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The French GP stays at Magny-Cours until 2004

THE FIA announced last week that the French Grand Prix will be staying at Magny-Cours until after the 2004 event. This is a three-year extension to the existing contract. The FIA made the announcement "to avoid further speculation following the sale of the Ricard circuit".

This is a rather curious announcement and one can only assume that the FIA and Ricard's new owner Bernie Ecclestone are worried that a deal with Paul Ricard might be seen as anti-competitive by the European Commission which continues to bicker with the F1 authorities over the structure of the sport's contracts and organization.

It is worth noting that the FIA did say that the contract with Magny-Cours was "subject to observance of commercial agreements" and Magny-Cours promoter Roland Hodel confirmed that there is "agreement in principle" but that the terms of the new contract have yet to be finalized.

There is considerable rebuilding work to be done at Paul Ricard as we hear very little of the existing circuit is to be retained. The plans being discussed at the moment will see a new oval track being constructed with a road course inside it. The current pit buildings will probably be retained although renovation will be needed.

Although the Magny-Cours authorities continue to talk about improvement the track remains the least popular - and most remote - on the F1 calendar with insufficient hotel accommodation and rampant exploitation of the F1 visitors by the locals. The local authorities continue to promise improvement but it is worth noting that when the circuit was bought 12 years ago plans were announced for a motorway to link the track with Paris. This is still not finished.

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