South Africa awaits F1 calendar slot

BERNIE ECCLESTONE flew to South Africa last week to meet with President Nelson Mandela and discuss the possibility of South Africa returning to the Formula 1 calendar with a long-term deal. Finance for the races, which would take place at Kyalami, will come from telephone company Vodacom which has already given Ecclestone - the FIA Commercial Rights Holder for F1 - the necessary financial guarantees to secure a race.

The problem facing Ecclestone and the South Africans is that there are currently too many races with existing contracts and there is unlikely to be a free slot on the calendar until the year 2001, when a lot of the current deals run out. "We have a contract to bring a round of the Formula 1 World Championship to South Africa," confirmed Ecclestone, "and as soon as we have a slot open on the calendar that is what we are going to do."

In an effort to keep the South Africans happy, however, Ecclestone has proposed that Kyalami host major test sessions in January or February 1999 and again a year later. "All the cars and teams will be here next year," Ecclestone told reporters in Pretoria.

It remains to be seen whether or not Ecclestone will be able to convince all the F1 teams that they need to visit South Africa during the winter. Although teams want to get warm weather testing in the winter months they need to have cars ready to take part - and there is no guarantee that all the teams will be ready in time. Until 1996 the rules banned testing outside Europe but this is now allowed if it is "general testing organized by the Commercial Rights Holder".

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