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FEBRUARY 17, 2006

The road to Morocco

Formula 1 has been looking at Morocco for a long time. In 1997 Bernie Ecclestone's envoy Philippe Gurdjian spent several months in the country visiting different cities to try establish the best possible venue for a Grand Prix. The study concluded that a Formula 1 race was exactly what was needed to boost tourism in Marrakesh and enhance the image of the country in general. At the time tourism was increasing all the time and the idea of a race was dismissed because it was too expensive. Since then much has changed. The old ruler King Hassan II died in 1999 and was replaced by King Mohammed VI, a man with a taste for speed. At the same time, tourism has stagnated because of international tension and the fear that Muslim extremists may be able to operate in the country. This was seen in May 2003 when a series of terrorist attacks caused considerable damage in Casablanca. in 2004 the country signed a free-trade agreement with the United States and began a series of economic reforms designed to make the country more attractive to foreign investors.

In many respects, therefore, Morocco is in a similar situation to Bahrain and may benefit from an F1 event if it is willing to invest in the construction of a racing facility and the fees needed to pay for the racing. From an F1 perspective Morocco is a good location as the sport has long been looking for a way into Africa. Morocco is close to the southern tip of Europe and is on the same basic time zone as mainland Europe.

However, one should always be careful about such stories as more often than not rumours of new races exist because negotiations are going on for a race somewhere else. South Africa has been pushing hard for a Grand Prix for some time and it may be that the sudden talk of Morocco is more to do with a race in Cape Town than it is to do with a race in Marrakesh.