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.

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.

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.

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!

You may also like