in particular have seen the benefits of the Arsenal sponsorship deal," he said. The Premier League club has had a 'Visit Rwanda' logo on players' left shirt sleeves since last year.
"There's a lot of interest not just for races but for actuations throughout the continent."
New races coming, while others seem vulnerable
Next season will see two new grands prix added to the calendar, with Zandvoort and the debut of Vietnam, but Mexico, Spain, Germany and Britain are out of contract at the end of 2019.
Mexico, Germany and Spain face particularly uncertain futures.
"We are optimistic about the prospect of a 21 grand prix schedule next year," said Bratches. "I don't think we are going to have more than that."
Tne American said "productive conversations" were continuing with the Mexican promoter, whose race is set to lose essential government funding, and British GP hosts Silverstone, who say they cannot afford the current terms.
A second US race in Miami remains on the cards, despite Formula One and local organisers giving up on plans for a race downtown and focusing now on land next to the Miami Dolphins' Hard Rock Stadium.
"In an ideal circumstance we would be racing downtown Miami or downtown Las Vegas," said Bratches. "Those are the two cities in the United States that best align with our brand and our aspirations.
"We are going to try and create the best experience in each market that (circumstances) will permit, not only from a racing standpoint but a fan engagement and economic standpoint... it's still viable."
The Miami race was originally scheduled for 2019 but pushed back due to until at least 2020 after local opposition to the proposed harbourside layout.
IOL & Reuters