Portuguese GP in more trouble

THE Portuguese Government's financial review body has thrown the future of the country's Grand Prix into uncertainty by rejecting the deal done between the government and the former owners of the circuit Autodril so that the race could be saved. The Grand Prix was dropped from the 1997 World Championship because upgrading work had not been done. In an effort to ensure that the race went ahead the government bought a controlling interest in the circuit and immediately began upgrading work so that the track would be on the 1998 F1 calendar. A deal was struck with the FIA to this effect, on the understanding that upgrading work would be finished in the first few weeks of 1998.

The Court of Accounts has now blocked all payment to contractors working at Estoril because contracts were awarded without competitive tender because the government decided it was an "emergency" situation. Stopping the building work and having a bidding contest to see who should do the work is likely to delay the upgrading and the FIA deadline may be missed as a result.

The country's new Economy Minister Joaquim Pina Moura - who replaced Alberto Mateus last week - denied that there would be any problems getting the work done on time.

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