Bernie buys Paul Ricard

FORMULA 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has bought the Circuit Paul Ricard from the Ricard Family for a rumored $11m and we hear that he now intends to completely revamp the facility, leaving only the buildings as they are. One rumor we hear says that the plan is to build an oval circuit with a road track in the infield. The work should be finished by 2002 when it is expected that the French Grand Prix will be transferred to Ricard when the current contract with Magny-Cours expires.

The switch is, in part at least, the result of political machinations in France. Until a couple of years ago the French GP was promoted by Philippe Gurdjian with support from socialist politician Jean Glavany. The local authorities in the area then decided to ditch Gurdjian and Glavany and take over themselves. Glavany is now France's minister of agriculture and is a close friend of Michel Vauzelle, the president of the Regional Council of the Provence Cote d'Azur area, which is expected to help with the funding of the rebuilding program.

This will be overseen by a French company called Excelsis, which will be headed by Gurdjian. Excelsis has bought not only the race track but also the airfield and the hotel at the circuit.

Built in 1969, the brainchild of the drinks magnate and pastis inventor Paul Ricard, the circuit began hosting the French GP in 1971. For the next decade Ricard shared the race with Dijon-Prenois but in 1985 Ricard took over the race for the next five years before the contract was awarded to Magny-Cours.

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