MARCH 25, 1996
Calendar congestion in 1997
IT will be many months before we see an F1 calendar for 1997, but already there are indications that demand for races is going to outstrip the availability of the racing teams.
In addition to the existing 16 events, we expect China, Las Vegas, Indonesia and South Africa to be bidding for dates. F1 bosses are keen to visit China, Vegas and South Africa to ensure that F1 visits each of the continents during the season.
Teams, however, are refusing to do more than 16 races in a year and have insisted on an 18-week break between the last race of one season and the first race of the next. F1 currently concentrates on the northern hemisphere in the summer months and the southern hemisphere in the Spring and Autumn. This means that southern hemisphere races tend to be at the start and the end of each year. China could easily fit into a double-header with Japan at the end of the season with Las Vegas rounding off the year but that means South Africa is a problem because the teams will not want to go off to Kyalami after returning from the Far East.
The most logical thing to do would be to move the South African event to the start of the year with the equipment being shipped from Johannesburg to Australia. With the 1996 season ending in mid-October it is possible that the 1997 season could begin as early as February 16, which would make this possible. In order to achieve this, three European races need to be dropped (Portugal, Hungary and the European GP are the most likely) in favor of the new events.
Whatever the case, the South African Automobile Association has not given up hope of landing a Grand Prix for 1997 - despite the recent fall in the value of the rand. Last week the SAAA's Selwyn Nathan and Barney Mostert were in London - the most recent in a series of visits - to discuss plans with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. The financial problems could be overcome if the organizers are able to convince the local government to back the race and the needed track modifications (which would be necessary to bring the track into line with the current safety regulations).
The SAAA is, however, very well connected in the South African government, so the money could be forthcoming.