FEBRUARY 26, 1996
The fur flies over Paul Ricard
FOCA boss Bernie Ecclestone has told Paul Ricard that he cannot agree on a deal for the French GP with the circuit because he is tied to Magny-Cours by an existing contract. Paul Ricard has apparently accepted this and says that it is up to the FFSA to take any action it feels is appropriate.
There is certain to be some form of action as the FFSA committee is presided over by former FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre, who is unhappy to have to accept that the commercial power of FOCA can dictate decisions which are traditionally made by the national sporting authority. The FFSA argues that it owns the name "Grand Prix de France" and, therefore, an event of that nature cannot be held unless it agrees.
The dealings are rather confused, however, as it appears that Magny-Cours was encouraged by FFSA members to do a deal with FOCA before the FFSA meeting on February 2. A contract was rushed through that day, and it was therefore something of a surprise for the Magny-Cours delegates that Paul Ricard was nominated.
The only real course of action open to the FFSA is to threaten not to accord French Grand Prix status to a race at Magny-Cours. This would not be a problem for FOCA as a race could easily become a European GP or even a Swiss GP. It is unlikely to come to that, however, as any suggestion by FOCA that there need never be a French GP again would lead very quickly to a collapse in the FFSA position.
There is likely to be plenty of skullduggery in the weeks ahead, but the French GP will probably go ahead as planned at Magny-Cours in 1997... Economic logic usually comes out on top in F1 these days.