Monday, December 6News That Matters

F1 could return to Africa for the first time since 1993 – what happened in the final race?

This season, the Formula One world championship will be contested across all continents but one. 

In fact, not since 1993 has the sport touched down in Africa, when Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna’s bitter rivalry was renewed for the season opener in Kyalam.

But F1 chief Stefano Domenicali has provided fresh hope that the circus will return to town, hinting that the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari could be on their way back in the near future amid reports of an event in 2022. 

F1 could be on its way back to Africa for the first time since Kyalami hosted 28 years ago

F1 could be on its way back to Africa for the first time since Kyalami hosted 28 years ago

F1 could be on its way back to Africa for the first time since Kyalami hosted 28 years ago 

New F1 chief Stefano Domenicalli has hinted at a return to the continent in the near future

New F1 chief Stefano Domenicalli has hinted at a return to the continent in the near future

New F1 chief Stefano Domenicalli has hinted at a return to the continent in the near future 

It has been a long 28 years since a race was last held on the continent. So, what happened when Formula One visited Africa for the last time in 1993? 

The narrative heading into the season opener in Kyalami was centred on the feud between two of the sport’s biggest stars: Prost and Senna.

The Frenchman, returning from a sabbatical having made a sour exit two years before amid a breakdown in relationship with former team Ferrari, had caused a storm upon his arrival.

Prost signed for Williams Racing, sending reigning world champion Nigel Mansell packing to IndyCar in a huff.

Williams entered the new season with most competitive car on the track, having dominated with Mansell in the last campaign, and Senna was targeting a switch to the team ahead of the opener.

However, a clause in Prost’s contract with Williams prevented Senna from joining the team, leaving the Brazilian enraged with his arch rival, who he branded a ‘coward’.

‘I think if Prost wants to be called the sole champion, three-times world champion, come back in a sportive way, maybe win another championship, he should be sportive,’ he fumed. 

The 1993 season opener saw Ayrton Senna's rivalry with 'coward' Alain Prost reignited

The 1993 season opener saw Ayrton Senna's rivalry with 'coward' Alain Prost reignited

The 1993 season opener saw Ayrton Senna’s rivalry with ‘coward’ Alain Prost reignited 

Prost joined the dominant Williams team led by Frank Williams (R) and Patrick Head (L), and his contract prevented the team from signing arch rival Senna for the 1993 season

Prost joined the dominant Williams team led by Frank Williams (R) and Patrick Head (L), and his contract prevented the team from signing arch rival Senna for the 1993 season

Prost joined the dominant Williams team led by Frank Williams (R) and Patrick Head (L), and his contract prevented the team from signing arch rival Senna for the 1993 season

‘The way he’s doing, he’s behaving like a coward. And if he wants to be sportive, he must be prepared to race anybody, at any condition, at equal terms.’ 

Such was Senna’s fury at Prost’s duplicitous manoeuvre that he threatened to leave the sport altogether for the 1993 campaign. However, the Brazilian opted to take the fight to his rival, joining McLaren on a race-by-race deal. 

And the pair put themselves on the front row of the grid for lights out at Kyalami with fans excited over what was expected to be a high-octane start to the race.

It was the first time the rivals shared the front row since their infamous collision in Suzuka three years earlier, when Senna deliberately collided with Prost to win the World Championship in the penultimate race of the season. 

Behind them, Benetton-Ford’s Michael Schumacher, then without a single world title, qualified in third while young hotshot Damon Hill was making his highly-anticipated debut with Williams, following in the footsteps of his two-time world champion father Graham into the sport.

Senna labelled Prost (pictured) a 'coward' for not wanting to engage in a fair fight for the title

Senna labelled Prost (pictured) a 'coward' for not wanting to engage in a fair fight for the title

Senna labelled Prost (pictured) a ‘coward’ for not wanting to engage in a fair fight for the title

The Frenchman clinched pole but did not get the procession he had expected on race day

The Frenchman clinched pole but did not get the procession he had expected on race day

The Frenchman clinched pole but did not get the procession he had expected on race day

The dominance of Williams had left fans and pundits convinced that the season opener would be nothing more than a procession, with Prost expected to lead from start to finish.

However, the beginning of the race served a far different reality to what had been expected.

Prost suffered a horrendous start, slipping to fourth place as Senna, Schumacher and Hill breezed past the pre-race favourite. 

The Frenchman soon gained a place after Hill spun out later on in the opening lap, and was fortunate not to have been involved in a collision with any passing cars.

The Williams driver dropped down the field and later retired from the race after a collision on lap 16, a disappointing showing on his debut with the team. 

Prost then set his sights on Schumacher in his Benetton-Ford. He made light work of passing the German, getting the better of him on lap 13, before gearing up for a battle with old foe Senna. 

Prost fell to fourth after the opening lap and was forced to wrestle back the lead from his rivals

Prost fell to fourth after the opening lap and was forced to wrestle back the lead from his rivals

Prost fell to fourth after the opening lap and was forced to wrestle back the lead from his rivals

In his far inferior McLaren, the Brazilian was not expected to hold onto his lead for long against Prost’s all-conquering Williams, but Senna put up an almighty fight against the Frenchman.

Schumacher, back in third, was treated to a display of masterful defensive driving as Senna doggedly held onto the racing line to keep Prost at bay time and time again. 

Prost eventually got the break he was looking for. He took the outside line on Turn 1, which resulted him in getting the inside track on Senna into Turn 2 and his lead was restored on lap 24.

From there, it was the procession that many expected for Prost, who steadily built an insurmountable lead at the front. Rain began to fall in the final knockings of the race and Prost slowed down to such an extent that drivers unlapped themselves, indicative of the Frenchman’s advantage over his closest rivals.

Prost got past Damon Hill after he spun out and was later forced to retire on lap sixteen

Prost got past Damon Hill after he spun out and was later forced to retire on lap sixteen

Prost got past Damon Hill after he spun out and was later forced to retire on lap sixteen

A young Michael Schumacher could not fend off Prost and failed to overtake Senna for second

A young Michael Schumacher could not fend off Prost and failed to overtake Senna for second

A young Michael Schumacher could not fend off Prost and failed to overtake Senna for second

An angry Schumacher storms down the pits after retiring from the race in South Africa

An angry Schumacher storms down the pits after retiring from the race in South Africa

An angry Schumacher storms down the pits after retiring from the race in South Africa

Senna and Schumacher were engaged in a battle for second before the German spun out on lap 39 and was forced to retire from the race.

As a result, Britain’s Mark Blundell capitalised to bring his Ligier-Renault car over the line for third, the team’s first podium finish since Detroit seven years earlier. 

Prost went onto dominate the rest of the season, winning seven of the 16 races to romp home to his fourth and final title. 

As the paddock packed up and moved onto Brazil, very few would have envisioned that the sport would not be returning to the continent for another 27 years. 

Kyalami had hosted the F1 in 1992 and 1993 and played host from the late 1960s until 1985, when the race was boycotted in protest against the Apartheid regime. 

Senna settled for second while Britain's Mark Blundell took third as Prost coasted to victory

Senna settled for second while Britain's Mark Blundell took third as Prost coasted to victory

Senna settled for second while Britain’s Mark Blundell took third as Prost coasted to victory

The track had been popular among fans and provided several whirlwind races but adaptations made to the circuit for 92 and 93 had altered it for the worse. 

More worryingly, the race promoter, Mervyn Key, was arrested for charges of fraud and forgery, which were later dropped, while the parent company that owned the track had collapsed and liquidators stayed their hand and opted to allow the 93 race to go ahead.

Formula One has not returned to Africa for two main reasons. First, no track currently meets the FIA’s standards required to host an F1 race, and second, no promoter has been willing to host an event.

Kyalami has not been revisited but its owner has expressed an interest in hosting. Meanwhile, a street circuit in Cape Town and a track in Marrakesh, Morocco, has been mooted

Kyalami has not been revisited but its owner has expressed an interest in hosting. Meanwhile, a street circuit in Cape Town and a track in Marrakesh, Morocco, has been mooted

Kyalami has not been revisited but its owner has expressed an interest in hosting. Meanwhile, a street circuit in Cape Town and a track in Marrakesh, Morocco, has been mooted

Lewis Hamilton has backed a return to Africa amid talk of plans going in the right direction

Lewis Hamilton has backed a return to Africa amid talk of plans going in the right direction

Lewis Hamilton has backed a return to Africa amid talk of plans going in the right direction

The first of those two issues could be solved, however, with Kyalami’s current owner, Toby Venter, expressing an interest in providing the modifications required to gain the FIA’s approval. 

A street circuit in Cape Town has also been mooted, while Marrakesh, Morocco, currently hosts a Formula E race. Morocco hosted the first ever F1 race in South Africa in 1958, when the sport visited Casablanca.  

Domenicali’s latest comments have inspired renewed optimism over a return to Africa, while reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton has been an advocate of racing on the continent. 

With new venues being added with more regularity these days, a return to Africa would be more than welcome.