With the possible return of a South African Grand Prix in 2023, it seems a good time to focus on the potential legacy that such an event might provide for its 60 million population, 80% of whom are non-white. After all, the likelihood is that it will cost the country several tens of millions of dollars to stage, so what benefits can it provide?
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We can be sure that the PR machine will tell us that about the jobs that will be created and the likely increase in tourism. That goes without saying. Don’t forget that South Africa staged the 2010 World Cup, but that wasn’t over in just three days.
However, I believe that there is a much more compelling reason that can be put forward for staging a South African Grand Prix. From a personal perspective, I’d like to see that happen. I’ve enjoyed a relationship with that beautiful country since 1975 and my wife of 35 years was born and grew up in Cape Town.
The last time South Africa staged an F1 race was 1993 and I was lucky enough to be there as Marketing Director of the Lola BMS Scuderia Italia F1 Team, with our drivers Michele Alboreto and Luca Badoer.
That wasn’t my first visit to the Kyalami circuit, however. Back in 1975, I’d flown to South Africa from Heathrow to watch the SA Grand Prix. The track which is 800 meters above sea-level, is no more than a 40 minute drive from Johannesburg.
Interestingly, had the passenger who sat next to me on that long flight chosen a different seat, I would never have become Manager of the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit!
But Max Mosely did sit next to me; and I did become the manager of Kyalami, in 1980!
But Max Mosely did sit next to me, and I did become the manager of Kyalami, in 1980! But that’s another story!
In the UK, I had left Lola F1 in 1994 and started a new ground-breaking business organisation, with the help of several other like-minded colleagues. The Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) was founded with the aim of formalising motorsport in the UK as an industry in its own right, for the first time, as well as developing much-needed educational pathways. Now in its 28th year, it’s fair to say the MIA has succeeded in those aims.
After the formative first few years, I stood down as CEO, recruiting Chris Aylett to use his experience to continue the growth of the MIA. In my time we had been able to create the MIA Business Achievement Awards and secure the House of Lords as the venue for the MIA Summer Reception. We also invited Lord Astor of Hever to become Honorary MIA President. Today I’m one of 4 Honorary Life Members.
I went back to doing what I have always done best and became Head of Motorsport for an international sports marketing agency. In this role I acquired the multi-million-pound sponsorship deals that brought FedEx, Gillette and Marconi into F1 for our client the Benetton Team. I eventually became the team’s Commercial Director.
Little did I realise however that the skills I’d learned in setting up the MIA would one day be put to good use again. This time back in South Africa.
In 2006 Liz and I were on holiday in Cape Town when I received a call from Nico Vermeulen, the CEO of NAAMSA, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa.
He told me that the various automotive manufacturers involved in motorsport programmes within the country, were generally unhappy about the state of the sport. Nico had heard about my setting up the MIA in Britain and asked if we could meet during my holiday in the Cape. He wanted my ideas as to what could be done to improve matters.
It wasn’t difficult to identify two immediate areas of concern. One was the lack of meaningful diversity within motorsport. The other, a need for motorsport to be structured as an industry sector in its own right, as we had done with the MIA in Britain. It would be essential if the sport in South Africa wanted to encourage employment, educational pathways and investment.
Moving forward three months, I flew from the UK to Johannesburg, having arranged a commercial partnership deal with Accenture South Africa, to fund my carrying out a feasibility study of the country’s motorsport sector. Interestingly, Accenture UK had partnered the launch of the MIA back in 1994.
My next step was to seek a meeting with someone whom I’d met at the 1993 Grand Prix, Cyril Ramaphosa, now the President of South Africa, was then Head of the Black Empowerment organisation. I knew he liked F1 but was surprised when our scheduled 30-minute meeting at his Sandton office went on for 90 minutes. He fully supported my proposed formation of a structured South African motorsport industry, suggesting that it would play a major role in encouraging young blacks into engineering and technical skills training and growing the number of educational pathways in South Africa.
A meeting with the Principal of Cape Town college further confirmed the excitement about the potential of a thriving South African motorsport industry.
A meeting with the Principal of Cape Town college further confirmed the excitement about the potential of a thriving South African motorsport industry. I also became a Director (RSA) of the highly successful F1 in Schools programme. The involvement showed me the genuine excitement and enthusiasm this amazing programme could generate amongst young school pupils, no matter what their background.
I was then invited to speak about SAMIA at a Cape Town University Business Lunch. Afterwards, a senior oil and fuels industry engineer suggested that I should meet his Vice President at Petro SA, the Government owned Oil Refinery (GTL).
Dr. Nompumelelo Siswana immediately saw the benefits of a PetroSA involvement, and we agreed a realistic commercial partnership to establish a new organisation, SAMIA, the South African Motorsport Industry Association. Then, I negotiated a similar sponsorship with the Dell Foundation, the CSR arm of the computer giant.
SAMIA was launched at the Waterfront Conference Centre in Cape Town in May 2007, with tremendous support for the initiative from UK T&I in South Africa and Brian Gallagher in particular, the British Trade Commissioner to SA.
I was delighted when Dr. Nompumelelo Siswana agreed to join the SAMIA Committee, alongside some key figures from motorsport and the RSA automotive industry. To generate a high level of awareness for SAMIA we introduced the annual SAMIA Business and Technical Achievement Awards programme, as we had done in the UK.
In 2009, South African born Rory Byrne, Ferrari’s legendary F1 Chief designer flew from Maranello to Johannesburg to be our Guest of Honour at the SAMIA Awards Reception, delivering a powerful speech supporting our aims and stressing the real career potential for young people within the motorsport industry.
At the end of 2010, it seemed time for a South African to take over from me at the helm of SAMIA. There was every reason to believe that SAMIA would be the platform to develop a successful motorsport industry.
I strongly believe that the best legacy deriving from of a 2023 South African Grand Prix would be that it has enthused a new generation of young people to build careers within a dynamic South African motorsport industry. It can only happen if the right educational pathways are in place for this to happen.