Grand Prix

Can we expect a Formula-1 Race to grace South Africa again?

Santiago Grand Prix, Sports July 2, 2017

By Michelle Hambly-Grobler

 

Our very proud and very illustrious motor racing history gives all petrol heads in our beautiful country of South Africa hope. Hope that one day we will see a proudly South African Grand Prix once more. Hope that either Cape Town, with its possible street circuit,

or Johannesburg, with its World Class Kyalami race track, may host this premier event. Hope that a generation of young and eager petrol heads in this country will one day be able to witness, yet again, an event that was part of the international circuit for so long. Hope, that by hosting world class events, we will continue to be a world class travel destination for many more tourists, bringing prosperity and investment for all citizens of South Africa.

 

Why bring Formula One Racing to South Africa you may ask? To understand why we would have to look to our past, our history. We have to chronologically track the men and women, over time, who have participated and grown the racing culture in South Africa. Instead of attempting a synopsis, which would not give these incredible talents enough kudos, I would rather like to extol a book written by Greg Mills titled, ‘Agriculture, Furniture and Marmalade: South African Motorsport Heroes.’ Mills’ book is a brilliant and masterful chronicle and ode to the history of Motor Sport Racing in South Africa. The book covers those Southern African stars who made it as drivers, engineers, mechanics, and promoters in international motorsport. From Woolf Barnato’s three victories in the Le Mans 24 Hour classic, to the era of Sarel van der Merwe. The title, you may be wondering, was inspired by a conversation between Jody Scheckter, our only Formula One World Champion to date, and Jackie Pretorius. On his departure for fame and fortune to England in 1971, Jody was advised by Jackie to learn some ‘big’ words to impress the Europeans. The three he insisted on giving were, ‘agriculture, furniture and marmalade,’ preferably to be used in conjunction with
one another.

South Africa, one must remember, is already on the map internationally. It is a destination that truly delivers. We have the most glorious weather and a very eager and enthusiastic car ‘verskrik’ (crazy) culture. I myself, being an ex race car driver and car collector, form part of this environment and know that there are many of us eager to participate and facilitate in turning this dream into a reality. The Kyalami race track, located in Midrand, Gauteng has been used for Grand Prix and Formula One races in the past and was the host for the South African Grand Prix many times. We have done it before, why not again? Among some of the prestigious events hosted at the Kyalami track, was the 1975 South African Grand Prix, which saw our very own World Cup champion, Jody Scheckter, win the race. We saw British driver, Jim Clark, winning the race four times and Niki Lauder, from Austria, taking the South African title three times.

Tom Pryce Fatal accident
South African GP, Kyalami, 5 March 1977

Kyalami is firmly cemented in the hearts and minds of racing fans from around the globe. This became very clear to me when I had the privilege of meeting the American former racing driver, Danny Sullivan. We were at Laguna Seca and I was delighted to hear him speak so fondly of the great circuits of his career, including our very own Kyalami. He was so impressed with our beautiful country that he even contemplated relocating here when business interests arose. Clearly, Kyalami and its magic amongst racers and spectators, is still palpable. Our first race in Kyalami was on the 29th of December 1962 and was won by Graham Hill, before I was born, and continued till the last race of 1993. It was this race that saw the battle between Ayrton Senna, my total hero, Prost and Michael Schumacher, which finally resulted in a win for Prost. The track was then sold and bought by the South African automobiles association. Our sad history of apartheid and political atrocities firmly shelved us in the racing game. A sad reality is that, as the races became more and more exorbitant, we began to fall off the list and could no longer qualify to host a Grand Prix.

This is a depressing fact when it is clear, through my own observations and conversations, that the desire for the race to return to this wonderful track is much desired. From interviews with mechanics to street sweepers, Porsche collectors to budding race car drivers, it is very evident that South Africans are eagerly awaiting a Formula One return… We can host a street race in Cape Town and with our world class facility in the original and only Kyalami, we are just about ready. The Kyalami track has been extensively upgraded and, as we have mentioned, the facility boasts an enviable place in the hearts of racers from around the world. LSM Distributors, who own the track, are actively encouraging a host of motoring events and ensuring it is in tip top condition. They have revamped the track and have encouraged motorists to make use of it. Porsche use the track for high altitude testing as do a host of car manufactures. Andrew Golding, from LSM Distributors, was recently seen on the BBC talking about the track and our chances going forward.

An emerging country like South Africa, with its massive youthful population, have shown a huge interest and passion for cars, similar to Mexico. To transport oneself with a car, however, is still a privilege not all South Africans have access to. The Grand Prix, such as in Mexico, serves as a way to encourage and give hope to such communities. By offering races in emerging countries we can perhaps inspire the youth to work towards their passion. The Mexican Grand Prix is regarded, by many in the country, as the highlight of their calendar year. This race is particularly exciting for the race car drivers as well, because of the youth and their exuberant, unbridled passion and love for Formula One. Such energy is no longer as visible in the older more established centers around Europe. It seems, in order to make the sport more accessible and appealing to the American owners, it is important to look toward emerging countries and economies, allowing for the calendar to become more varied and more equitable. Aspiring young people, who are motivated by their dreams, will find much aspiration when they actually see the possibility of their dreams coming true, such as a Formula One race on their own home turf. We cannot begin to imagine, from our perspective of comfort and privilege, the true meaning of such dreams.

 

 

If we as a country want to play on the international forum and be seen as a first world destination, events like Formula One will bring attention and focus to our very real issues and allow for global recognition. Passion, such as for racing, focuses individuals and the collective on positive events and festivities and gives us a joint purpose which can go a long way. It is in such celebrations that barriers are broken down and the passion unites all. Our country will have the world’s attention and global media will be back on South Africa once more, bringing tourists but also eyes on our political atmosphere. It was Muso, my very talented gardener, who said “the trains ran on time and the busses were working when there was the Soccer World Cup in 2010!” Such world class events forces our country into action.

There is certainly a long road still to be traveled for this dream of Formula One racing returning to South Africa and it was Gareth Crossley, Marketing Director of the motoring specialist business Crossley & Webb in Cape Town, who had to gently remind me, “Michelle, baby steps.” The next step is perhaps looking at how to include the big players who will serve as the financial backers of this dream. The costs of hosting a Formula One, if we are being realistic, is going to require substantial funding from both government and private investment. We will need big headline sponsorship, government intervention and affordable entrance fees, which make it a big ask for a small country like South Africa. One can only dream and I believe with enough determination and passion such a dream will eventually become a reality.

MEXICO GRAND PRIX

Santiago Grand Prix December 5, 2016

By Michelle Hambly-Grobler

The Mexican Formula One Grand Prix has to be, for me personally, the best race of 2015 – with its colourful, vibrant and electrifying energy.

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The brilliant and totally addictive circus that is Formula 1 has returned to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Race Circuit in Mexico City, home to 21,1 million people, after an absence of over twenty three years. The circuit hosted its first Formula 1 race in 1963. The track is named after two legend racing brothers of Mexico, Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, who both tragically died whilst racing (and living out their passion) in the 60’s and 70’s. It was known amongst fans, that Pedro always travelled with both the Mexican Flag and a tape of the Mexican National Anthem with him. This was a result of an odd happening during his winning of the 1967 Grand Prix, at the famed Kyalami Race Circuit in South Africa. After his win organisers were unable to retrieve the tape of the Mexican National Anthem and played the Mexican Hat
Dance instead.

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The track has been extensively upgraded, resurfaced and the notorious corner the “peraltada” has been changed, much to the relief of many fans, wives and mothers. The track is fast and the surface is known to be quite unforgiving. It was a close call for the Mexican Grand Prix as one of the biggest tropical rain storms in the Northern Hemisphere, Hurricane Patricia, almost derailed the race in 2015. The Formula 1 fans in Mexico were driven into a frenzy of excitement when Sergio Perez made podium in the Russian Grand Prix in 2015, gearing them up for the Mexican race. It was estimated around 120.000 Mexican fans attended the Mexican Formula 1, coming out in full support for their home turf. Tavo Hellmund, promoter and tireless supporter of the Mexico Grand Prix, believed it was a number to break all world records in the future. The young and energetic President, Enrique Pena Nieto was honoured to host the race and felt the spin off was well worth the money invested. It was thanks to private and state involvement which made this exciting race a possibility again.

Next to my lovelly classic 911

Next to my lovelly classic 911

Cars, be it fast cars, vintage cars, small cars, long cars, are very much a universal attraction to most men and a growing number of women – myself included. As a self-confessed car addict, particularly of Porsche, racing is the ultimate fun one can have with these awesome toys. It is interesting to witness how Formula 1 are becoming a largely television watched event and in my heart I feel it is slightly sad, as how can you possibly feel the vibrations and yes, the turbos, which are depleting the sheer noise factor. I believe it is driven, excuse the pun, by passion, adrenaline, talent and skill and in the modern era an increasing reliance on technology. Television and technology make such events accessible to all, allowing for a greater audience and a growing number of fans from around the world.

The secret is out, Apple are currently working on driverless cars with a focus on McClaren, why? – not for the sheer speed or aerodynamics but for the developmental technology, which are such a major feature of successful racing teams. The complete all encompassing energy surge of a real race, in real time, in real cars is incomparable.

My personal and all time favourite driver, besides from the fabled Ayrton Senna, is Lewis Hamilton. A young, talented man who brings an air of cool and current into the often quite exclusive and traditional Grand Prix scene. Lewis has given the sport an enormous boost, using his enormous social media following, to attract a new and more diverse following. The real attraction to such sport, and to those who dare to enter it, has always been the element of danger with which it brings. It was James Hunt who famously (or infamously) used this very tactic in his day, admitting that women find men who cheat death on the track so much more attractive. The dream that Lewis Hamilton nurtured, from the tender age of three, was made possible by his hardworking father. A dedicated father, who held down three jobs to ensure his son could continue his Karting career, can now stand proud as his boy goes on to win three times world champion.

Lewis Hamilton deep in style...

Lewis Hamilton deep in style…

In countries where poverty is rife the hosting of such a sporting event is questionable but I feel it makes for great dreams and inspires young people its an empowering sport that does not attract drugs and substance abuse – at 350 km an hour for 71 laps all the facilities are firing. Lewis Hamilton has created   a proud fan base and where the audiences are maybe a little jaded the energy and passion of a younger and vibrant hosting country is sorely needed  in the F1 business model currently.

The Amber Lounge is the place to be when the F1 event rolls into town, originating in Monaco -and setting up in Singapore and Abu Dhabi the ultimate in glamour and celebrity magnet with Bono and Heidi Klum frequenting , the Amber Lounge is the place where the drivers hang out after racing and the Amber Lounge will host a fashion show in Mexico in 2016.

Nico Rosberg celebrating his win with Lewis Hamilton and Finish Valtteri Bottas

Nico Rosberg celebrating his win with Lewis Hamilton and Finish Valtteri Bottas

The touting of South Africa as a possible venue is often flaunted and proposals have been tabled and as a diehard Formula 1 Fan – Hope Springs Eternal.

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