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Return to South Africa isn't clear cut

NEWS STORY
14/07/2010

Despite Bernie Ecclestone's claims that F1 could return to South Africa within the next three years, local sources are not as convinced.

Clearly buoyed by the success of the World Cup, which confounded the critics even though the actual football rarely lived up to expectations, Ecclestone announced over the British GP weekend that he was in talks with officials in the country and that a circuit would be built - somewhere near Cape Town - within the next three years. That said, he insists that Russia - and all those billions of roubles - remain his priority.

However, the word out of South Africa is there is still a long, long way to go.

While a return to South Africa has been mooted for some time, the first serious talk began around five years ago when David Gant, who had recently formed the South African F1 Bid Company, told an investment conference in Cape Town that the sport could be back in the country in 2009.

"We have been working on this for about 18 months and each day we get more confident that we are going to pull it off," he said. "Formula One demonstrably want it to happen, they want it to come here."

The consortium behind the proposed Grand Prix bid was seeking government help, consisting of a contribution of 75 million rand (6.5m at that time) to help build a circuit, and a further subsidy of 50 million rand (4.4m), each year, for the next eight years.

"All we have to finalise from a South African point of view is the extent to which the government is going to participate in this public-private partnership," said Gant. "We hope to have finality on that within the next two months."

The news came in the same week that South Africa's entry in the newly announced A1GP series, one of the founders of the series, Tony Teixeira, being a South African.

Previously, African Renaissance Holdings (ARH) - a company aimed at "black economic empowerment" - revealed that it was to join forces with the Gant's consortium in an attempt to bring F1 back to South Africa. However, in addition to hosting a round of the world championship, ARH hoped that, in time, the country might produce a black driver capable of winning the title.

ARH was involved in a number of successful business ventures, not least a casino complex on Durban's Golden Mile beach. Its chairperson, Dr Vincent Msibi, who was clearly aware of the economic potential of a Grand Prix, in terms of tourism, employment and industrial development, was joined by Seth Phalatse, former executive director of BMW South Africa, Jay Naidoo, former Cabinet minister and now chairperson of the Development Bank of South Africa and Nolwazi Mdluli-Motlekar, former head of SA Tourism in London. Also 'on board' was Murray and Roberts, one of South Africa's leading construction companies, and One Vision Investments, part of an Iranian-based global conglomerate.

While Gant's bid appeared to fade away before reappearing again a year or so later, former F1 tester and A1GP chief executive Stephen Watson announced the formation of the Gauteng Motorsport Company which had been established by the Gauteng provincial government in order to attract investment and tourism to the province through international motor sport.

The first event in Gauteng Province - an economic hub of South Africa which contributes 35% of the country’s GDP and 10% of the African continent’s GDP - was the fifth round of the 2008/2009 A1GP Championship. However, months earlier, the Gauteng Provincial Government and the Renault F1 team had announced a partnership aimed at promoting Gauteng as the home of competitive sport. Indeed, hot on the heels of a Renault F1 Team Roadshow in Johannesburg - which attracted 80,000 spectators - a competition was launched in Gauteng Province whereby the winner would get a drive in the French team's 2007 car.

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