As Formula 1 has expanded its global influence and continues to look for new markets, it seems like one very large region has been completely forgotten about.
F1’s last visit to Africa came way back in 1993, when Alain Prost won the South African Grand Prix at Kylami. The coastal city of East London also had a stint hosting the grand prix.
The only other country in Africa to host F1 was Morocco, the only race being held in 1958, around a street circuit in Casablanca – which was won by Stirling Moss.
Currently, Africa is the only continent other than Antarctica to not stage a round of the world championship.
In the last decade, F1 has returned to the likes of Austria, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Mexico and the USA. New destinations have also been visited such as India, South Korea, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Saudi Arabia, which looks set to become the 33rd nation to stage F1, with a race around the streets of Jeddah in December.
With recent attempts by F1 to increase diversity throughout the sport, going back to Africa seems like the next logical step.
The continent already has motorsport pedigree. South African Jody Scheckter is one of only eleven non-Europeans to win a drivers’ championship, taking the title in 1979 with Ferrari. The country has also hosted several grands prix – the 16th highest out of any nation.
In more recent years, Marrakesh has staged Formula E and new series Extreme E is set host a round of its inaugural season in Senegal.
Thankfully, the appetite for F1 to return seems to be there. Current world champion Lewis Hamilton has consistently highlighted his desire to race in Africa, and earlier this year F1 CEO Stefani Domenicali stated that he wants to bring the sport back to the continent.
The problem is however, that Africa currently lacks the facilities to host F1. The majority of the very few racetracks on the continent are concentrated in South Africa. Out of these, the only realistic place F1 could visit is Kyalami again, but the circuit only has an FIA Grade Two certification – below the Grade One rating needed to host F1.
A race in Africa would be huge, the key beneficiary would be the local communities. It would encourage young people to get into F1, not just as drivers, but getting them involved within STEM subjects. Hopefully, the legacy left behind by F1 will not only create prosperity, but also inspire a new generation of fans.
But the sport would also benefit; South Africa has a population of almost 60 million. The African market has largely been untouched by other sports, so F1 could become the first to successfully visit the continent.
If F1 wants to be properly considered a global sport, a return to Africa is necessary – not just from a commercial viewpoint, but also from an ethical one.