Johannesburg - The revelation earlier this week that Formula One boss Stefano Domenicali would be in the country to discuss the possibility of the return of the South African Grand Prix, had local motorsport fans positively beaming with delight, that is for sure.
The content of the not-so-secret meeting on Monday at Kyalami Racetrack in the north of Johannesburg, however, remains largely a mystery as tentative commercial negotiations continue between F1 and various stakeholders within the country. Nevertheless, after reaching out to Porsche South Africa and Motorsport South Africa (MSA), IOL Sport understands that the discussions were of a positive nature but that there is still much to negotiate.
Porsche SA currently owns Kyalami through Toby Venter’s consortium of companies. As such it was Porsche’s group public relations manager, Christo Kruger, who revealed on Wednesday in a telephonic interview, just a smidgen more of what was discussed between F1 CEO Domenicali, Venter and Co earlier this week.
“We can confirm that negotiations are happening,” Kruger said, “but there are no contracts in place. We are getting the event's promoters to reach contractual agreements in place with certain, various role-players and Kyalami is just one of the role-players.
“Monday, amongst other people, was a meeting with (Venter) and Kyalami for Domecicali to come and visit the track. It was a site visit really, a: ‘Hello, yes, how are you? Nice to meet you’ kind of thing but F1 has already been out here and the FIA have been involved in terms of what will be required to upgrade the track.
“It is still speculative,” Kruger stressed. “Yes, everyone’s desire is to have the race, but there are still lots of things that need to be put into place and funds need to start flowing before it is confirmed.”
Currently, Kyalami is classified by the FIA as a Grade 2 track and must be upgraded to Grade 1 if it is to successfully be certified for F1. This, however, is a minor concern.
Said Kruger: “There will be some changes to the barriers, run off areas, etc. (Upgrading the track) does not require a huge investment because the fundamental layout of the track will not be affected …
“F1 have done the telemetry and have figured out how fast a car will be going into various corners. They just want to make sure that if somebody does go off, that they are as safe as possible. On some of the gravel traps they want asphalt there so that if somebody does go off, they can rejoin the race as opposed to being stuck in kitty litter.”
“It (the upgrades) can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time ... A 2023 race is the aim.”
Meanwhile, MSA – the national administrative and regulatory body for both the FIA and FIM within the country, also acknowledged the meeting on Monday. MSA revealed that they are not currently involved in the negotiations as it is currently for commercial rights and not logistical and regulatory considerations.
“The discussions currently going are around the commercial aspects of hosting a F1 GP in SA,” MSA CEO Adrian Scholtz revealed via email.
“(Domenicali) is the president and CEO of the F1 Group, which promotes and exercises the commercial rights for the FIA F1 world championship. MSA is not involved in these discussions and neither, to my knowledge, is the FIA.
“The FIA’s role is an administrative and regulatory one, as is MSA’s.
“The FIA does not involve itself with the commercial aspects of F1 but rather looks after sporting aspects such as the regulations, race officials, etc. MSA, as the FIA affiliate for South Africa, provides local support."
Both Kruger and Scholtz confirmed that Governmental approval would be required to host the event at national, provincial and city level.
“Government needs to give their approval,” Kruger stated, “but they are not financially involved.”