NOVEMBER 24, 1997

A Grand Prix in Havana?

ONE country which may have appeared on Max Mosley's list of countries keen to host a Grand Prix was Cuba.

ONE country which may have appeared on Max Mosley's list of countries keen to host a Grand Prix was Cuba. Last weekend Niki Lauda revealed that he has met a delegation from Cuba and is supporting the idea of a Grand Prix on the streets of Havana - with the intention to hold the race in the year 2000.

Cubans are traditionally big motor racing fans and there was a regular Grand Prix in the late 1950s. The first event, held in February 1957 on the famous Malecon Avenue, which runs along the waterfront in Havana, was won by Juan-ManuelÊFangio. The following year Fangio was kidnapped by Fidel Castro's guerrillas and forced to miss the race. The event attracted a crowd estimated at 200,000 people but it was a disaster as local driver Armando Garcia Cifuentes crashed his Ferrari into the crowd, killing six and injuring 30.

The revolution the following January forced the cancellation of the 1959 event but a Freedom GP of Cuba was organized at the Camp Columbia Airport in 1960 and was won by Stirling Moss.

Thereafter the Castro regime showed less interest in the sport - which was rather too capitalist for the President's increasingly communist views. The last races were held on the Avenida del Puerto in Havana in June 1962.

Thousands of Cubans later fled to Florida where they played an important role in establishing the Grand Prix of Miami and later the racing circuit at Homestead.

It had been thought that racing would not return to Cuba before 70-year-old Castro leaves office but the country has been struggling financially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, on which Cuba was heavily dependent. Recent years have marked a liberalization of Cuban policy, with private enterprise and foreign investment now permitted.

The country has put a lot of emphasis on developing its tourist trade which generated $850m of income in 1995. With America continuing to try to undermine Castro and isolate Cuba - the Helms-Burton Act allowing for foreign investors in Cuba to be punishable under American law - rebuilding the country is currently being funded largely by the Canadians and the Spanish, which have invested in hotels around the country and in the construction of a third terminal at Havana Airport.

A Grand Prix would obviously boost tourism in Cuba but whether President Castro will be willing to pay to get F1 is quite another matter.