SEPTEMBER 15, 2004
Getting French drivers into Formula 1
There is much angst in France at the moment about the country's dwindling involvement in Formula 1. The major French newspapers are giving Formula 1 less and less coverage and interest is dropping. The retirement of Olivier Panis means that there could be no Frenchman in F1 next year, for the first time since 1966. In fact there have only been a couple of seasons in the entire 54 years of the World Championship in which there were no Frenchmen. In its heydey France boasted as many as a dozen F1 drivers each year but in recent years the numbers have dwindled as French companies have stopped supporting youngsters. The Renault F1 team is French in name alone, even if the engines are still designed and built in France.
It had been hoped that Renault might promote Franck Montagny to Formula 1 but the signing of Jacques Villeneuve for the remaining races this year and Giancarlo Fisichella for 2005 means that the best that Montagny can hope for next year is a test drive, unless he can find the money to buy a drive with one of the smaller teams.
The one chance that France has for next year is that Sebastien Bourdais could return in triumph from the United States and get a ride with one of the minor F1 teams. Bourdais is rumoured to be testing a Jaguar shortly.
The Federation Fran¨aise du Sport Automobile, France's national sporting authority, helped Bourdais when he won the FIA Formula 3000 title in 2002 and has chosen the same day that Renault announced Villeneuve to highlight its support for young drivers.
"One of the greatest priorities for the Federation Fran¨aise du Sport Automobile is to help the best young French drivers reach the top," said FFSA President Jacques Regis. "Our efforts are now starting to pay off in rallying and although it is more difficult the achieve the same in Formula 1 because of the finance involved, the FFSA is doing everything it can to achieve success in both disciplines in the future."
Since 1988 the FFSA has run schemes to promote young French drivers in both racing and rallying, programmes which have helped WRC stars Sebastien Loeb and Cedric Robert. This year's Equipe de France FFSA includes Alexandre Premat, Eric Salignon, Nicolas Lapierre and Loic Duval in the Formula 3 Euroseries and Tristan Gommendy and Olivier Pla in the World Series by Nissan.
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