The story behind the French GP disaster

Ralf Schumacher, French GP 2003

Ralf Schumacher, French GP 2003 

 © The Cahier Archive

The French Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place on July 11, 2004, has been cancelled because of financial problems. The news was confirmed on Friday evening by Marcel Charmant, president of the conseil general of the Nievre department, after hours of efforts to find a solution to the problem.

"The financial situation of the holding company means that it is impossible to give Bernie Ecclestone the guarantees he needs for the finance of the race in 2004," Charmant said.

The conseil general is the major shareholder in the holding company which runs Magny Cours but economic problems in recent years has left the organization with debts of $11m to Bernie Ecclestone, some from the race in 2003 but some dating back to 2002. This means that in order for the event to happen the promoters of the race need to find $20m, which is impossible in the current financial climate. The French government might help but there is little incentive given that the country is now solidly republican while the Nievre remains staunchly socialist and there is a widespread belief that the socialists favoured the region when they took the Grand Prix from Paul Ricard back in 1991.

The race had a deadline until December's meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council to raise the money and it appears that this has failed and that the local authorities have decided to go public with three weeks to go before the council in the hope that the French government will react and save the race.

The collapse of Magny-Cours's finances means that the way is open for another venue to be found and while Paul Ricard might be a possible venue, there are fundamental problems with the facility which make it much better suited to being used solely for testing, while a bad is anticipated from Le Mans for a race in 2005.

The ambition to host an F1 has existed at Le Mans for some time but the track was excluded from negotiating because French politicians favoured Magny-Cours. In recent years there have been changes in the management of both the Automobile Club de l'Ouest and the syndicate which looks after the development of the circuit. The new group includes the conseil regional of the Loire, the conseil general of the Sarthe department and the municipal authorities of Le Mans. The region is solidly republican with all five deputies being members of the republican alliance, among them Francois Fillon, the Minister of Social Affairs, a leading member of the current government.

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