The French Grand Prix

A year ago Jacques Regis, the president of the Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile (FFSA), the promoter of the French Grand Prix, told reporters that the FFSA was paying Bernie Ecclestone $11.9m for the right to host the event. This year, in launching the event, he was not as forthcoming with information, explaining that that things would be just as difficult this year as last but refusing to talk about the numbers, except to say that the price being charged by the Formula One group had been increased by 10%. This means that the FFSA is paying $13m this year.

Regis said that last year's event cost a total of $22m to stage and that the federation had made a profit of $183,000 thanks to increased ticket sales and other commercial operations. This was achieved despite the late decision to promote the race. Regis warned however that the late decision on the 2005 calendar has meant that the federation had lost the opportunity to sell tickets at Christmas time and so it was still going to be a tough job to break even.

"With Turkey having to be put into the calendar and the question over 19 races, we proposed that we be the first event," he said. "Then we looked at the logistics and te weather and realized that it is just not possible to do that. We argued and in the end we got our original date back."

Regis said that one of the aims of the organization is to reduce the cost of tickets to the general public and said that the prices at Magny Cours have come down dramatically.

"We have taken the price of the cheapest tickest down from 110 Euros ($143) in 2003 to 90 ($117) last year and 70 ($91) this year. There was even a special promotion for 62 ($80). When you compare that to Belgium where the cheapest ticket is 200 Euros ($260) we have a good price. The aim is not to make a profit but to balance the books."

Regis said that there are 10,000 tickets sold for this year's race - twice the number that had been sold at this point a year ago.

"We are confident enough," he said, "but not having a French driver is not helping us. All we have got is two drivers who learned to race in France: Patrick Friesacher and Tiago Monteiro. I talked to the teams and to Bernie and explained that we need to have a French driver in F1 but what can I do? We can continue to help young drivers with talent but it is not easy to get into F1 because these days you need experience or money."

Regis said that much will depend on what happens in the first races this year.

"If there are four or five potential winners then I would expect more people to come to Magny-Cours," he said. "Suspense brings people."

The FFSA organization, which is run by Eric Barbaroux, a former manager at Prost Grand Prix, has worked hard to keep down the costs of the event but Regis says that it is not going to be easy to break even.

"We are going to be on the limit," he said. "I think this is the case with all the race organisers. It is a real problem."

Regis added that if F1 gets to be too expensive France might have to look elsewhere and commented that rumours that Le Mans might hold a Champ car race were "quite possible" given that Sebastien Bourdais comes from the town.

"Motor sport is quite popular in France," he said. "The problem is accessibility. People would like to see it but they cannot afford it."

He added that the FFSA has in the past done several studies about other potential venues for the Grand Prix but says that it is impossible to do anything in Paris because of the opposition it would encounter.

"We have a circuit," he said. "We have a deal with the local government. We have the money. It is just not going to be easy."

Jean Michel Le Meur / DPPI

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