Honda website
Honda website

OCTOBER 14, 2004

The state of French motor racing

The switch of the French Grand Prix to April is not some Machiavellian plot by Bernie Ecclestone to ensure that the race takes place in mud-soaked splendour but rather in response to a request from the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile, which believes that it has more chance of getting a good crowd in April than it does at the end of June. The April 17 date will make the French GP the first race in Europe and although Easter is early next year (March 27), the French Easter holidays will be on. This is a complicated issue but France is divided into three zones and the holidays are spread so that not everyone is holidaying at the same time. The April 17 date is a holiday in much of central and southern France while Paris will not start the holidays until April 23. However the logic appears to be that people from Paris will drive to Magny-Cours anyway for the race and that the April 17 will attract those from farther afield. There are no doubt hopes that Germans, British and Spanish fans will head for Magny-Cours because it is the first race of the year in Europe.

The biggest problem, however, is that France will not have a Grand Prix driver next year unless something dramatic occurs. Renault F1 will attract some support but the enthusiasm is muted because the team does not win enough and because F1 fans know that the team is more British than it is French.

However, there are signs of growth in French racing at the moment. The recent Paris Automobile Salon attracted a record 1.46m visitors, making it the biggest car show in the world and, among the many exhibits was the Martini MK84, the car which Tico Martini and his new partner Guy Ligier hope will corner the market for entry-level motor racing in developing countries. As expected the Martini company (which Ligier now owns) is not going to stop there and will soon reveal the JS47, a Formula 3 car which the firm intends to run in the Formula 3 Euroseries next year. The intention, quite clearly, is to grab a slice of Dallara's Formula 3 market, a hugely profitable business.

But Ligier is not the only French manufacturer to be launching into Formula 3. There will also be a prototype Formula 3 car from Mygale, which will be tested by the ASM team with driver Alexandre Premat, who finished runner-up in the Formula 3 Euroseries this year.

Renault's decision to sign Jacques Villeneuve rather than the team's test driver Franck Montagny has led to criticism for the team and Flavio Briatore and in recent days the criticism has been led by none other than Alain Prost.

"Honestly I do not understand Renault's choice and Flavio Briatore's decision," Prost said on French television. "I am not surprised that Villeneuve hasn't scored points yet, that has nothing to do with his talent. When you have been away from F1 for a certain amount of time, it is very difficult. I had troubles, much more than I thought I would have had, coming back after a year off."