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Formula 1

Spa hopes boosted as Kyalami F1 return unlikely for 2023

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

The Belgian Grand Prix’s hopes of retaining a place on the 2023 Formula 1 calendar look improved as the revival of the South African Grand Prix is likely to be delayed.

F1 is yet to reveal even a provisional calendar for next season but the return of a race in Kyalami in 2023 had long been a target as the championship continued its global expansion.

At the same time, classic venue Spa – host of 54 grands prix – looked set to controversially drop off the calendar as the number of European races diminishes to make room for new ones.

Stefano Domenicali, F1 CEO, travelled to Kyalami to meet with the prospective race promoter after June’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix and the hope was that the race could be held in April next year.

However, as negotiations have dragged on, it is understood that the chances of Kyalami being ready for 2023 are extremely slim and the South African GP will need to wait until 2024 at the earliest.

South African GP F1 contender Kyalami

“I always say we want to have a race in Africa, and today the most likely place to have a race in Africa is South Africa,” said Domenicali this week.

“Discussions are going on. When we’re talking to new promoters we’re looking for a very clear and solid long-term commitment, because we cannot be there for one year and then ‘game over’.

“It’s a situation that is taking time. I think we are going to clarify this situation in the next days, but for sure the commitment to be in Africa is something we want to take.

“But we want to take it right. That’s why the evolution of the calendar will defined in the next couple of weeks maximum.”

That is bringing Spa back into play, keeping the provisional calendar at 24 races – although it would probably require a small calendar rejig to move the Belgian race away from April.

A swap with Imola, slated to take place in July next year, seems the most likely solution.

Spa’s current deal ends at the end of this year and it has undergone major development ahead of the 2022 race although this was primarily aimed at making the track more suitable for motorcycle racing.

It has been keen to strike a new contract and a one-year extension for 2023 now looks more likely before negotiations resume, potentially over a rotation with another European race from 2024.

“I read some comment saying Belgium will be the last year – I would be prudent on that comment,” said Domenicali, indicating that was not necessarily to be believed. “I would be very prudent.

“With Belgium the discussions are still on.”

Belgian GP F1 Spa-Francorchamps

He added: “We are in Spa this weekend, so you will see them a lot of time in my office!

“I have to say they have prepared this weekend in an incredible way – [Thursday] there will be a special day with the drivers, with the fans, we have opened that to recover what has happened last year [when the grand prix didn’t take place], and also in terms of traffic plan they have presented to us a very interesting proposition.

“We have seen them in a very, very different approach this year, that is very useful to know and very important.”

Confirmation of the Belgian Grand Prix, the addition of Las Vegas, and the returns of Qatar and China (subject to the country’s vaccination programme and enduring COVID-19 isolation rules) could take the calendar to a record 24 races next year.

However, if China cannot happen because of the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic, then F1 is not believed to be eyeing a replacement.

Chinese GP F1

That would mean the schedule sits at 23 races and Domenicali is adamant caution will be exercised in terms of adding more.

“The tipping point, in my opinion, is the one we’re going to reach next year hopefully – around 24 grands prix: 23/24 maximum,” said Domenicali.

“I don’t want to discuss any more than that number, because we have a problem of the value of it, and also in terms of demand from the people and everyone who is around the grand prix.

“Around this number we are going to build, because of the demand we have, the right rationale to maximise what we believe is the right place to go.

“That will fully respect the track itself, so the value of what is the beautiful track, the value of what is the investment on that – what is the activation for the fans every promoter is doing, what is the interest we are bringing for the teams and the manufacturers involved.

“There are a lot of elements that we will consider, but in terms of numbers this is exactly the point that I said. No more than that.”

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