F1 came “incredibly close” to securing a deal with Kyalami for South African GP, reveals FIA Senate Member

Photo Credit: Kyalami Circuit
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As Formula 1 increased its global expansion over the past couple of years, adding several races in the United States and across the Middle East, discussions about a potential return to Kyalami started gaining traction—and plausibility.

Kyalami was a staple of the F1 calendar throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, with the venue hosting twenty editions of the South African Grand Prix between 1967 and 1993.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali reiterated his desire to see the sport return to Africa on numerous occasions, particularly as the world gradually began to open up again post-Covid 19.

“On top of America, on top of China, I think there is a potential also to be in Africa soon,” Domenicali told Sky Sports F1 in early 2022.

“There is a lot of interest there. For sure that’s another area that so far is missing in the geography of our calendar.”

Later that year, he travelled to South Africa to meet with Kyalami officials and stakeholders to discuss the possibility of reviving the Grand Prix, with rumours suggesting a spot could open up as early as 2023.

When South Africa last hosted a race in 1993, the calendar featured sixteen races (with Kyalami hosting the season opener). That number has ballooned to twenty four race weekends under the current Concorde Agreement. As such, many began to speculate that Kyalami would be a replacement for an existing race, with fan favourite Spa looking at risk of being dropped. 

In order to secure its spot on the calendar, Kyalami would first need to attain FIA Grade 1 status.

Speaking to Slipstream SA, Anton Roux, Motorsport South Africa Chairperson and FIA Senate Member, insisted that this is doable: “[The changes required] are small. It’s not an insurmountable problem. There are other bigger challenges that we would need to overcome, but the actual circuit is not the issue. The changes to the circuit are minuscule, it’s small!”

He revealed that the initial talks between the South African Grand Prix promoter and Formula One Management (FOM) were encouraging, and that the parties actually came tantalisingly close to securing a deal. 

“[It] was incredibly close. I think everything was agreed.”

However, negotiations stalled, and it quickly became evident that a Kyalami return was unlikely to materialise in 2023. One of the factors hindering progress is believed to be the problematic nature of South Africa’s relationship with Russia.

Sochi hosted the Russian Grand Prix between from 2014 to 2021, with plans to move the event to Igora Drive near Saint Petersburg from 2023 onwards. Formula 1 severed its ties with Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Kyalami didn’t appear on the calendar for the 2024 season (revealed in mid-2023), either. 

As Roux explained: “To bring a Formula One event to South Africa, you need all the parties. These parties are the Formula One organisation, the FIA, an international promoter, and a local promoter for such an event.

“And then obviously, you can’t host such an event without approval from the government, and that is on a national as well as a provincial level.

“So all of those agreements were in place, [but] what you must remember is that Formula One belongs to Liberty Media, which is a listed entity on the New York Stock Exchange.”

He added that the sport’s ever-growing popularity has translated to increased interest from attractive potential venues, all vying for a spot on the calendar. Some of the most recent additions include Las Vegas (which, despite some teething issues, was generally considered a success) and Madrid (just last month it was confirmed that the Spanish Grand Prix will be moving to a new street circuit from 2026). 

“And, clearly when you’ve got the Formula One organisation, and you’ve got a host of countries and cities around the world wanting to host a Formula One event, we were placed at a huge disadvantage and therefore they decided to pursue some of the other options,” Roux continued.

“Cities like Las Vegas are putting down 500 million dollars to host an event. Now, if you are the owner of the series, then you’ve got to make a decision as to where you’re gonna put future events. There’s a financial benefit in it, as the owner of the series.”

For now, Kyalami’s future remains uncertain, with Roux admitting that he “doubts” whether talks between the event promoter and FOM will resume. 

“So, we have a significant disadvantage, and the only card that we’ve got to play is that there’s no event taking place on the African continent. That’s actually all we’ve got!”