Formula 1’s lost nations: South Africa

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Senna, Prost and Schumacher battle at Kyalami in 1993

Last world champion: Jody Scheckter, Ferrari, 1979
Last Grand Prix winner: Jody Scheckter, Ferrari, Monza, 1979
Last Grand Prix starter: Jody Scheckter, Ferrari, Watkins Glen, 1980
Last Grand Prix: Kyalami, 1993

South Africa was a Grand Prix host for many years. But its only driver to attain Grand Prix success was Jody Scheckter – the last driver to win the world championship for Ferrari before Michael Schumacher.

Scheckter was viewed as something of a wild child in his early days as an F1 driver, and with some justification. At the end of the opening lap at Silverstone in 1973 Scheckter spun in front of the pack at Woodcote, triggering a massive, multi-car pile-up that caused the race to be re-started.

Scheckter settled down after he joined Tyrrell and spent the mid-70s with the British outfit, winning his home race in 1975, before switching to Wolf two years later. He made history by winning for the team on its debut in Argentina, but Ferrari beckoned for 1979. Scheckter drove a smart campaign and out-scored team mate Gilles Villeneuve, who eventually had to play the role of back-up driver and let Scheckter take the title. He retired after the 1980 season, when Ferrari produced a car so poor Scheckter failed to qualify it at one round.

The first world championship South African Grands Prix were held at the East London circuit, a venue which today faces demolition. The event soon moved to Kyalami, near Johannesburg. The rapid track was popular with the drivers and it often served as either the season-opening or closing round.

In 1968 it opened the Grand Prix season on the very first day of the new year – Jim Clark scored his final F1 victory. Sadly, the track is also remembered for one of F1’s most appalling accidents in 1977 in which Tom Pryce and Frikkie Jansen van Vuuren, a marshal, were killed.

In the 1980s the race was affected by different brands of politics.The struggles for power within Formula 1 led several manufacturer-backed teams to abandon the 1981 race. The governing body later announced this race would not count towards the world championship. In 1982 most of the drivers refused to participate, in a protest over restrictive new terms in their contracts. The deadlock was eventually broken and the race went ahead.

As the 1980s went on international political pressures had an increasingly severe bearing on the race. Several other sports had already ceased activities in South Africa in protest at the brutalities of the Apartheid regime. F1 continued racing at Kyalami until 1985, though some teams boycotted that final race and several sponsors had their branding removed. (Read more about that race here).

Kyalami returned to the F1 calendar in 1992 but it was a greatly changed circuit, with little of the charm of the original left. F1 only returned once, and since then has not been back to South Africa.

South Africa’s F1 future

There have been rumours in past months about a return to South Africa – either at Kyalami once more or another venue. A1 Grand Prix makes its first visit to the former F1 circuit next month.

The prospects for a future South African F1 driver seem slim. Adrian Zaugg made it as far as GP2 but he is racing in A1 now. Scheckter’s son Tomas seemed to be on course for F1 but lost his place as Jaguar’s test driver after appearing in court – he has raced in America since.

Do you think South Africa will return to the F1 calendar? Have your say in the comments.

Read more about Jody Scheckter: Jody Scheckter biography

Formula 1’s lost nations

Jody Scheckter won the 1977 Monaco Grand Prix for Wolf

Images (C) Sutton, Ford

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Formula 1’s lost nations: South Africa”

  1. While I think it would be wonderful for F1 to return to South Africa, I’m not certain the country can afford it. Consider a Germany, a much wealthier country. Due to the high costs involved in hosting an F1 race, Hockenheim had to revert to hosting every 2nd year. Can South Africa or any of its suitable circuits afford to do this. If the answer is YES, then a South African GP gets my vote.

    1. This sucker is scamming people on EBAY, have been waiting for the return of my money for a long time

  2. The only lost F1 nation I worry about is the Netherlands :)

    I lived less than 10km away from Zandvoort, so I could hear the cars all weekend. I always dreamed of going to a race, but I was too young to actually go.

  3. Not forgetting the extraordinary GP in 1967 which was almost won by John Love, a (relatively) local privateer driving a two year old Cooper T79.

    The Tom Pryce crash was utterly horrific, one of the worst in F1 history, and cost the sport a likeable driver of immense potential. And what makes it all the more galling was that it was entirely avoidable. Pryce hit a marshall who was running across the track to extinguish a fire on Renzo Zorzi’s car and was killed instantly as the fire extinguisher hit him in the head. Tom was replaced at Shadow by Alan Jones, who went on to win a GP later that year and become champion in 1980 driving for Williams.

    Clay Regazzoni also suffered a nasty crash at Kyalami in 1973 and Mike Hailwood received the George Cross for pulling him out of the car.

    The modern Kyalami – as used in 1992-3 – is fairly dull and neither of those races were particularly memorable, although possibly more because of the superiority of the Williams-Renault package than anything else.

  4. South Africa is a classic in F1 – under present conditions it would be very difficult, but one day in a different F1 I hope we have a race there. I have been told the country is spectacular, so lets wish that if new track is made, or an old one is modified, it is done with taste to create a memorable venue.

  5. Will SA return to the calendar? Methinks it will, but not until 2011 at the earliest.

    Why so? SA is set to be the host of the World Cup in 2010, and given that they’re running into more issues than first anticipated, I’d think they’re fully focusing on that first.

  6. It would be lovely to see F1 returning to South Africa one day although I doubt if it will ever happen. There is simply not enough money here to make it viable. Bernie & his boys will rather go racing in India or Russia than in South Africa.

    I live in Johannesburg some 30 kilometers from Kayalami and used to attend many races there years ago. The classic 9 hour endurances where Scheckter competed in a souped up Mazda Wankel engined saloon and punched way above his class. His nick-name became “Sideways Scheckter” for the way he thew that little car ’round the track lap after lap,

    I also attended many of the Grand Prix’s in the late 60’s beginning 70’s as a youngster. Was lucky enough to have a pit-pass each year and got close the the greats of that era. Hulme, Hill, Brabham, Jim Clark, and John Surtees racing the first Honda, and all white beast. Oh and the legendary privateer John Love that we were all rooting for, Kyalami was a great track before they changed it.

    Those were the days, now we can only drool in front of the TV. Ah well

  7. Yayyy! Jody!!!
    What,, I’m not biased.

    -Fred Schechter
    Ferrari fan

  8. Being a South African I would naturally love to have a South African GP. (The previous South African GP’s was a bit before my time so I have never been to a GP). Eventhough F1 hasn’t been here for a long time there is still a lot of interest in F1.

    I think the proposal for a race in 2011 might be more serious then some people think. Kyalami is busy with a plan, to use the circuit for as much international events as possible, so that they in the future could host a F1 race. Superbikes and A1(the race is already a sellout) are already going to be at Kyalami this year.

    It is also clear that the Gauteng government has some interest in motorsport, they have been a sponsor of Renault now for the last three years. Much of the needed infrastructure will perhaps already be laid out with the preparations for world cup. And many people have already argued that a F1 race might actually be more beneficial for the country because it is not just a once off event. The global recession also haven’t been as hard here as in Europe and in the USA. (So the timing for a race might be good.)

    And as far as future F1 hopefuls goes there is currently perhaps one – Simon Moss. He did take part in Formula BMW pacific last year and won the rookie championship. This year he will be taking part in F3, and he is 17 years old.

    1. It’s good to hear about such a strong motorsport presence coming to Kyalimi, but with all respect, there is a big difference between putting on an A1GP race and hosting an F1 Grand Prix. Obviously, the first question that comes up is who will pay for the race? If some of your countrymen can come up with $20-30 million on an annual basis, I’d say you’ve got a decent shot at a date. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very difficult sell….

  9. Having been to a F1 GP at Kayalami I’m quite keen to see how much the track has changed when A1GP come to town.

    Am I correct in thinking Jody lives on a farm in the UK now? I wonder what he’s doing with himself these days?

    Reading through this I began to think what other African countries have hosted F1 GP’s in the past. I seem to think that Mozambique might have been one but I can’t say for sure? Does anyone else have any other information on this? Similarly can anyone think of an African country, other than South Africa of course, that might have a good venue and track to host a F1 GP?

    1. Chaz,

      I believe you may have Morocco mistaken for Mozambique when it comes to previous hosts to F1- they had a race for the first few years of the srries back in the 50’s I believe, under the title of Casablancan GP or something along those lines. Other than South Africa, I believe those have been the only stops in Africa for F1- I am sure you will agree that most other nations on the continent have had issues that would rank higher on their national agendas than hosting a GP.

      In terms of the future, I do believe I have heard some rumblings about Egypt trying to get a date on the schedule, but I have had few details on that one.

    2. @ Gman – thanks for your insights. For some reason (and I wish I could say why, perhaps I read it somewhere), I have it in my head that Mozambique used to host motor racing events which were quite successful, so much so that many used to call it the ‘Monaco of Africa’. Perhaps it was another high profile series of racing and I’ve got it confused or wrongly assumed it was F1…

  10. It’s good to hear about such a strong motorsport presence coming to Kyalimi, but with all respect, there is a big difference between putting on an A1GP race and hosting an F1 Grand Prix. Obviously, the first question that comes up is who will pay for the race?

    The money is always the problem, even in the UK and Germany it seems. I definitely still wouldn’t bet on a race. But it has just been the case that there has been a lot of talks about the subject around here recently. The investor are apparently corporate, and like I mentioned the government are already sponsoring a F1 team, so they themselves might not be adverse to help foot part of the bill.

    But as the story goes these investors have been around for a while now. They at first wanted to build a new circuit in Cape Town (everything was in place), but unfortunately the Cape Town municipality didn’t want to release the land that the circuit was suppose to stand on. So now they have focused all their efforts again on Kyalami. (And as it happens the Johannesburg (Gauteng) municipality seems to be much more interested in motorsports). Apparently they have already even had a few discussion with Bernie about it. But like I said ultimately I wouldn’t bet on it.

  11. As a South African I would love to see F1 return. The last race I saw had Jim Clark and Trevor Taylor dominating the Cape Grand Prix in Coopers that looked like biplanes, so that was a while ago. (The wings were placed high up to be in the clean airflow, and transmitted forces direct to the suspension. Later this arrangement was ruled to be dangerous and the current wing placements became mandatory.)

    As has been said above, it’s all about the money. Not much of that around these days. At least South Africa is in the same time zone as Europe so no night race gimmickry is required. Also, I would like to see the Grand Prix in Cape Town at sea level. Kyalami is slower because they lose about 10% power due to the altitude.

  12. All this talks of costs to host a GP gives me an opportunity to voice a concern I have about how Bernie runs the sport. I simply cannot see how a venue has to fork out millions to host an event and yet Bernie decides who gets the TV rights, which branding may appear around the track. It is absurd.

    Instead, tracks should apply to host a race and if deemed sufficiently equipped and of a decent standard. In return Bernie gets to decide on the track side branding & TV rights.

    Bernie is often praised for the fact that he brought the manufacturers into F1, but he killed of the privateers. More manufacturers would be able to enter the sport & more countries would be host races if costs are lower.

    Bernie, you’re the 8th richest person in the world. I guess that should be enough….

  13. Scheckter drove a smart campaign and out-scored team mate Gilles Villeneuve, who eventually had to play the role of back-up driver and let Scheckter take the title

    It’s widely accepted that Giles did a deal with Enzo to allow Jody to win the championship in exchange for the No.1 driver status in Ferrari when he left.

    To say that Jody out-scored him is, (while true) a little unfair to the memory of one of the most loved, admired and respected F1 drivers of all time.

  14. i want the east london track back in f1 view on sea waves, cold summer breeze jim clark always love that track but whole stupid f1 loves asia tracks africa is only continent who dont have f1 think that f1 never back in east london or africa if he ever back maybe thay bernie said let drive just one more street circiut around johhanesburg . i hope that someone answer me i am wrong

  15. Well with South Africa as it is after the FIFA World Cup, I believe that they can do this. Definitely a country with a lot of proud residents that will give their all to make it the best F1 year after year if they were just given a try.

    Good luck South Africa and hope to see F1 return to SA sooner rather than later, we are ready for this.

  16. As an avid F1 fan, I am amazed and frustrated that nowhere on the African continent is F 1 racing staged. F1 racing is a world sport, staged in Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, throughout Europe and soon to be in India and next year the USA. My argument is that F1 cannot be judged as a “world sport” unless it is also staged somewhere on the African continent, the second largest continent in the world yet totally forgotten by the rest of the world.

    I believe that South African, is the only country on the African continent, at the moment, which has the finances, infrastructure, technology and supporters to successfully stage F1. South Africa has successfully staged the Rugby World Cup and the Football World Cup. Staging a F1 race in South Africa would bring huge revenues and permanent jobs to South Africans. In addition, it would also help in increasing the profile of South Africa as a leading nation on the worldwide political and sporting stage and bring new fans to the sport.

    1. Also, I like Kyalami more than any other track!

  17. South Africa is not a poor as we think. They successfully staged the football World Cup. I also believe that private sponsors would be the way forward for staging F1 in South Africa.

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