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Why a Formula One racetrack in Zimbabwe is a pipe dream

by Staff reporter
12 Oct 2022 at 18:53hrs | Views
It was all a dream for Zimbabwe to have a Formula One racetrack.

A dream sold by politicians who argued it could be a major tourist attraction, especially if it was built near the country's prime tourism destination, Victoria Falls.

The racetrack was set to be constructed between Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park, two areas which are in the Zimbabwe section of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) that cuts across Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola.

KAZA is home to almost half of Africa's elephants, as well as an array of other animals such as African wild dogs, hippos, rhinos, lions, buffalo, zebras, crocodiles, and cheetahs.

In July last year, the designs for what was to be called the Zambezi River International Circuit were made public.

They were later submitted to the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the governing body for many auto racing events, including Formula One.


An architect close to the project told News24 the site of the project was 30km east of Victoria Falls along the Batoka Gorge on the Zambezi River, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, downstream of Victoria Falls and 120km upstream of the Kariba Reservoir.

The design was led by the Royal Institute of British Architects and Driven International, sports venue architects and designers with a focus on outdoor sports, driving, and motorsport destinations.

Former Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok, after a virtual drive on the track, said the course "had a great flow to it. Unlike a lot of recently built tracks that have stop-starts, on this one you can put up a lap with a brilliant rhythm and speed to it."

Just building a permanent track costs more than R4.6 billion and the whole circuit and complex like the Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates costs more than R17 billion.

Dream deferred

At completion, it would have become Africa's only FIA Grade 1 circuit.

Kyalami in South Africa is a Grade 2 circuit that was recently refurbished by Porsche and returned to the international spotlight by hosting a round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge last year after a 37-year absence.

In September, the High Court in Zimbabwe nullified a lease agreement for the land where the racetrack was to be built.

The ruling was in favour of a hundred villagers from the Chibode, Kachecheti, and Nemananga communities, who argued the racetrack would displace them from their ancestral and grazing land.

There were also concerns about the welfare of wildlife in the areas surrounding the proposed circuit.  

A leading tourism expert in Zimbabwe, Clement Mukwasi, told News24 for the project to go ahead, an environmental impact assessment had to be carried out.

"It depends on the mapping of the facility. At all material times when a new tourism facility is introduced in Victoria Falls, a full environmental and social impact assessment is carried out"

He said:

"The results of that exercise point to the direction in which the operation would go. I am certain that animal welfare would be catered for in that context.

Noise pollution can drive elephants away. As such, a possibility of a dwindling population that would cross into the Botswana side of the KAZA is a reality.

Generally, noise pollution makes it difficult for animals to use sound for navigation, finding food, mating, and avoiding predators, affecting many animals' ability to survive.

With that in mind, Mukwasi said that was a matter which should be addressed:

Noise levels are a function of by-laws and statutes. Certain decibels are accepted in Zimbabwe and those are accepted internationally.

"Consideration has to be had to the decibel level of the sounds that the cars would produce, taking into account that we are close to a world heritage site."

Mukwasi added the racetrack was going to put Zimbabwe back on the map as an international tourist destination.

"Sports tourism is an enabler to the recovery of the industry. The Formula One racetrack could be that jump-start that the tourism industry wants right now.
"It puts the whole country onto the map and may lead to the industry's rapid growth. Sportsmen, spectators, and television rights would contribute a significant amount of money toward the $5 billion tourism industry," he said."

Source - news24