Formula 1 has officially abandoned plans for a return to Kyalami in 2024 after an almost finalised deal broke down at the eleventh hour as a result of South Africa’s relationship with Russia.
Hope on the rise
What would have been the first South African Grand Prix since 1993 had been in the spotlight ever since mid-2022 when a delegation, led by CEO and president – Stefano Domenicali, visited the track for an inspection and oversight of the facilities.
The visit prompted immediate speculation over an apparent contract signing and securing of sponsorship from F1’s logistics partner, DHL, that would’ve kept Kyalami on the calendar until at least 2028. This despite the nature of upgrades required to obtain an FIA Grade 1 grading to host the Grand Prix.
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At present, the circuit has a Grade 2 certification that allows for most FIA sanctioned races to be held, excluding F1.
Speculation increased further when Dutch publication, De Telegraaf, obtained an image from the provisional 2023 F1 calendar showing Kyalami being present at the expense of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, the latter officially no longer part of this year’s championship.
Initial hope dasher
Nothing came to fruition though and despite allegations from 1979 F1 champion Jody Scheckter earlier this year about the real collapse of the deal, he attributed to greed on the part of the promoter.
However, racingnews365.com has blamed South Africa’s support for President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as the main reason.
In an interview with total-motorsport.com, former East London native Scheckter alleged that a deal was about to be signed and that government backing had been secured, but that a dramatic inflation of the final price tag resulted in F1 pulling the plug.
He also claimed that his nephew, Warren, whose SAGP organisation had been working to get F1 back to South Africa for six years, came off worst and was left with nothing as a result of the collapsed deal.
According to the racingnews365.com claim though, the eventual breakdown came as a result of South Africa’s involvement in BRICS and particularly its support of Russia that lost its slot on the 2022 F1 calendar following the invasion of Ukraine last February.
Reportedly, Miami-based promoter 777, led by Adam Brown who also promotes the Kyalami 9-Hour on behalf of SRO Motorsport that runs the Intercontinental GT Challenge that uses the event as its final round, had indeed agreed upon a deal to use Kyalami’s facilities for promotion of the race.
The war in Ukraine, the FIA’s ban on Russian events and refusal to allow Russian drivers to compete under their country’s assigned racing licence though, plus South Africa’s neutral stance on the conflict, subsequently resulted in the deal collapsing.
Accusations by the United States’ Ambassador Reuben Brigety of South Africa having supplied weapons to Russia following the docking of the Lady R container ship in Cape Town towards the end of last year, seemingly also contributed to the fallout, heightened further by F1 being owned by Liberty Media that operates out of the US state of Colorado.
In a further damming report by biznews.com said an $18-million investment by government had been secured and that a deal to host F1 at Kyalami in 2024 was on the brink of being signed as early as last month in Switzerland, until the saga surrounding Putin’s pending visit to South Africa in August for the annual BRICS summit emerged.
Reportedly, the South African government’s “guaranteed immunity” stance against Putin being arrested as per the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) proved to be the final straw that resulted in contracts and pens being put down.
Kyalami’s now confirmed exit will come to the benefit of Spa, whose contract to host the Belgian Grand Prix for another year in 2024, depended on whether a deal could be reached for South Africa that would have seen the iconic track removed for at least 12 months.
Contacted for comment, Motorsport South Africa (MSA) Chairman Anton Roux said while it is aware of the claims, “MSA and the FIA were not party to these discussions and, as per established protocols, will only get involved once agreement between F1 and a promoter is reached”.
Upon contacted for clarity, Kyalami’s owners responded by saying it has no comment on the matter “just yet”.
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