DECEMBER 15, 1997

Goodbye Jerez

THE only good news for Estoril is that its longtime rival - Jerez de la Frontera - is also in trouble with the FIA as a result of the behavior of the mayor of the town after the European GP in October. The podium ceremony was rather convoluted at the race because the FIA decided - for the first time - that the people handing out the trophies would change, depending on who won the race. The governing body normally issues a list of the dignitaries involved but at Jerez there were two different lists one for a normal race result and the other in case a McLaren won. This was because of the appearance at the race of Daimler-Benz chairman Jurgen Schrempp who obviously did not wish to be photographed handing out prizes to his rivals. This would not have been a problem apart from the fact that the finishing order changed on the last lap with McLaren drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard both overtaking Jacques Villeneuve. There appears to have been some confusion among the VIPs as to who would get on worldwide television. The mayor of Jerez Pedro Pacheco and regional president ManuelÊChaves made some of the presentations, while Schrempp did nothing.

The result of this was that eyewitnesses reported FIA President Max Mosley screaming at the mayor, informing him that his race track would never be given another Grand Prix.

Last week Mosley delivered an official version of the decision. "The disruption caused embarrassment and inconvenience to those presenting the trophies," the FIA explained, "and therefore, no further rounds of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship will be held at the Jerez circuit."

Pacheco was less than pleased with the outcome. "It's an outrage," he said. "They are proposing a permanent ban. The only thing they did not do was propose that the circuit be demolished. The ban will be impossible. There will be F1 in Jerez."

Despite his protests, however, Pacheco is not in a strong position. Back in 1985 he was the man behind the construction of the track, the intention being to use the events to promote the town and its famous sherries around the world. This was successful for five years and then F1 moved to Barcelona, leaving Jerez with only a couple of European GPs.

The loss of F1 not only negates the purpose for which the track was built but also deprives the area of a much-needed $35m which a Grand Prix brings into the region. This will, inevitably, harm the mayor as the only way that the FIA is going to consider Jerez is if there is a different mayor.

It should be added that Jerez has not helped itself in recent weeks by refusing to agree to upgrading work unless the FIA guaranteed that it could hold a Grand Prix. This is likely to have a serious effect on the track's future as a testing facility as the FIA testing license may now be withheld, which means that the Grand Prix teams are going to be struggling more and more to find warm weather testing in Europe. Although Jerez was a long haul south from England, it often provided much better weather than Estoril and Barcelona.