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Paddock Diary special: FIA conference 2019 day two

Paddock Diary

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Will Formula 1 return to Kyalami? And what’s become of the Bloodhound SSC land speed record bid since it was rescued from administration last year?

@DieterRencken reports from the FIA Conference in South Africa.


After a hearty Sun City ‘Full Monty’ breakfast I’m back at the conference to catch up with some of the speakers, particularly delegates whose presentations I’d missed on the first day due to travel or the convenors of workshops such as the FIA’s Grant Programme, which provides funding for motorsport development at club level.

Another presentation I’d missed is “Emerging Africa”, and I’m particularly interested in hearing about Project Bloodhound, the 1,000mph Land Speed Record to be attempted in the Greater Kalahari on the flattest place on Earth. Equally, Cross Country is growing in leaps and bounds in developing countries – interest no doubt fuelled by Fernando Alonso’s recent Dakar test – while, of course, Kyalami is hopeful of a grand prix.

I hear the chances of an F1 race on the only inhabited continent without a grand prix are progressing, albeit slowly. Warren Scheckter, nephew of 1979 Ferrari F1 world champion Jody Scheckter and a sport promoter, is said to be involved, with the plan being to rent the circuit and promote the race. However, it all hinges on governmental support, and with crucial national elections coming up next week things are on ice. We’ll see.


Another extremely exciting initiative I follow up on is the FIA Motorsport Games – nations taking each other on across six categories – as announced on Tuesday by Frédéric Bertrand, FIA Circuit Championships Director. He revealed that the inaugural Games will be staged at Rome’s Vallalunga circuit from 3 October-3 November, taking in GT, Touring Cars, Drifting, Formula 4, e-sports and electric karting.

Frédéric reckons a national e-sports or e-karting team could rent equipment in Europe for as little as €1,000, with a touring car package costing €25,000 for the Games, and a GT entry around €80,000. What with electric karting demonstrations during last year’s Youth Olympic Games and now the Motorsport Games, FIA motorsport categories could soon feature at the Olympic Games. None too soon.

During the Conference a universal logo for disabled competitors revealed by the FIA’s Disability and Accessibility Commission: which, for example, eased the way for Billy Monger to compete. The logo, a wheelchair with helmeted driver, will no doubt become more widespread.

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I head for Motorex, the exhibition area where over 30 motorsport and mobility suppliers have laid out their wares and offer seminars to motor clubs. Everything from communications systems through braking and electronics systems to simulators, helmets and overalls are on display. Circuit architect Hermann Tilke has a stand, and tells me he’s heading for Kyalami tomorrow…


Electric karting and e-sports displays in the main arena area – and the activities drive home to me just how popular electric motorsport can become given that a circuit can be erected in any area with power for charging points. With zero noise and no emissions there’s no need for planning permission, while all the gear can be readily packed up and moved to the next venue.

I’m offered a drive in an Art Birel kart that costs around €10k and delivers up to 27bhp for 30 minutes on a single charge, but decline as I’m hardly dressed for the occasion and to change gear in the hotel would take too long. Next time.


Skip lunch to catch up on my day job, what with 30th April and 1st May being particularly significant due to the events of 1994. I check over the interview with Tche we’ve just published, and again recall the emotions on the day I conducted the interview with Ayrton Senna’s kart mechanic. A wonderful man, and so, so obliging.

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Smart Driving test – a platform sanctioned by the FIA’s Mobility department, the test consists of an app-based GPS/inertia system that awards points based on driving behaviour, enabling a global competition to be administered, but, above all, to promote safety and provide data to insurance companies to enable them to offer user-pay policies tailored to individual driving styles.

I score 954 points – about average – with demerits for braking and acceleration not being smoother enough for the system despite my best attempts.

More about the challenge here:


Head to the motorsport activities area where Cross Car – the off-road kart launched during last year’s FIA conference in Manilla – and drifting exhibitions are staged. It is absolutely amazing how many different motorsporting categories exist, and how virtually every need and /or niche is or can be filled.


Bloodhound SSCOff by coach to The Shebeen, an ethnic night club, where are served ‘braaivleis’ (BBQ) to the sounds of township beats. Watching FIA folk dance to ‘The Gumboot’ and Ipi-Tombi type beats is highly entertaining. I chat with FIA steward/World Motorsport Council member Dennis Dean, who recently stood down as president of the FIA Land Speed Record Commission – which will oversee Bloodhound’s runs.

We wander across to Andy Green, current land speed record holder after he smashed through the sound barrier in 1997 and will drive Bloodhound later this year, and we discuss the various STEM activities associated with the project. Imagine 1,000mph on land…

Andy tells me an amusing story about meeting Gene Cernan, subject of Mark Stewart’s excellent docu-movie ‘Last man on the Moon’: When introduced to Cernan as the ‘Fastest Man on Earth’, Gene shot back, “I’m the fastest man on the Moon,” which of course he was by being the driver of Lunar Rover…

Bloodhound recently went into administration, but was saved by British businessman Ian Warhurst, who has committed sufficient funding to see the project through. Andy assures me they will announce run dates soon, possibly as early as end-May.


Back to hotel and the end of ‘my’ conference reportage – although there are regional and Mobility seminars scheduled for Thursday.

On Friday I’ll pop in at the De Wildt Cheetah Sanctuary to visit ‘our’ adopted cheetah Lily, who turned four this week, en route to Kyalami for a catch-up visit.

Then it’s a few days R&R with friends/family ahead of leaving for Barcelona next week. Talk to you from Spain.

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10 comments on “Paddock Diary special: FIA conference 2019 day two”

  1. DAllein (@)
    2nd May 2019, 10:03

    FIA is involved in this Land Speed Record?!?!
    What a waste!.. really.

    I have no sympathy and support for Bloodhound and their Land Speed Record.
    It is not a sport, it is not some breakthrough in technologies, it is just a waste of time and money. The research, time, resources and all efforts will result in nothing evenly remotely useful.

    Of course many can say the same about F1, but they are wrong – F1 really pushes the technology further, and what manufacturers do for F1 in one way or another comes to road cars and other field of technologies\science.
    At least F1 entertains millions of people and allows companies to earn money.
    And what of Bloodhound? It is just a rocket on wheels with a single time use. Meant to entertain how many? 100 people?
    That is if it doesn’t crash and kill the driver… in which case it will be quite a tragic end for everyone involved.

    1. totally disagree. it has a storied and interesting history and the technology involved in innovative and groundbreaking. the engineering challenges are immense and surely have trickle down, even if it won’t appear on your road car in the next 10 minutes.

      you could equally say that porsche’s attempts on the lap record at spa and the nordschleiffe are pointless too, which would also be nonsense.

      1. absolutely agree with you, @frood19

    2. @dallien, Bloodhound wasn’t really conceived for entertainment, nor for its road relevance. It was billed as an inspirational project more akin to the US Apollo Programme than F1. The intent was to inspire the next generation of Scientists, Technicians, Engineers and Mathematicians. As such, they embarked on a large campaign with Schools and Colleges. Unfortunately the technical challenges seem to have slowed progress leading to them running out of funding. Sadly the slow progress seems to have also led to a waning of interest. Hopefully their test runs later this year will get publicity to help regain the interest. Good luck to them I say!

      1. @gobert

        The Apollo space program may have been a Cold War propaganda stunt, but the technologies developed by both the US and USSR in the those times were a significant leap forward in human technology. Technology that forms the bedrock for what we have today.There are so many thing that were borne out the era that are not visible to the untrained eye, unless you are in the business of complex multi disciplined engineering endeavors.

        1. @jaymenon10

          Agreed, Apollo provided many technological advances. It’s other substantial legacy was to inspire kids to get involved in STEM careers.

    3. BlackJackFan
      2nd May 2019, 18:28

      DAllein – I hope you’ll be happier in your next life… Your comments on this site are invariably miserable and doom-laden… ;-)

  2. I’m offered a drive in an Art Birel kart that costs around €10k and delivers up to 27bhp for 30 minutes on a single charge, but decline

    I am sorry Dieter but this is unacceptable.
    We sit at home dreaming of being able to jet around the world (losing luggage occasionally) following the F1 circus for a living.
    Goodness me man, the “Williams Full English Breakfast” alone is enough to make some of us weep for joy!

    and you turn down a drive …. any drive …. this will not do Sir.

    Find out when that Bloodhound is being launched and book a seat, it’s the least you can do! ;P

  3. “The Shebeen, an ethnic night club” – you do realize that this is othering right? I mean SA is majority this ethnicity. Why not ‘night club,’ or ‘distinctly South African night club?’ I have no intention to needle here, just to clarify that there’s nothing ‘ethnic’ about a township nightclub in a country where most of the nightclubs would be more similar to it than your perception of say, a ‘European’ night club.

    1. @tyresmoke

      Dieter isn’t being insensitive or ignorant here, “ethnic night club” is actually what they’re known as in South Africa.

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