‘A big deal’ – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s Africa wish addressed by FIA boss

Thomas Maher
Mohammed Ben Sulayem at the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has addressed the prospect of a Grand Prix being held in Africa.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has spoken about the prospects of Africa holding a Grand Prix any time soon.

While Formula 1 has expanded massively in recent years, with races held in Asia, America, Europe, and the Middle East, a conspicuous absentee is the entire continent of Africa going without a Grand Prix.

Until 1993, South Africa’s Kyalami was a regular fixture on the calendar but, after falling off the schedule, another race on the continent is yet to emerge – although the importance of trying to make one happen has been acknowledged by several leading figures.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem: More attention should be focused on Africa

Two of F1’s most prominent drivers, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, have also indicated support for a return to Africa at some point, with Hamilton saying in 2021:“The place that I really feel, to my heart, is most important to me is to get a race back in South Africa. I think it would be great to highlight how beautiful the motherland is.”

Verstappen agreed, saying: “I really think we need a race in Africa. We basically race on every other continent already, so I think that’s the next step for Formula 1.

“Formula 1 already has a history in South Africa, so that would be a great addition to the Formula 1 calendar.”

But what are the chances of one happening any time soon? Speaking in an extensive interview with Germany’s Motorsport-Magazin, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was asked about the prospect.

“We have very good contacts in Africa,” he said.

“More attention should be focussed on Africa. We have a good vice president in Africa. We are strengthening the clubs there.

“In some regions, we start at the grassroots level, we call it ‘Motorsport in a Box’. This is a box that you get from the FIA. It contains very simple equipment such as timing and telephones. Then you can at least do speed tests.

“If we want to grow there, we can’t do it from above. I can’t give orders, the water doesn’t flow downwards here. It’s the other way around, it goes from the bottom up.

“You have to start at the bottom. That’s why we recently launched ‘Motorsport in a Box’, we’re sending it to them and we’re going to get them involved in motorsport.

“In South Africa, they have a lot of history in motorsport. Since last year, there has been a lot of talk about Formula 1 coming back to Kyalami. That would be a big thing for Africa. We are also thinking about an electric championship that would like to have Africa involved. That would be good too.”

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Ben Sulayem acknowledged the importance of various markets that are notable absentees from the calendar, with China set to return to the rota for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are not forgetting Africa, we are not forgetting China, but we are not forgetting Latin America,” Ben Sulayem said.

“We are here in the Formula 1 paddock and we see the excitement and the enthusiasm. But in some regions, there is no interest in Formula 1. For them, karting is like Formula 1.

“Their tracks are like Formula 1 for them. Hillclimb racing is everything for them. I always say: that there is no one size fits all. Get involved with the members! Listen to them.

“It can be very simple answers. Maybe they just want some hill climb support and then they’re happy. They might not be interested in Formula 1, Formula 2 or Formula E. We always try to do that.”

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