NOVEMBER 21, 2003

Could it be Le Mans in 2005?

If the French Grand Prix is cancelled in 2004 because no-one will come to the rescue of the race at Magny-Cours, there will need to be some serious thinking in French motor racing circles about the future of the race.

The Grand Prix could, in theory at least, be held at Paul Ricard but there are no spectator facilities at the moment at the track in the Var and access remains very difficult unless you have a private jet. Traffic jams at Paul Ricard were always a major feature and crowds were small as given the choice between the race track and the beach on a sunny day most French chose the beach. There is also a major problem in that building wider roads is a complicated task given the mountainous terrain between the track and the coast.

The lack of a crowd may not matter much to F1 teams but it would mean that whoever promotes the race would have to be prepared to make a substantial loss. Bernie Ecclestone owns the track and it is thought more likely that Ecclestone would like to see the race at Le Mans, the only other circuit in France which is really capable of hosting F1 without major construction being necessary. This would mean less hassle for Ecclestone and more profit, a situation he is known to enjoy.

Le Mans has a world class reputation and is a top-level racing circuit. It was the site of the first Grand Prix in 1906. The annual 24 Hours is a big money-spinner but the track is used for only a few other events apart from the French motorcycle Grand Prix.

Formula 1 cars could never be run on the full circuit used for the 24 Hours but there is a smaller Bugatti circuit, built in the 1960s for Formula 1 but used only once (when Jack Brabham won the race in 1967). This would need a small amount of work to increase run off areas but has a spectator capacity of 100,000, good access roads and is within easy reach of Paris. There were attempts to raise interest in F1 back in 1994 but at the time it made little political sense and money could not be found.

Now things have changed and Le Mans is the logical solution for Formula 1, which could trade off the Le Mans name as it has done at Indianapolis, and for Le Mans, which could get more value from its investment in the racing facility. It is unlikely that the work necessary could be done in time for a race in 2004 but a bid for 2005 and beyond would be a good solution for France.