South African F1 would create 'huge uplift' but 'work to be done'

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An Ayrton Senna fan waves a flag of the driver's nation Brazil at the South African Grand Prix of 1993The great Ayrton Senna drove in the last African grand prix, in South Africa in 1993, a year before the Brazilian's death

A Formula 1 race in South Africa is not an expensive luxury but would provide wider benefits, says the man bidding for the sport's return to the country.

Warren Scheckter, the nephew of Africa's only F1 champion Jody Scheckter (in 1979), is involved in negotiations as chief executive of South African Grand Prix.

F1 president Stefano Domenicali flew to South Africa this week to meet with representatives of the Kyalami circuit, which could host the race.

The country could be on the calendar as soon as next year, with hopes F1 will return to the continent for the first time since 1993 when Alain Prost won at Kyalami, which is just outside Johannesburg.

"You need to have a look at what a Formula 1 event actually does for a country," Warren Scheckter told BBC Sport Africa.

"Everyone looks at it as just a very glamorous sport, but the reality of what it does for a country is it creates a huge uplift.

"From an economic standpoint, you can see what it's done for events around around the globe. There's a huge contribution to GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

"It's billions of [South African] rand of contribution to GDP, it creates thousands of jobs, brings in tens of thousands of tourists and essentially creates a huge economic stimulus for the country."

Scheckter stressed that both government and many businesses were financially backing the project.

Race can fund 'other initiatives'

Alain Prost celebrating winning the 1993 South African Grand PrixFrench driver Alain Prost was the last winner of a Formula 1 race in South Africa, in 1993

Scheckter was also keen to point out that the benefits of hosting an F1 race are not restricted to the few days around the event.

"Formula 1 comes back every single year for many, many years and even in between those events, there's a lot of activity - development programmes and things of that nature," he explained.

"So it really is bringing so much to the community and the country. It is such an uplift for the country as a whole, that it absolutely is worth the investment.

"There will be more funding for all those other initiatives that the country sorely needs - more housing development, schools, healthcare and things of that nature. More inflow of currency into the economy and uplifting the economy."

Political pistons

British Formula 1 driver Lewis HamiltonLewis Hamilton, who is racing for Mercedes this year, has backed the sport's return to South Africa

Scheckter, who founded the South African Grand Prix company, added that the vast majority of the project's financial backing stems from businesses.

"This initiative is predominantly funded by the private sector, so that's very important to understand," he stressed.

"Certainly there is government support for this. The way government is supporting it is through a national tourism levy, which is helping to fund the event."

The current F1 World Championship features races around the globe but not in Africa, something the sport's owners Liberty Media are keen to change.

"As a global sport, it's very important to have a race in every continent and Africa is the last continent that Formula One is not on," Scheckter pointed out.

"I think it is very important for [Liberty Media], it's also important as far as growing the sport. Africa is a very important market for Formula 1 with a population of over 1.3 billion people.

"It will offer the opportunity to a lot more people to get involved in the sport, creating more opportunities for all demographics, not only from a fan standpoint, but also from a participant standpoint as well."

Jody Scheckter, who won 10 races from 1972-1980 and who bowed out a year after his title in a Ferrari, is the last African to have contested an F1 race.

Work to be done - but backing from Hamilton

Despite the talks with Domenicali appearing to be progressing smoothly, Warren Scheckter is keen to point out that any confirmation of a race in South Africa is still a few months away.

"I think the conversations all went very, very well. There's still lots of work to be done to make this a reality," he explained.

"There are so many stakeholders involved in an event of this magnitude that there are a lot of deals that have to be done for the proverbial final deal to be done.

"The stumbling blocks are essentially being able to get all of that done in a very short period of time.

"I can't give an exact date of when we can have definitive things in place, but it has to be in the next few months. So time is tight."

Alain Prost competing at the 1993 South African Grand PrixProst's 1993 South African Grand Prix car is a far cry from those that could race again at Kyalami in 2023

One man who is keen to see a race in South Africa once again is Britain's seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

"The place that I really feel is dear to my heart and most important to get a race back is in South Africa," the 37-year-old said recently.

"There is a great following out there and I think it would be great to be able to highlight just how beautiful the motherland is."

Scheckter says Hamilton voicing support has been "very helpful" in their efforts to secure a race.

"Someone like Lewis has such a huge audience, huge following and incredible reach," Scheckter enthused.

"He has such great power and is able to influence perception for the sport. It's highlighted how much there is a desire for a South African Grand Prix.

"Lewis is looking to the future and even while he's racing, it'd be fantastic to have him in support of the event, and also all the development programmes and initiatives we're going to have in and around the event.

"We want to create more opportunities for new people to get involved in the sport - from an education standpoint, an engineering standpoint and giving access to people to be able to try and get involved as drivers as well."

Jody Scheckter of Ferrari in conversation with Mauro Forghieri in 1979Jody Scheckter (left) is Africa's only ever Formula 1 world champion, winning in 1979 with Ferrari
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