JULY 23, 2002
The future of the French Grand Prix
THE French Grand Prix is due to continue at Magny-Cours until the end of 2004. That was announced as long ago as October 1999 so as to "avoid further speculation following the sale of the Ricard circuit". Magny-Cours is now facing up to the fact that it must bid again for the race and this time Paul Ricard is up and running and ready to go following a massive rebuilding program. For the last few years Magny-Cours has been run by a local socialist politician Roland Hodel but with the defeat of the socialists in the recent elections (although they won in the Nievre departement around Nevers as usual) the government may prefer to move the race elsewhere.
The link with Magny-Cours is a left-over from the old socialist leaders President Francois Mitterand and Pierre Beregovoy but switching the race to Paul Ricard may have no real political value to the new government as the area around Paul Ricard is a stronghold of the extreme right wing Front National party.
Magny-Cours 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 have been promising improvement for years but little has changed and now there are complaints that the pitlane is too narrow and the facilities too small.
Hodel has now unveiled plans to completely rebuild the circuit from the Chateau d'Eau corner down to the finish line. This is a major undertaking as it will involve a completely new section of track, the relocation of the cars parks and the rerouting of an access road beside the track. On the other hand the new section will increase the crowd capacity by another 20,000 seats, taking the track capacity to around 150,000. It will also change the nature of the circuit which has been rather dull in recent years as overtaking has become incredibly hard. This is being achieved with a completely new Chateau d'Eau corner, which will be shorter and faster than the existing turn. The run from there down to the last corner will be ditched and a new high-speed left-hander will be built which will lead the cars down to a 90-degree right-hander in a new "stadium" area. This will see the cars braking from 180mph down to 50mph and should create an overtaking place. There will then be a short burst back to a right-left chicane, which will also feature the pitlane entry road. This will feed the track back to the current finish line.
The new section will be largely visible from the main grandstands.
However Magny-Cours has its work cut out to keep the Grand Prix and it was no accident that FIA President Max Mosley visited the new Paul Ricard and made highly favorable noises about the facility.
"This is much more impressive than anything I could have ever imagined," said Mosley. "One truly has the feeling of entering into the future, where everything is guided by technology. This test track will be an asset for the world of motor sports. With the construction of two hotels and the renovation of the airport at close proximity, the teams will definitely have everything necessary to carry out tests in the best conditions.
"This new tool will and must become the reference and model for the motor sports race tracks in the world."
Whether this means that Paul Ricard will make a bid for the race or whether Ricard will be used to pressure Magny-Cours into change remains to be seen...
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