Sunday 18 February 2024

South Africa's 'only card to play' is the absence of an African F1 race - Roux

Kyalami Grand Prix circuit main straight, and pit facility. 
PHOTO CREDIT: Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit
Long, twisty, and undulating, are but a few words to describe South Africa’s journey to bring Formula One back to the African continent after nearly 31 years. 

South Africa's Grand Prix history dates back to 1934 when races were first held in East London, before a move to Kyalami in Johannesburg.

As the years ticked on, the day finally arrived, and in 1993 Formula 1 hosted its final Grand Prix in South Africa, which was won by Alain Prost in a Williams at Kyalami. But, despite the departure of F1, motorsport within the country continued to thrive, with various tin-top championships, and single-seater races continuing, including the MotoGP Championship that raced in the southern tip of Africa until 2004. 

Whilst MotoGP also departed, in came the A1 Grand Prix championship, which was first held in Durban, before moving to Kyalami, but as the years progressed, the 4.529-kilometer circuit located in Midrand, Gauteng fell into disrepair, and came close to being sold to property developers. However, a late bid from Porsche SA's CEO Toby Venter, meant the iconic circuit's future was secure. And with further investments, to the value of R100 million, Kyalami began their facility upgrade project, broadening the pitlane, constructing bigger garages, and a state-of-the-art conference facility.

With the upgrades completed, in 2016, the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit earned FIA Grade 2 certification, which means the circuit can host the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as MotoGP, but to secure a Formula One return, Grade 1 certification is required, and to achieve this minor changes are required, mainly: run-off zones, and paddock facilities. 

Like many countries, there are governing bodies overseeing motorsport, and in South Africa,  Motorsport SA (MSA) sanctions all events in relation to rules and regulations, that emanate from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), as well as its membership with the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). This in turn means that no international event, or no acknowledged international event can take place within South Africa without MSA issuing a permit. 

The revamped 17-turn Kyalami Grand Prix circuit.
Circuit Map Credit: Kyalami Grand Prix circuit. 
Speaking to Slipstream SA about Formula 1 at Kyalami, Anton Roux, MSA Chairperson and FIA Senate Member explains the changes required to the track: “They 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!"

South Africa returned to the international spotlight in 2017 when the FIA World Rallycross Championship made its debut in Cape Town at the Killarney International Raceway, and just years later, the Intercontinental GT Challenge announced the revival of the famous Kyalami 9 Hour. 

In 2023, single-seater racing returned to the African continent in the form of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, which raced in Cape Town, before it too departed, with hints of a possible return in the not-too-distant future. 

With South Africa well and truly propelled back onto the international stage, talks began regarding a potential return of Formula One to the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit, but if we were to rewind to 2011 when talks first emerged to host F1 in Cape Town, those talks never truly got off the ground despite the support of Anthony Hamilton, the father of seven-time F1 World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton. 

However, renewed hope came in 2019, when former F1 commercial managing director Sean Bratches spoke openly about Formula One’s intentions to host a Grand Prix in South Africa, and soon after, talks were initiated to host Formula 1 at the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit, with Formula 1 CEO, Stefano Domenicali, visiting the country in 2022, where he got a taste of the 4.529-kilometer track on a hot lap with Toby Venter.

When asked by SkySports F1 about a return of Formula 1 to Kyalami, and why a deal has not been struck, Stefano Domenicali said: “Africa is still a continent that we are working very hard on. As I always said, we need to find the right partners and the right middle-term plan. What I want to avoid is that we go there for one year and then forget it. We are working, trying to find a solution for the best of the sport, for the best of the country."

Whilst initial talks proved fruitful with the South African Grand Prix (Pty) Ltd promoter, and Formula One Management (FOM), Anton Roux exclusively tells Slipstream SA that a deal to host Formula One at the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit “was incredibly close. I think everything was agreed.”

The South African Grand Prix (Pty) Ltd promoter came extremely close to sealing a deal with FOM, however, those talks were put on hold when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa deflected calls to have his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin arrested when he was set to visit the country for the BRICS summit after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March over war crimes related to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent war between the two nations. And, as a member of the ICC, South Africa is theoretically required to arrest Putin under the court's warrant.

Roux explains that “to bring a Formula One event to South Africa, you need all the parties. These parties are, the Formula One organization, 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 adds that “unfortunately at the time our government made comments that they're not quite sure if they would arrest Mr Putin if he were to arrive in the country for the BRICS summit. There was uncertainty around that, as well as the Lady R event that took place in Simon’s Town, Cape Town, where we had a Russian ship docking in the South African Harbour.”

“And, clearly when you've got the Formula One organization, 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.”

Asked whether talks between FOM and the South African Grand Prix (Pty) Ltd have restarted, Roux says he “doubts if it will”. 

“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. 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!”, he explains. 

Factoring in hosting costs, according to, the highest 2022 Formula One hosting fee is 55 million dollars, which equates to over R1 billion for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, to 15 million dollars for the Jewel in the F1 Crown, Monaco. So, with that in mind, it’s quite expensive to secure high-level motorsport events, which requires a lot of investment and support from the local government. 

There is a tremendous hunger for Formula 1 in South Africa, as seen at the recent Cape Town E-Prix, with thousands of fans wearing team merchandise, including MotoGP fanwear, so there is no better time to see the return of either F1 or MotoGP to South Africa.

Slipstream SA asked Roux whether Kyalami could host a MotoGP race, to which, he said: “I’ve had no discussions with MotoGP whatsoever. So, I’m not in a position to comment on that.”

Brad Binder lapping the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit on his KTM Factory RC-16.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Whilst there are no talks, excitement reached fever pitch, when in 2022, South African MotoGP race winner Brad Binder returned home during the mid-season break with his KTM Factory Racing RC-16, aiming to set a new benchmark lap time around the Kyalami Grand Prix circuit, where no official track record has been set for a modern era MotoGP bike, and with a benchmark of 1:45.00 to target, Binder set a 1:42.26. 

When asked by Simon Patterson if Kyalami is ready to host MotoGP, Brad Binder said:  “Kyalami has the best pits, I think, out of most of the tracks we go to. So, as far as the actual facility is concerned, it's insane! It'll be perfect. But, there are a couple of areas where they need to move the walls back. So, that's the main thing that can stop us from returning to South Africa. The only thing they need to do is, there are two points in particular where they need to really give us a little bit more run-off. And, if they do that, I think we can go back.”

Despite Binder's positive endorsement of Kyalami, it is worth keeping in mind that deals are not struck by the click of a finger, but what bodes well for the country is that costs could be more affordable than F1. According to “In 2011, Motorland Aragon paid Dorna 6 million euros, rising to 7 million in 2012, for 41 million euros (which equates to R835 million between 2011 and 2012).”

Along with affordability and initiating talks come track alterations to cater to the specific needs of MotoGP, for example, and therefore, we asked Kyalami Spokesman Christo Kruger, are there any changes required to host MotoGP at Kyalami, to which, he said: “An event like MotoGP will require FIA inspection and approval. It is difficult to ascertain what changes may be required without professional telemetry simulations and analysis.”

“Kyalami is a host facility and not event promoters, so we have not reached out to MotoGP to assess the appetite/cost for a Kyalami race,” Kruger added.

QUESTION: Would you like to see Formula 1 and/or MotoGP return to South Africa? Please, let us know in the comments section! 

Saturday 3 February 2024

EXCLUSIVE: Daruvala targets ‘long-term future in Formula E’, whilst also loosing 4 kilos ahead of rookie season in search of more performance.

PHOTO CREDIT: ABB FIA Formula E World Championship/Sam Bagnall
The new rookie on the block, Jehan Daruvala has a lot to learn having made the transition from F1 feeder series, Formula 2 to Formula E, where he will represent the iconic trident, Maserati. 

Daruvala has a young motorsport career having started karting in 2011 at the age of thirteen before climbing the junior formula ranks, competing and winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Championship, as well as the 2013 Super 1 National Championship titles. His success continued in the European F3 Championship before making the move to GP3, which later became the FIA Formula 3 Championship. He achieved a best of third in FIA F3 before taking the step up into Formula 2 where he amassed four wins, and no less 18 podiums, over four seasons before making the transition to Formula E. 

Formula E is unlike any other single-seater championship, as it requires a completely different driving technique. So, when coming from another championship, or one of the lower formula’s, a lot of adapting is required, because, no car starts a race with enough energy to finish, which means renegeneration is a very key aspect, whilst fighting for track position. 

Learning and getting to grips with energy management, whilst trying to stay ahead of 20 other drivers, is a challenging feet in itself, and after four seasons in Formula 2, Daruvala has made the transition to Formula E, with Maserati MSG Racing, an iconic manufacturer, whose history began on track over 110 years ago. 

“It's a huge privilege to drive for such a luxury brand as such as Maserati and drive for Maserati MSG Racing, to represent the trident. It means a lot to me,” he said.

Having made the move, the Maserati MSG driver will partner Maximilian Guenther in 2024, and, whilst being excited about his first full-time season in Formula E, he is under no illusion, that it will be easy. 

Jehan Daruvala claims third place finish in Saudi F2 Feature race.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jehan Daruvala [Instagram]
When making a move from one championship to another there are very different techniques needed, whether it be mindset, and driving styles. Another element is the fitness levels, and the physical preparation that comes with it. 

“I've driven Formula 3 and Formula 2 cars. I drove a Formula 1 car last year. and I've driven a Formula E car. To be honest, from a physical aspect, they're all different and physical in their own ways. I would say Formula 2 and Formula E are quite close. But, I underestimated how heavy the steering wheel would be in a Formula E car over 35 laps of a race. It was very heavy at the end of the race. And to turn the car in the stadium [in Mexico] was quite physical. Also, when I did my Formula 1 test, coming from Formula 2, yes, it was physical, but in a different way altogether. It's physical in terms of g-force, and on your neck, but then on your arms, you have power steering. So it's not physical at all on the arms. You can turn it super easily,” Daruvala explained. 

“So the energy that you save in your arms, you can use in your neck, because in a way,  it's all kind of connected. So yeah, I had my Formula 1 test two weeks before my Formula 2 race. And, I would say my Formula 2 race was even harder than my test in Formula 1 because we don't have power steering. So, the steering wheel also gets really heavy. And when your arms get tired, your whole body gets tired as well. So it's difficult to compare all of them, but I think they're all very physical. In the end, if you see all of the drivers, we're all fit.” 

The unique challenges that comes with being a racing driver, that us mere mortals don’t have to abide by, whilst health remains a key factor. We can consume almost anything, but racing drivers' are an entirely different breed, as they have to remain in peak fitness levels at all times, whilst heavily monitoring their dietary allowances. 

The 25-year-old revealed that when preparing for the move to Formula E, he lost four kilograms in order to gain ‘a few hundreds of a second’. 

“I lost four kilos moving from Formula 2 to Formula E. For my engineers, they liked it. Although, I would still have been on the weight [limit], but just for them to put the weight where they want in the car, and the weight difference, it's something that finds you less than a few hundreds of a second, but those hundreds count for them,” he said. “So over the winter, it definitely wasn't easy being back home in Mumbai for Christmas and New Year, but I made the effort and I got down to my target weight for Mexico.” 

Daruvala is no stranger to Formula E having been the test and reserve driver for Mahindra Formula E Team, but making the full-time transition from Formula 2 to Formula E, does have it’s unique challenges, from understanding to adapting to the new style of driving.

“Formula E is very different to Formula 2. I think, adapting to driving the car on the limit and fast is a whole different thing,” he tells Slipstream SA. 

“Formula 2 cars, have quite a lot of downforce. [And they have] combustion engines, while Formula E cars are all electric with not a lot of downforce. The tyres don't have a lot of grip. They're very tricky to drive. In Formula E, you are driving on really narrow tracks with walls really close to you as well. So, the main ingredients of being fast and being able to drive a race car fast kind of carries over, and it transfers once you get used to the car itself.”

He further explains that “the whole dimension of driving a race in Formula E is completely different from anything that I’m used to in the past. If you simply push too much, you're going to run out of energy before the line. So, you can be first with 100 metres to go, but you may not make it to the finish line. Which means that you need to judge what's best for you and best for the car from point A to B. And, you know, we have a whole group of people working really hard behind the scenes at the factory and at the race track trying to maximise that for us drivers to make our life a bit easier when we go onto the track. But again, in the situation when you're fighting 20 other drivers and trying to overtake them and win the race, to stay calm and kind of do it as best as possible, that's what makes Formula E super, super difficult. And it's something that is very interesting and something I have to get used to quite quickly.”

Whilst the style of racing is a lot to get to grips with for the rookie, the Maserati MSG driver, knows that he can draw from his Formula 2 experience, as the weekend formats are relatively similar, where drivers are required to prepare before the weekend, and deliver when they hit the track. 

“The main thing that I take from Formula 2 into Formula E is, of course, is the speed, but to hit the ground running straight away, to give good feedback to the engineers from lap one of free practice. So you can just evolve together as a team and build up to qualifying and then the race. So I would say that is the main learning I can take from Formula 2 into Formula E,” he said. 

Daruvala pulls off an overtake in the Ferosol in Mexico City.
PHOTO CREDIT: FIA ABB Formula E World Championship.
In any sport, performance is key to securing a long-term future, and the 25-year-old is confident that he has what it takes to make that happen. 

“I see myself in Formula E long-term. and I do that as any sportsman. But, you have to perform well, you have to get good results. And that's the only way to stay here. So that's going to be my goal for the season to keep improving and secure my future here in Formula E,” he said. 

Another key ingredient in a rookie campaign is experience, and that is not gained off track. The more laps turned, means more experience gained, which will prove vital for him, as his rookie campaign with Maserati MSG Racing continues. However, Daruvala is under no illusion that it will be an easy championship jump into a perform immediately.

“Mexico was an amazing weekend, to have all the Mexican fans there. It was the first time that I really experience something like this, and feel the crowd really behind me. Yes, it was a difficult weekend, which I did expect, as I’m the only rookie on the grid in such a competitive field,” he explained. 

“Being one of the best drivers in the world, in the best teams in the world, and making my debut was never going to be easy. And, after a difficult qualifying, it was very clear from the team side that the main goal is to see the chequered flag. So, just seeing the chequered flag and getting 37 laps of experience under my belt in a Formula E race will give me a lot of learning, which I can take into the races moving forward. And it is a box tick and it gives me confidence moving forward.”