Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

After three decades, will F1 ever return to Africa?

Posted on 19 November 2021 by Mary Akinsola
Kyalami Circuit , South Africa

As Alain Prost’s Williams-Renault flashed through turn 13 and into the Brilliant Straight at South Africa’s Kyalami Circuit on the 14th March 1993, it signalled the end of the first race of that year’s F1 season. But what we didn’t realise at the time was that the Frenchman’s victory, en route to his fourth and final Drivers’ Championship title, would be the last time Formula1 would embrace Africa.

The sport’s relationship with the continent, that had produced decades of wheel-to-wheel racing featuring greats such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Prost, to name a few, had come to an end.

South Africa GP podium celebrations in 1970 , Credit – Getty Images

That year, 1993, was also a seismic year for Africa; South Africa in particular. Apartheid, the system of institutional racial segregation in favour of Whites, was finally disbanded as the nation rejoiced at the prospect of democracy. Which begs the question, why were Formula 1 bosses happy to visit South Africa in the Apartheid era, but have been conspicuous by their absence ever since?

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With a steady rising interest in Formula 1 in Africa and with Lewis Hamilton making huge strides in the sport, one would think that Formula 1 would use this opportunity to connect more with this growing fan base who would love to be able to identify with someone lots of similarities with them.

But the reverse is the case. Recently the calendar for 2022 was released and once again F1 will take a famous world tour.

Picture this. A-list American artistes announce plans for a “World’’ tour but African countries are conspicuously absent from the list. F1 announces a World Championship calendar and no part of that calendar has anything to do with Africa. A comprehensive education on the meaning of the word – ‘world’ is universally needed.

Lewis Hamilton recently mentioned while fielding questions during the press sessions at the 2021 US Grand Prix that he would love to race in Africa before retiring and this admission is a concern for African F1 fans. Hamilton’s looming exit from the grid could mean the non-appearance of a Black or Black-background driver on the F1 stage.

Kyalami circuit(left), Lewis Hamilton (right)

Hope however abounds for Africa in Nigerian-Italian- American; Ugo Ugochukwu. Born to a Nigerian supermodel Oluchi Onweagba-Orlandi and her Italian husband the fashion designer Luca Orlandi, 13 year old Ugochukwu recently joined the McLaren drivers’ academy and looks good to make it into the pinnacle of motor racing. Although it is worthy of note here that he is signed on as an American. Anyways, this development is a little win gladly celebrated by Africans

FIA and F1 has repeatedly over the years paid lip service to their intent to come back to Africa. They run a campaign titled #WeRaceAsOne, they talk about encouraging diversity, they preach inclusion yet they look unready to touch this great continent with a ten feet pole.

Recently the FIA announced a Formula E race in 2022 slated for South Africa only to cancel those plans much later with no specific reason given for the cancelation. And just like that plans by motorsport loving fans in Africa went quiet. No one knows when this race will happen and the wait also continues.

For those who might talk about revenue, it is worthy of note here that the 2020 charity tennis game tagged “Match for Africa 6” hosted in South Africa  attracted 51, 954 spectators setting the record for the highest ever attendance at a tennis match.

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Should F1 like to dial down on its reputation as a sport for the rich and the rich alone or as one for the whites only, Hosting a racing event or an exhibition in Africa is the opportunity to do just that.

Africans wants to be close to the action without going halfway across the world.

All over Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Kigali and Accra videos emerge every now and

Nigerians at viewing centres

then of Africans coming together to view F1, F2 and even F3 races like they would the UEFA Champions League.

Africa has shown its readiness to be a part of this system. It has welcomed Formula E and the Extreme E not forgetting the Dakar Rally too. It is time for F1 to believe in the African Project and show real commitment that sets the ground running for a new Motorsports era on the Continent

Of course, Formula E( be it in 2023 or 2024) is welcome but I would rather travel from  Nigeria to South Africa or Morocco to watch Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz in a proper race or at a race exhibition

The world is evolving and there is an untapped market in Africa. The FIFA World Cup was here, Tennis came to the Motherland, Dakar Rally and Extreme E was also here. Africa would love to be reunited once again with Formula 1.

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The big question remains thus, if F1 was able to race unhindered for 33 years in an Apartheid Dominated South Africa, why has it been unable to achieve this same feat in the years since the abolishment of Apartheid and until this present day?