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DECEMBER 14, 2003

France's last hope

The FIA World Council on Friday in Monte Carlo decided to keep France in the F1 calendar for next year but the race can only happen if the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (FFSA) can negotiate a deal with Bernie Ecclestone and get all the F1 teams to agree to run an 18th race.

This is not going to happen.

The teams have made it very clear that they each want an additional $2m to do an 18th race. FFSA President Jacques Regis told the Liberation newspaper on Saturday that if the teams ask for extra cash, the FFSA will refuse to pay.

If the FFSA maintains its position the race is off as the teams are not going to back down.

If the FFSA wants the race to go ahead it must find the cash but it is a huge mountain to climb because the federation must raise $12m to pay Ecclestone for the 2004 race; it will need $20m for the teams and an additional $9m to run the event. This means that at least $41m is needed - and this is not taking into account the fact that Ecclestone is still owed $11m for the races in 2002 and 2003.

Liberation reports that the FFSA has a commitment for $2m from the regional government of Burgundy and a further $2m from the Nievre conseil general. The ticket sales will bring in only around $7m, which means that the race is still $30m short of its target.

The FIA has given the French a deadline of December 31 to get a solution but in effect this means only a week as most of France and the FIA will be on holiday from December 19 until the New Year. The fact that the race remains on the calendar for now means that the French government has not yet realized the full implication of the situation and so his not exerting any pressure on the FIA and by the time that happens it will almost certainly be too late.

The only hope is that a deal can be struck with Ecclestone and that as the Bahrain GP creeps closer, the F1 teams will look at the political situation and decide that they do not wish to take risks by the Middle East. There is talk that there could be insurance problems for the event but F1 has rarely paid much attention to events going on around it and is unlikely to cancel the event in Bahrain.