The Belgian Grand Prix’s hopes of retaining a place on the 2023 Formula 1 calendar appear to be boosted as the relaunch of the South African Grand Prix is likely to be delayed.
F1 has yet to even unveil a tentative calendar for next season, but returning a race to Kyalami in 2023 has long been a goal as the championship continues its global expansion.
Meanwhile, the classic venue of Spa – host to 54 grands prix – looked set to controversially scrap the calendar as the number of European races dwindles to make way for new ones.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali traveled to Kyalami to meet the race’s potential promoter after June’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix and the hope was that the race could take place in April next year.
However, with negotiations dragging on, it is understood that the chances of Kyalami being ready for 2023 are extremely slim and the South African GP will have to wait until 2024 at the earliest.
“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,” Domenicali said this week.
” Discussions are ongoing. When we talk to new promoters, we look for a very clear and solid long-term commitment, because we can’t be there for a year and then “game over”.
“It’s a situation that takes time. I think we will clarify this situation in the next few days, but for sure the commitment to be in Africa is something we want to make.
“But we want to do it right. This is why the evolution of the calendar will be defined in the next few weeks maximum.
This puts Spa back in the game, keeping the provisional calendar at 24 races – although it would probably take a small calendar shake-up to move the Belgian race away from April.
An exchange with Imola, scheduled for next July, seems the most likely solution.
Spa’s current deal runs out at the end of this year and it has undergone major development ahead of the 2022 race, although this was mainly to make the track more suitable for motorcycle racing.
He was keen to secure a new contract and a one-year extension for 2023 now looks more likely before negotiations resume, potentially on a rotation with another European race from 2024.
“I read a comment saying that Belgium will be the last year – I would be cautious about that comment,” Domenicali said, indicating that was not necessarily to be believed. “I would be very careful.
“With Belgium, discussions are still ongoing.”
He added: “We are in Spa this weekend so you will see them a lot of the time in my office!
“I have to say they prepared this weekend in an incredible way – [Thursday] there will be a special day with the pilots, with the fans, we opened this to recover what happened last year [when the grand prix didn’t take place]and also in terms of traffic plan they presented us with a very interesting proposal.
“We’ve seen them in a very, very different approach this year, that’s very useful to know and very important.”
The confirmation of the Belgian Grand Prix, the addition of Las Vegas and the returns of Qatar and China (subject to the country’s vaccination program and enduring COVID-19 isolation rules) could take the calendar to a record of 24 races next year.
However, if China cannot perform due to the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic, F1 is not believed to be considering a replacement.
That would mean the calendar is 23 races and Domenicali is extremely cautious about adding more.
“The tipping point, in my opinion, is where we will hopefully reach next year – around 24 Grands Prix: 23/24 maximum,” said Domenicali.
“I don’t want to discuss more than that number, because we have a value issue, and also in terms of demand from people and everyone around the grand prix.
“Around that number we’re going to build, because of the demand we have, the right logic to maximize what we think is the right place to go.
“It will fully respect the track itself, so the value of what the great track is, the value of the investment on it – what is the activation for the fans that each promoter does, what is the interest that we bring for the teams and manufacturers involved.
“There are a lot of elements that we will consider, but in terms of numbers, that’s exactly the point I said. No more than that.”