Just as we predicted.
It gives us no pleasure to say this, but here it goes: we told you so.
When rumors about F1's return to Africa emerged, we predicted it would all fall apart. Lo and behold, it finally happened. Talks between the FIA, South Africa's local motorsport promoter, and the current owner of Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit broke down. According to RacingNews365, a new local advocate will be found, and the Kyalami Grand Prix will only potentially happen in 2024 - subject to the new negotiations being fruitful.
The promoter responsible for the 2023 negotiations was South African Grand Prix (Pty) Ltd. (SAGP), and the man who led the charge was Warren Scheckter. Warren Scheckter is the nephew of former F1 champion Jody Scheckter. RacingNews365 reports that the Scheckters have been informed of the decision.
It's a sad day in South Africa. Kyalami is a world-class facility, and Audi even chose to name a color after it. You can get an Audi RS3 in Kyalami Green.
As we stated in our original opinion piece, the owner of Kyalami, Toby Venter, was extremely open to the idea of an African F1 at his track but was unwilling to foot the bill. His reasons for not wanting to do so are sound. Every South African Grand Prix promoter in history has gone bankrupt. The bill was just too big for any one person, which meant the promoters had only two viable options.
Soon after the original opinion piece went up, I received an e-mail from an anonymous source who stated that several South African business people were pooling their resources to make it happen. That idea obviously fell through because the promoters eventually turned to the government for help.
I warned against this, though it has to be said that the government never asked for money. It proposed a special tourist levy but could not guarantee anything.
SAGP then reportedly turned to one of South Africa's richest men, Patrice Motsepe. Motsepe was willing to loan the money to fund the event, which solved one problem. Unfortunately, it could not meet the Kyalami track's lease conditions.
We don't know what these conditions were, but we know enough to hazard a guess. The upgrades needed to host an F1 race were more substantial than initially thought. The initial rumors suggested more runoff at turn 1, but the bill eventually came to $15 million.
In addition to the high upgrade bill, the timing was also off. The FIA wanted to host the first African Grand Prix in 30 years in April. There simply wasn't enough time to get the track ready. It's a common misconception that Kyalami is empty most of the time. It's actually a beehive of activity, used for multiple local events and advanced driver training. It recently hosted the South African Festival of Motoring and will shortly host the local BMW M Festival.
Kyalami also already hosts a significant international racing event. The Kyalami 9 Hour is part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge and is scheduled for December. Any upgrades would have had a negative impact on all of the events above.
We've spoken directly to sources at Kyalami, who stated that it was essential that tickets be affordable to the average South African. We can't confirm this was a factor, but it was one of the main talking points since this ordeal started. At one point, we heard rumors about R5,000 per ticket, roughly $300.
There were reports thereafter that they would be made much more affordable, but it is now understood that this hinged on the attendance of more than 100,000 people. Anyone who has been to Kyalami will tell you it cannot host this many people, especially once the teams' motorhomes and hospitality suites are in place - the location of which would be another logistical nightmare.
All is not lost, however. According to the rumor mill, a new group is tackling the project, partially funded by a Miami-based company. Talks have reportedly already started, but we'll believe it when we see an official press release from the FIA.
In the meantime, the Belgian Grand Prix, which was in danger of being replaced by Kyalami, has been confirmed for 2023.