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NOVEMBER 3, 2004

Ecclestone says South Africa will go ahead

Bernie Ecclestone says that there will be a Grand Prix in South Africa within five years - but it is not the first time he has said that. Back in August 1998 Ecclestone met South African President Nelson Mandela and agreed to send teams to test at Kyalami during the winter of 1999 and 2000 and said that if everything was in order, South Africa would get a race in 2001. Everything was not in order and the race never happened. Now a Cape Town consortium led by David Gant is pushing to build a circuit near Cape Town International Airport for a race in 2007.

"We are going to South Africa - it's not a question of if, it's only when," Ecclestone told Die Burger newspaper in Cape Town. "There will be a South African Grand Prix hosted by Cape Town within five years."

Everyone in F1 agrees that it would be good to go to South Africa as the African continent remains the one missing from the F1 calendar. Ecclestone said that he believes the government may become involved although there are doubts that money will be available as South Africa needs to build a series of new soccer stadiums in preparation for the World Cup which is due to take place in South Africa in 2010.

Building the circuit will no be expensive, given the costs of construction in Africa but the big problem is the fees that must be paid to Formula One Management. These are negotiated in US dollars and so much will depend on the exchange rate between the South African Rand and the US dollar. This is currently at around six Rand to the dollar but has fluctuated dramatically in recent years, drifting from around three Rand in 1991 out to 12 in 2001 before dropping back to the current level. With long-term commitments necessary and large sums of dollars being involved, it will be hard for anyone (even the government) to assume risks which might double in the course of a seven year deal.

Gant says that he has already secured half the money needed from the private sector and circuit designer Hermann Tilke is due to visit Cape Town in December to begin work on the design of the track.

It is probably no coincidence that the news has come out a few days after a big announcement in South Africa about the country's involvement in the A1 Grand Prix Championship.