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NOVEMBER 29, 2003

Saving the French GP - the inside story

Although Bernie Ecclestone is saying that the contract with the promoters of the French GP has been cancelled, this does not mean that the race is off. The promoters can be replaced, leaving the former promotion company with debts to pay and a new organization to run the race.

Our sources say that Jacques Regis, President of the FFSA, France's national sporting authority, has decided that the federation will set up a new company to promote the race and is in the process of raising the money needed to secure the event. This means that there may be problems for the Canadian GP because the teams are demanding an extra $2m apiece to take part in an 18th race.

Regis is understood to have found money to support the race from the Conseil Regional de Bourgogne, the regional government which oversees the Burgundy area. The Grand Prix is obviously useful to the wine producers of the region, which includes the famous red wines of Burgundy and the whites of Chablis and Sancerre, although advertising wine is illegal in France. However the government cannot stop the region promoting its name, which is synonymous with the local wines.

The Conseil Regional de Bourgogne is headed by Jean-Pierre Soisson, a Republican politician who was a minister of sport in the 1970s and went on to other portfolios in the 1980s and 1990s notably at the ministries of employment and agriculture. The conseil has an annual budget of $436m and so paying out the $8m needed to pay the fees to Formula One Management will not be a problem. Other income is expected to come from the Conseil Generals of the neighboring departments of the Cher and Allier, which both gain from the race being held at Magny-Cours.

Our spies tell us that a deal is in place to cover the event from 2004 to 2009 and that the event will be run by Hugues de Chaunac of the ORECA organization with the help of Germany's Andreas Meier, who used to promote the German GP at Hockenheim. Both men were present at the FFSA press conference last week.