At the end of each season, Formula 1 awards two trophies, one to the driver who scored the most points over the year, and another to the team that did the same. Officially, these trophies are for the “World Drivers’ Championship” and the “World Constructors’ Championship”.
The word “world” suggests the championship takes place right across the globe, involving races on every continent. Except, that isn’t quite the case, as the continent of Africa doesn’t host a single Grand Prix.
Formula 1 has come a long way over the last couple of decades. Before the turn of the millennium, the season took place almost exclusively in Europe, with a stop in Australia, Canada and Japan, to add a degree of globalisation.
As of late July 2021, the current season features seven non-European races, though this number had been higher before the Chinese, Canadian, Singaporean, and Australian Grands Prix were cancelled. If they had gone ahead, nearly 50% of the season would have taken place outside of Europe.
While this makes it much more of a global championship, Africa is still missing.
This wasn’t always the case though. Until 1993, a South African Grand Prix had featured on the calendar. The race was held in East London until 1966, then at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Midrand until 1985. The race then disappeared until a brief return in 1992 and 1993. The only other race on the continent was the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix, a non-championship event that took place in Casablanca.
There are certainly plenty of F1 fans on the continent, and racing in at least one African country would make the sport a truly global championship. But is there any prospect of Formula 1 cars appearing in South Africa, Nigeria, or any other country any time soon?
Under New Management
For a very long time, Formula 1 was under the control of its “supremo”, Bernie Ecclestone. The Brit had started his career as a chemical lab assistant before moving on to becoming a car dealer. This was his path into motorsport, and he attempted to make it as a driver, though he failed to actually start any races.
He later bought the Brabham race team and eventually manoeuvred himself into a position as the head of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA). From here, he managed to secure the commercial rights to the sport from the FIA.
He remained in charge of the sport until Liberty Media bought the sport in 2016 and immediately began to modernise it. It’s done this by providing fans with more data during races, creating new rules for the cars to make racing more exciting, and tweaking the procedures for race restarts.
Under the new management, betting on F1 has become easier after new data feeds were provided to betting companies. As a result, many more fans are taking up the offers of free bets from bookmakers as they place wagers on the outcomes of the race.
Perhaps the most noticeable change in recent years is the inclusion of new races on the calendar. In 2021, Saudi Arabia will host its first Grand Prix, and Vietnam had been planned for 2020 but was postponed. Next year, the US will get a second race with the addition of the Miami Grand Prix.
While new circuits continue to be added, an Africa-shaped hole is still visible in the calendar.
This could change soon though. In early 2021, F1’s Global Director of Race Promotion, Chloe Targett-Adams told a Blackbook online seminar that an event in Africa is “something that we very much want” and added that “it’s the priority”.
Is An African Race Possible?
There is a lot of appetite for hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix in Africa. For the sport, the continent’s young population presents a lot of commercial opportunities to create lifelong fans. The sport’s executives also declared this to be a big part of the rationale for the race in Vietnam.
Targett-Adams also revealed that the sport has been holding conversations with a number of promoters about the possibility of hosting races at numerous circuits in Africa.
However, there are some hurdles that need to be overcome before the paddock can roll up at an African race track. The first one is money, hosting a race isn’t cheap, and it can be difficult for governments to justify spending such sums on hosting a vanity project when that money could be invested in healthcare or infrastructure.
If private investors were to pay for the race instead, then it needs to be commercially viable, and that may be a big struggle.
Another big issue is that there are currently no circuits in Africa that meet the FIA’s strict “Grade One” standard that is required for hosting an F1 race. However, the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan in Marrakech and the Kyalami Circuit in South Africa have received “Grade Two” certification, meaning they could be upgraded relatively easily.
The other major hurdle is that the calendar is already incredibly busy. In the mid-2000s, F1 visited around 17 circuits each year. In 2021, it has a record-breaking 23-race schedule.
Without creating increased pressures on teams who are already limited to how much they can spend, and placing even more demand on severely stretched personnel, the Formula 1 calendar can’t be increased much further.
Yet the sport’s bosses are still looking for more options for races in Asia and remain open to hosting a third Grand Prix in the United States.
Will We See F1 in Africa?
Formula 1 already has a fairly global championship with races in Australia, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. However, Africa continues to be left out.
There is clearly a lot of demand for a race on the continent as is evidenced by the sport’s bosses’ words and actions. It seems unlikely that a race will take place in the next couple of seasons though as money, safety upgrades, and a congested calendar will all make its inclusion difficult in the near term.
But will we see a race in Africa eventually? Probably.
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