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OCTOBER 4, 1999

A ray of hope for the Belgian Grand Prix

THE Belgian Grand Prix may win back its place in the Formula 1 calendar next year thanks to a decision by the Belgian court of arbitration. Belgium's Health Minister Magda Alvoet had been insisting that an anti-tobacco law should be enforced despite a regional government ruling that tobacco advertising could be allowed for international events. The case had been referred to arbitration before this year's Grand Prix but no decision had been reached. Alvoet insisted that all the F1 teams run without tobacco sponsorship and they complied. That, however, broke the contract between the F1 authorities and Spa and the 2000 race was removed from a draft calendar which was circulated to team bosses recently.

The court of arbitration has decided that the federal anti-tobacco law should be modified to allow for the Belgian GP to be held with the cars running with tobacco sponsorship and advertising hoardings beside the track to carry tobacco messages. The exemption will remain in effect only until July 31, 2003.

While the decision has given the Belgians some hope, they will now have to renegotiate their contract with F1 boss BernieÊEcclestone and that is likely to mean that the race will cost them more money. If they fail to raise that extra money, there is no shortage of race tracks bidding to replace Spa with the favorites to get the event being Zandvoort, in Holland, and Estoril, in Portugal.

The speed of the Belgian decision is no surprise as the FIA World Motor Sport Council is due to meet shortly after which an official calendar will be issued.