DECEMBER 15, 1997
...and for Estoril
THE Portuguese Grand Prix looks to be in considerable jeopardy with the FIA insisting that the Estoril circuit gives "a binding undertaking" by December 31 to complete renovation work on schedule. This may not be easy, as the circuit's reconstruction problems are wrapped up in legal and political wrangling and there are only two weeks to go before the deadline and the period includes the Christmas holidays.
If an undertaking is to be given, the Portuguese Government - which owns the track - must find a way to overrule the country's Court of Accounts which has ruled that work cannot continue until a proper tendering contest for the work has been completed as its original choice of company was rushed through as an emergency measure.
With extra races hoping to get a slot on the calendar the FIA does not appear to be bothered whether or not the event takes place at all - and some delegates appear to be fed up with the whole saga as the upgrading of Estoril has been dragging on for years.
Portugal has lost a lot of its political clout within the FIA as a result of the recent death of Cesar Torres. It will not have helped that Portugal was one of the governments which supported the European Union tobacco ban.
The Portuguese GP was dropped from this year's World Championship because upgrading work was not done but, in an effort to get the race back on, the Portuguese government intervened, buying a controlling interest in the circuit and beginning work on the track.
In addition to the building problems the Portuguese have still to settle all the outstanding commercial clauses of a contract and in these negotiations Bernie Ecclestone clearly has the upper hand and is likely to squeeze the Portuguese for the best possible deal. They have little choice but to accept.
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