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The return of the French Grand Prix?

Here is a happy story to start a new month.

In fact, this is happy speculation, but it does involve Bernie Ecclestone, the Prime Minister of France, and many millions of euros. Not bad for a start.

It now looks increasingly likely that a French Grand Prix will return to the Formula 1 calendar as early as 2013. But it gets better. The race would be held at the wonderful Paul Ricard circuit, or Le Castellet as it is otherwise known, in the Provence region of France. Le Grand Prix de France was held here irregularly from 1971 (below) to 1990, after which it moved north to Magny Cours.

opinion history  The return of the French Grand Prix?

This was not a popular decision, there being no comparison between the two circuits, not to mention the joys of racing in the South of France in the summer. Following the race in 2008 it was announced there would no longer be a French Grand Prix, enthusiasm for F1 was waning, and Magny Cours was never a place to quicken the pulse.

opinion history  The return of the French Grand Prix?

Now, with three Frenchmen on the grid, and a Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, who loves his motor racing, things are looking up. Fillon, who was born in Le Mans and still lives nearby in Solesmes, is on the race committee for the Vingt-Quatre Heures and a member of the Automobile Club de L’Ouest. He has competed in the Le Mans Legends sports car race, driving a Courage Prototype, where he impressed team-owner Yves Courage with his speed.

He worked hard to lobby for a Grand Prix in Paris in 2011, before being defeated by environmentalists, moving Alain Prost to observe that the French ‘care nothing for cars’. Le Professeur has always, as we know, had an uneasy relationship with his homeland after moving from Renault to Ferrari and settling in Switzerland where he still lives.

But back to the present. Last Friday Prime Minister Fillon went to Le Castellet to discuss plans for a Grand Prix with Hubert Falco, President of the Toulon Provence Méditerranée region. Following this visit, the French daily Le Parisien reported that a Grand Prix will be held at Paul Ricard from 2013 and will alternate with the Belgian race at Spa. Enter Mr Ecclestone, with whom the decision ultimately rests owing to his control over the fees paid to the commercial rights holder and that is where we are right now.

The Prime Minister has observed only that “the fee is reasonable enough, but we have to remove the ‘enough’…” He has sensibly refused to be drawn into any further detail. A sum of 20 million euros has been suggested.

Monsieur Fillon goes to watch the race at Le Mans every year and will be hoping to have a decision by then. Should he be successful, he will be feted by every fan in France and by those of us who love to see cars at Le Castellet. Remember, it was the French who gave us Grands Prix and Grandes Epreuves, as the names would suggest. In July 1894 there was the Paris to Rouen road race. Before the First World War, they raced at Dieppe, at Amiens and in 1901, at Pau for a Grand Prix.

opinion history  The return of the French Grand Prix?

After the Second World War came the World Championship as we know it and they went to Reims, to Rouen-les-Essarts (above), Le Mans-Bugatti, Montlhery, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon-Prenois, Le Castellet, Magny-Cours and so it continued until 2008. This is a mere thumbnail snapshot of such a long history, and now it does appear that France will return to the calendar. It is too soon to raise a glass of their famous champagne, but Vive le Tradition!

Add your comments

45 comments on The return of the French Grand Prix?

  1. Vlady, 6 April 2012 09:52

    There seem to be one element you seem to be overlooking. An election will take place in April and May to elect a President of the French Republic and nothing is less sure that Mr. Fillon, actual PM will still be in place after tih event.
    No one seems to know what might happen in that matter if Mr. Holland is elected.
    So the French F1 enthusiasts will have to wait a little longer before having a clear indication on this subject. (beyond many others)

  2. CC, 6 April 2012 11:51

    The Return of the French Grand Prix is a must, and they do have some classic circuits, mentioned above.

    The idea of it alternating with the Race Fans and Drivers number one circuit, Spa, is so appaling that in todays Formula 1, it will no doubt happen.

    Good News, but why does there have to be a Negative (Spa)

  3. Michael Kavanagh, 6 April 2012 12:14

    A Prime Minister who loves motor racing and drove in the Legends race? How do we get to vote for this guy?!?! Move over, Sarko. This is the President France needs…

  4. rob widdows, 6 April 2012 12:35

    Yes, absolutely, of course, the alternating with Spa would be very disappointing as we all love going there, but maybe this plan might save the future of Spa and give us a Grand Prix in France. No detail on this yet and it’s possible that both races will go ahead each year. I’d rather have Spa every two years than no Spa at all, which is a constant threat.
    Move over Sarkozy? Move over Cameron. He offers no visible support to British motor racing which is a huge industry and employer.

  5. dave cubbedge, 6 April 2012 14:19

    Why don’t they just have the race at Spa every year and call it the Belgian or French GP? The current circuits in France are a far cry from the classic ones at Rheims, Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand… Just sayn’…

  6. Lewis Lane, 6 April 2012 14:39

    Isn’t Ricard owned by Bernie’s family? Just curious to know if the promoter (presumably Mr BC Ecclestone) will agree the same heavyweight financial terms as usual? Oh the irony of Bernie charging the same rates as elsewhere with the same results…
    Other than that, fabulous news – there should always be a French GP. Not wild about Ricard, beacause it pales with some of the country’s long gone great venues – but it’s better than Magny Cours…

  7. Jean Doublet, 6 April 2012 16:28

    Well I would happily save the trip to Paul Ricard and make it every year to Spa (Francorchamps). As to call the Belgian GP the “French GP”, my oh my, do you want to start a civil war in Belgium ? That said I don’t really want to have a French GP if it means driving an extra 600 miles fearing the speed traps, being robbed blind by Bernie. Provence (and the Castellet) was nice in the 70′s, now it’s a much different place and story.

  8. Stephen Mallia, 6 April 2012 17:09

    In my opinion the problem with Circuit Paul Ricard is because it looks nothing special compared to Spa. If you are alternating with Spa, do it with a circuit of the same calibre. Is it possible to use Circuit de la Sarthe for a grand prix (just saying)?

  9. Rich Ambroson, 6 April 2012 17:13

    I suppose I’m in my naive mode for this moment, but why can’t we have a Belgian GP and a French GP EACH year, and not a GP in Bahrain, or Korea, or Abu Dhabi? Those circuits are not good, and there is either a lack of GP interest and history in all of those, or a terrible situation as in Bahrain…

  10. Mario Carneiro Neto, 7 April 2012 01:48

    I thought Paul Ricard was owned by Bernie, isn’t it?

    I’m happy, but they should get rid of the Spanish GP (or at least one of them) and add Paul Ricard to the calendar without messing with Spa, which is by far the best circuit in the calendar….

  11. Andy, 7 April 2012 10:13

    It might be better than Magny Cours but, nostalgia aside, Paul Ricard is still veeeery dull….now if they were going to Clermont Ferrand I could get excited.

  12. Pat Kenny, 7 April 2012 18:35

    It is a sad day for F1 when we are here discussing the merits of only having Francorchamps every alternate year when the circus is branching out into more and more identikit dictator-dromes. How is it that there was ever not a French GP? This is not the real economics of the situation – it is a BE induced strangulation of the classic circuits. As for negotiating with himself, so long as he can stiff the French taxpayer in the end he can just sit back and laugh. There is an election there in a couple of weeks. This may not play well for the UMP.

  13. Chris Hall, 7 April 2012 22:48

    Let’s face it, Ricard / Castellet was the prototype for all of the Tilkedrones that F1 is now largely made up of. The only way that I would welcome it as a venue for the French GP is if they reinstitute the Verrerie ess bend at the end of the pit straight, this being very similar to the classic Masta kink on the real Spa. Ideally the GP would go to the shortened Charade circuit at Clermont Ferrand but it faces much the same problems as it’s original bigger brother ie lack of space due to the geography of the area plus sadly a concerted campaign by some vociferous local residents ( who have moved into the area comparatively recently ) and an ambitious local MP to get it closed down forever, something perhaps Motor Sport could highlight in a future issue.

  14. rob widdows, 8 April 2012 14:28

    HAPPY EASTER EVERYBODY, hope some of you are enjoying a few days away from work!
    Nice debate above and great to see so many REAL old-fashioned racing fans supporting the race at Spa, as we all do. No, Ricard is not perfect, but it would be great to have a French GP back on the calendar. And yes, of course, we should have Spa and Ricard every year and do away with some of those dreary races mentioned above. Sadly, F1 now goes where the money is, and that’s the cycle we are in at the moment. It won’t be that way for ever. Could be worse, could be under floodlights in Qatar………………..

  15. ray fk, 8 April 2012 17:35

    I would prefer Ricard to Magny-Bours.It used to have a great corner called Signes which used to be about 170mph.Although with today’s over the top safety standards that would have to go or a chicane piaced before it.Personally though all today’s circuits even the so called ‘greats’ have all been ruined.

  16. chris b, 9 April 2012 07:26

    well it is really good and bad news, but for how much longer do we have to endure this erosion of motor racing fans interests for the love of money? whomsoever these people that ‘own’ F1 can’t be that thick can they? or does their greed blind their wisdom? why are we even considering a race in Bahrain? and then saying yea be great Spa every other year – is there not a zillionaire out there who actually likes motor sport, ok that’s the bad and my frustrated whinge done- now the good, i will certainly attend a GP at Paul Ricard and j’adore the thought of a proper French GP again- although miss Rheims, Rouen, Clermont Ferrand I’ll take Paul Ricard any day than that ‘interesting’ circuit at Magny Cours – where my only recollection was DC indicatiing to MS he should go forth apart from that it was turgid – but memories of those Pirelli’s on Piquet’s car blitzing everyone – make it happen – please

  17. rob widdows, 9 April 2012 11:03

    Best news of the Easter weekend is that the Grand Prix teams have at last seen sense abd are at least talking about abandoning plans tio go to Bahrain. A group of MPs in the English parliament have now said the race should be cancelled and have asked Mr Ecclestone to explain why he is satisfied that it is safe and acceptable for Formula One to race in Bahrain this month. Damon Hill has advised against the race and now the teams are making alternative arrangements for their travel after the race in Shanghai. This means they too are having doubts.
    Some of you will know that I have long been against the staging of the Bahrain race in 2012, for reasons similar to those of Damon Hill, and explained in a previous story here.
    There is some cause for optimism, though Mr E remains adamant that the event should go ahead.

  18. Ray T, 9 April 2012 17:44

    Mr. E has the moral centre of a ham sandwich. How awful it must be to live to your 80s and still only be driven by greed. Pathetic.
    F1 can go to Bahrain, I won’t watch it. F1 is nothing without TV numbers, and that puts us in a powerful position over that annoying gnome.

    They had a similar issue with South Africa in the 70s, except drivers actually liked going to Kyalami and the Ranch.

  19. Rich Ambroson, 9 April 2012 18:15

    As with Ray T, I won’t watch an event from Bahrain if it takes place this year. CVC/BCE won’t get my eyeballs.

    A French GP, I will watch. Every year. As with a Belgian GP.

  20. Ray T, 9 April 2012 18:42

    I really don’t get this obsession with making F1 global. They could save billions by concentrating the series near Europe. With TV, actual audiences and locations don’t matter, so why go to places that require a day of plane flights and expensive night races? Most teams are still near or in Europe. Germany, Italy, France, Spain, England could all host multiple races, no one would care if we had three Italian GPs.
    Additionally, I would have thought that by now, someone would have a competitive series for F1 -along the lines of F5000 or Can-am in the 70s.

  21. rob widdows, 10 April 2012 12:13

    OK, but be careful not to get into any slander or libel here, especially where Mr E is concerned. Thanks.
    Better, happier news is that there looks like being a Grand Prix in Argentina next year. Those of us who remember the great old days of the race in Buenos Aires would welcome a return of racing to Argentina where the people are crazy about their racing, possibly less so since there have been no Argentinian drivers. Let’s hope the matter of the Falkland Islands has been cleared up by the time the race returns. F1 has quite enough politics without another controversial event.
    Let us all hope Bahrain is cancelled. It is the most sensible and grown-up decision for the sport to take.

  22. Rich Ambroson, 10 April 2012 15:03

    An Argentine GP would be most welcome. The rich history of racing in that nation, as well as one of the indisputable all-time greats coming from Argentina makes it a natural. I have several friends from there as well, and I know they’ll be happy.

    Now, if only the French GP could be held at Clermont Ferrand… (I’ll be happy with any French GP, it must be said; even if it’s at Magny Cours!)

  23. John Read, 10 April 2012 18:30

    G’day Ray T.

    I reckon you should have a holiday Down Under and take in the Australian GP. It’s likely to be a long flight (unless you are from NZ) so take a couple of weeks and you will see why it would be a bad idea to have all the races in Europe.

    regards from the Lucky Country.

  24. Ray T, 10 April 2012 19:03

    Slander or libel? Picture Bernie in a tall pointy red hat -that will stand up in any court of law m’lord.

    I enjoyed the US and CDN GPs, but there is lots of good local racing.
    I really enjoy Aussie V8s, on Aussie Tracks, but why would they want to move it to the US?

    I shudder to think about how much money and oil is spent just to move the circus all around the world. I guess the point is, if they can afford it, it must be ok?

  25. chris b, 10 April 2012 20:20

    John Read, totally agree old chap, one of my dreams is to see the Aussie GP and whilst i would encourage more Euro races I would enthusiastically welcome back the Argentinian GP – linked of course to the Brazilian GP, three American GP’s [oh boy for those of you yet to receive this months MOTOR SPORT you are in for a real treat - its supremely good] and the Canadian GP – I would also keep the Japanese GP but aside from that – India would be welcome, [adore the country] and um….

  26. R.E.B, 11 April 2012 18:43

    But Paul Ricard was never particularly loved compared to Rouen or Clermont Ferrand. I suppose modern circuits have become so bland even dull ones are now seen in a flattering light.

  27. rob widdows, 12 April 2012 12:30

    Um, I don’t think I was saying that Ricard is a great circuit, I was simply saying the place has a very nice feel to it and has many happy memories of seeing Grand Prix cars at high speed. I suppose, as mooted above, that the wonderful Signes corner will be emasculated as part of any new plan and that certainly will spoil some of the fun. Of course Rouen and Clermont Ferrand were great tracks but it seems we are never going to return to those days. Safety is rightly uppermost in the drivers minds for one thing and, within reason, bearing in mind today’s cornering speeds, that is sensible.
    We still have Spa, Monza, Suzuka, Monaco and Interlagos.

  28. Lewis Lane, 12 April 2012 19:22

    At the moment, Rob…
    It’s good news that Argentina may be back, but again the traditional circuit will most likely be foregone in favour of a municipal car park, as will doubtless happen if Mexico returns too – loved the Rodriguez Brothers Circuit. Should be more South American and less “govenment influenced” races on the calendar. At least you know the fans will turn up – if they’re not priced out the area, that is…

  29. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 18:59

    I’ve come a bit late to this thread, due to Easter, and I can see several talking points have emerged, so I may need more than one post to offer my full two penn’orth, if that’s OK.
    Above all, Rob, you deserve our strongest gratitude for making a big issue of the French GP. Its recent absence has caused barely a murmur in some quarters, but it should be a matter of almost religious symbolism to all true fans, as the oldest motorsport Grand Prix in the world, dating back to the 1906 race at Le Mans. As such, I have always strongly felt that its abeyance represents a wanton lack of pride in the sport’s heritage on the part of the powers that be. Can you imagine tennis without Wimbledon, or golf without the British Open? No, because in those sports, even though both have long been dominated by interests outside their country of origin, there is not only a respect for their deepest roots but an understanding that, far from being an impediment to progress, heritage adds lustre to a sport’s commercial attraction if marketed well. Of course any sport needs to develop, but if it loses its core and its soul in the process, it is on the road not to expansion but to extinction. The most basic marketing strategy, after all, is “bums on seats,” things which are always more likely to be found around a French racing circuit than a Chinese one or, dare I say it, a Bahraini one.

  30. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 18:59

    That said, who knows what level of interest there will still be in France in a few years, if the Grand Prix doesn’t return? Thank goodness there are three fine young French prospects in F1 this year, because without any drivers from the hexagon in the previous couple of seasons, and with no home race, there were already worrying signs of waning enthusiasm. The channel with the broadcasting rights, TF1, hasn’t shown qualifying since the beginning of 2011. Next year, rumour suggests, it may surrender its rights entirely to Al-Jazeera’s new subscription sports channel. When they had no home driver to follow, I encouraged my French friends to see that such things go in cycles, as has happily proved to be the case. In the same way, I would genuinely encourage those who bemoan the current lack of an Italian driver. But in terms of the all-important world championship slot, these days it does seem that time waits rather less than it used to, when a GP could drop off the calendar for whatever reason for a year (or two), and then quite easily fit back in. One has an awful feeling that it’s now or never for a restored French GP, at least for the rest of this decade, before the next wave of novelties such as Russia hits the schedule, and if by 2022 there are young French adults who have never known a French GP, what then?

  31. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:00

    And so to the current proposal. It’s not quite a new one – rumours of a raceshare project with Spa first surfaced last year – but there’s no doubt that Mr Fillon’s visit to Le Castellet has given it added impetus. You are right, as well, Rob – Mr Fillon, besides being one of the most sensible politicians in France in my opinion, is a genuine, lifelong supporter of motorsport, who has been actively working to bring back the French GP ever since its cancellation. So, although it is of course not entirely coincidental that his circuit visit occurred during an election campaign, it would be quite wrong to dismiss it as nothing but a stunt. As you also mention, Rob, the French PM is a son of la Sarthe, and one thing I’ve never understood is why neither he nor anybody else in France, as far as I know, ever pushed to revive the French GP there. Le Mans has everything in place already, it strikes me: the name and the worldwide recognition, the hotels and campsites, the location and transport infrastructure. Plus the fact that this was where Grand Prix racing began, which could finally be made into a big selling point. Probably any GP would have to be on the Bugatti Circuit or some variant thereof, but that’s surely no worse than Magny-Cours or even Ricard, to be honest.

  32. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:00

    But back to what’s on the table. One bone of contention for many people is the “raceshare” idea. “Why cut back on Spa?” they ask, and of course a further reduction of visits to classic circuits is regrettable, but it should be said that it’s the Belgians themselves who have been pushing for such an arrangement for some while, first suggesting they alternate with the German GP before looking to the French. So I wouldn’t lay that one at Bernie’s door, but there is nonetheless an unhappy irony in his current attitude to raceshare contracts, whether it this proposal, or the one he already has in place between the Nurburgring and Hockenheim, or his very strong hints that Barcelona and Valencia are heading the same way. Time was when the British GP always alternated, between Silverstone and first Aintree and then Brands, whilst the French GP’s gateau was spread far and wide before alternating for about a decade between Ricard and Dijon. Other countries sometimes alternated too. Then, from the mid-80s, Bernie insisted on exclusive multi-year contracts. Alternating was verboten. This was short-sighted – the result has been that countries, where there were once several viable GP venues, are now lucky to maintain just one. Britain is an obvious case, and France’s apparent inability to stage a revived GP more than once every two years is another direct consequence, because if Dijon, or a similar example, was still F1-ready, the French would not be looking beyond their borders to share the burden.

  33. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:00

    Now Bernie has gone back to the future. Alternating is good again, but only in Europe, it would seem, and only, of course, because he wants to reduce the number of European rounds. In the case of the two Spanish venues, that seems fair enough. In the case of the German circuits sharing, it seems positively sensible, when for several years there was a real threat of no German GP at all, a threat which has still not entirely abated. However, when the idea is taken across borders and presents a very convenient method, by the by, of culling the sport’s traditional heartlands even more deeply, that seems to me to be setting a very unwelcome precedent, which, once established, could then be used to force other European races to go bi-annual too.

  34. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:01

    Various posters, Rob included, have mentioned politics. As both Vlady and Pat mentioned, there is an election rapidly approaching in France. Vlady points out that Mr Fillon will not be PM afterwards, if Hollande wins, as currently seems likely. In fact, from what I’ve read, he will probably not be PM even if Sarkozy hangs on, because he has indicated it’s time to move on after five years, in which case it is also speculated that government’s loss may well become motorsports administration’s considerable gain. We shall see. In any case, Hollande’s Parti Socialiste has already decided to play silly political games over the French GP project, particularly in its Nevers fiefdom, which just happens to contain Magny-Cours. The Hollande camp’s attitude seems to be simply that if Fillon is backing Le Castellet, then they will back Magny-Cours, and as they are confident of winning the election, the rest of the world had better listen. Unfortunately, I don’t think Ecclestone works along those lines and, despite the recruitment of Guy Ligier to persuade him of Magny’s merits, he made it quite clear some time ago that there would be no going back there, which, after all, is the whole reason why France fell off the calendar. Additionally, the Belgians are not happy, because the latest Magny-Cours bid is based on a French GP every season.

  35. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:01

    Whether Hollande ultimately wins or loses, therefore, it strikes me that he and his friends are already doing a pretty good job of jeopardising all the hard work that has been put into the return of their national F1 race, for no reason other than the most petty and stupid partisanship. I myself am not being partisan here, sincerely. If it was Sarkozy himself turning up at Le Castellet, rather than his present PM, I would be equally scathing. But Fillon, for all the reasons already stated by Rob, is a different case when it comes to motor sport. It was partisan politics, let us not forget, that foisted Magny-Cours upon us in the first place, twenty years ago. That is why I cannot altogether concur with you, Rob, when you suggest Cameron should stick his nose into motor sport in the UK. If you mean simply that he should more loudly trumpet its contribution to the economy, then yes, I wholeheartedly agree, but if you mean he and the government should impose more direct patronage, with all the extra possibilities to meddle that politicians always expect back from such arrangements, then I say no way, look at the shenanigans in France. With certain rare exceptions for the likes of Mr Fillon, and perhaps genuine fans in the UK such as Ken Clarke and Peter Hain, motor sport should have a sign on the door saying “Politics – and politicians – not welcome”.

  36. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:02

    That brings me, Rob, to your mention of the Argentine GP and your hope that the Falklands issue is resolved, as best as it can be, by the time any race happens. The problem is that the two things share a common denominator and its name is Kirchner. It is this absurd politician who seems to have gone ahead and announced the return of the Grand Prix as a fait accompli, pretty much out of the blue, and I would guess her reasons for doing so are not wholly dissimilar to the reasons behind her sabre-rattling over the islands – i.e. why focus on the economic situation when you can distract attention with silly patriotic stunts? This is the same woman who informed us, a year ago, that a new Argentine star had been signed up to drive in F1 through her personal intervention. I can’t even remember his name now. Frankly, I would treat her latest pronouncement with the same level of credulity, much as I regard Argentina as one of F1’s historic heartlands. As far as the Falklands goes, whatever one thinks of that issue, there is a very real practical consideration for F1, in that as long as Kirchner does things like ban UK shipping from Argentine ports, as is currently the case, then the two thirds of F1 teams who are British-based ain’t going there, period, whether they want to or not. I suppose she might normally rely on HRT to turn up, but as remarkably she is even stirring up a major row with Spain, for all her usual “patriotic” reasons, by trying to seize all of Repsol’s assets in YPF oil, even that is unlikely.

  37. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 19:03

    Well, sorry for going on at such length, but there was just so much food for thought! That still leaves the thorny issue of Bahrain, but as there is now unsurprisingly another thread devoted exclusively to the matter, I shall leave any thoughts on that to there, other than to say well done yet again for sticking your neck out where so many others won’t, Rob – you are absolutely right that Bahrain should not go ahead in the current circumstances and I think today’s oh-so-predictable announcement from the FIA stinks to high heaven. That’s it – I’ll stop now :)

  38. John Read, 14 April 2012 01:38

    Adrian, are you applying for a job? At this rate Damien will have to give you more pages than Roebuck!!!

  39. Adrian Muldrew, 16 April 2012 09:28

    LOL John, (or perhaps we should say LOLA on a motor racing forum? Laughing Out Loud Again, perhaps?)
    I think NSR, Rob and their similarly excellent colleagues can sleep easily in their beds. It’s a just a topic that I’ve been following for some time, and there’s so much to say but so little that actually has been said by anybody in the anglophone media. That’s why it’s worth repeating that Rob really does deserve our strongest gratitude for highlighting the matter – and I’ll shut up now!

  40. Adrian Muldrew, 23 April 2012 15:20

    Well, I did shut up for a week (LOLA again), but yesterday was an interesting day on this, in two respects.
    First, Bernie Ecclestone has pronounced on the matter, perhaps in an effort to take attention away from less welcome GP venues. He told L’Equipe that Ricard was “a done deal” and that the French Sport Minister, former judo champion David Douillet, met him in his office last week to finalise the agreement, which they did “apart from a few things about money”. This is widely reported to be around 2 million euros of French government funding, a figure which intriguingly was also widely reported as the sole sticking point nearly three weeks ago, so I’m not really sure what the substantive progress has been, save that Bernie has come out in public, given that Douillet also met him several weeks ago.
    Yesterday’s other development was the first round of the French elections, duly topped by Hollande. The figures suggest it’s not over for Sarkozy, but he’s clearly behind. In L’Equipe, Ecclestone dismissed the elections in typical fashion as “a local matter” which would not affect the deal, believing it could be signed before the second round of elections on 6 May! Surprising, if correct, I would have thought, and so does the paper Nice Matin, which quoted Hollande from 2009, saying that “the circuits of F1 no longer have their place in competitive sport”. That certainly doesn’t bode well for the longer term if “President Hollande” happens. One could also wonder if events in Bahrain have made government money for F1 too hot a political potato, this side of election day.

  41. Adrian Muldrew, 6 June 2012 23:50

    Don’t know if anyone’s still looking at this thread, but so much has happened that I must renege a second time on my promise to shut up about it! Hollande, of course, is indeed President and the French GP’s prospects look decidedly iffy. The old government acted with what now appears to have been some desperation in its dying days, with ex-minister Douillet saying in the week preceding the presidential run-off that he hoped to get to London to sign with BCE “between Wednesday and Friday” (as little as two days before voting!) and that he expected a victorious Hollande would otherwise “bury” the race. Nothing more was ever heard from Mr Douillet, but meanwhile approval for a “public interest group” (GIP) was published in the Official Gazette just one day before voting. The GIP, which still nominally exists, would promote the Grand Prix, but more significantly it is guaranteed by the French state, which would therefore plug any eventual financial shortfall despite pledges by both the old and new governments that there would be no state funding for the race. Therein lies one of several sticking points with the advent of Mr Hollande. Interviewed by L’Equipe between the two electoral rounds, Hollande made his views quite clear on this and all other aspects of the proposed deal. Sarkozy and Fillon, he said, “were too eager to back the French Grand Prix. We will review if we are elected I do not think the French state should be responsible for any financial outlay whatsoever. There are enough issues to consider without spending tens of millions of euros on a grand prix.”

  42. Adrian Muldrew, 7 June 2012 00:27

    In these difficult times, one could argue Mr Hollande has a point, except that what seems to underpin his attitude is not high-mindedness but the sort of petty political pitch warfare I mentioned in an earlier post. Also in the last week before polling day, the future president was in his party’s Nevers stronghold, where he met a delegation of local bigwigs including the boss of Magny-Cours, which is located there. Hollande trotted out the futile old line about the need to include the circuit in the GP plans, despite Ecclestone having made it quite clear that he wasn’t interested and being on the verge of concluding a completely different and painstakingy-negotiated deal. Sports radio station RMC has since reported that deluded Magny-Cours officials have contacted Ecclestone ‘repeatedly’ since the election results, and that a derisory BCE has said they can have the GP for 10 million euros more per race than he is proposing to Le Castellet, knowing full well they cannot come close to affording it. And Hollande, of course, with his bluster, has hardly put himself in a position to meet the difference, in the unlikely event that Ecclestone might be willing to have his bluff called. Nice work, François. Bernie’s now seems to have lost all patience, telling ESPN “The French have had enough opportunity to make it happen and didn’t. They promised all these things like the streets of Paris and Disney. It’s very political. I don’t know if would have been different if Sarkozy had been re-elected. I have no idea. Whilst he was in power they could have signed.”

  43. Adrian Muldrew, 7 June 2012 00:54

    But was Bernie latterly a little deluded too? Whilst he is correct that this saga goes back way beyond recent weeks to other long-aborted plans, was it ever really plausible to rush through such a prickly project so near to an election? Right up to the last moment, BCE seemed blissfully unaware of the significance of a change in the Elysée, dismissing the poll as “a local issue that doesn’t concern me.” Even afterwards, at the Monaco GP, reality was dawning on him only gradually, saying “I think maybe the election that has taken place might have put (the French GP) back a bit. When that all settles down, I’m sure we’ll get back on track.” It was only a couple of days after this display of continued phlegm that he suddenly turned on the French as quoted above. No wonder some observers are asking if he is finally losing his touch. Back to the RMC channel for a possible explanation of his change of mood. Douillet’s replacement as sports minister, Valerie Fourneyron, is at the radio mike. She is also mayor of Rouen, but don’t expect any sympathy for F1 traditions from this grim-looking woman. This is what she said: “There was a remarkable acceleration on this issue late in the day. We must have transparency on this issue, not financial murkiness and lack of environmental effort by Bernie Ecclestone. This is something which deserves a lot of attention. We also need to know how greatly the state will endorse any shortfalls, plus there are major accessibility problems at Castellet. All of that needs a little more than ten minutes of attention.”

  44. Adrian Muldrew, 7 June 2012 01:20

    Whether Bernie just feigns that he couldn’t give a monkeys about politicians or really means it, one can imagine that being accused by the French sports minister of “financial murkiness” over the airwaves was not the best way to ensure his continued patience for this particular project. But it should tell him and the wider F1 powers-that-be something about the ammunition which the sport is storing up for its opponents’ benefit. So too should Ms Fourneyron’s attack on his “lack of environmental effort,” which perhaps gets to her true agenda. That will always be a difficult sell for F1 in the face of the Fourneyrons of this world (and the Hollandes – let’s not forget he said “F1 circuits no longer have a place in competitive sport” just three years ago), without making the sport’s public image even more sullied in the various ways that that has recently been done. It was left to Alain Prost to speak good sense, as usual, when he said “I’m not optimistic. It’s not only a money problem…it’s more the signal that with the election of Mr Hollande it’s going to be quite tough to take the decision. Flins was a fantastic project, really good and with no public money. Everything was set up and the French government decided to stop it.” What he could have added was that if Flins (the Paris GP project) was stopped for environmental reasons by such a basically F1-friendly government as Fillon’s, then Lord knows where F1 is heading in France under a new government which is clearly less well-disposed towards it.

  45. Adrian Muldrew, 7 June 2012 01:46

    Meanwhile, Ms Fourneyron continues to plod through her checklist, while the real world passes her by in the way that only dumb politicians get passed by it. On Tuesday, she met a delegation from Le Castellet, and on Friday she meets the “hope-springs-eternal” brigade from Magny-Cours. The increasingly despondent Castellet group, after their meeting with her, told L’Equipe that it was “not convinced of the new government’s desire to maintain the commitments of the state to organize a Grand Prix de France at Paul Ricard. The new sports minister said she did not believe the financial estimates and that the communities had not been well-informed of the reality of the state of negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone.” For her part, Ms Fourneyron told L’Equipe “it is clear that there is work to be done. With the elements I have today, there is no decision that is possible. As of today, there is no agreement with FOM. The question now is absolutely not on a site selection, but on feasibility, under what conditions we can organize a Grand Prix in France.” Talk about a politician not getting it. Round about 2015, she will probably feel she’s got the conditions just about right. The pity is that she will be about three years late for the only condition that matters – the spare slot on busy Bernie’s calendar. As I wrote earlier, Rob, this is what tends to happen when you let polticians get too closely involved in F1. Alors, au revoir, GP de France. It was nice knowing you.

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