MAY 7, 2007

Le Mans racer to be France's next Prime Minister?

Motorsport in France has been in the doldrums since the days when Guy Ligier had the ear of President Francois Mitterand and his team was supported by a string of government-controlled companies. That was back in the 1980s and since then a variety of laws have made it increasingly tough for French racing teams to compete at international level because of restrictions on sponsorships and the higher costs they incur compared to their European competitors.

That may be about to change with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the country's new president.

Sarkozy has already said that he is going to attack the restrictive 35-hour week employment law and reduce social charges and company taxes and make labour laws more flexible, to encourage employers to hire more staff.

This will give the country's entrepreneurs more incentive to create new businesses and could also mean that France's companies may also have more money available to use for sponsorship.

Sarkozy's election may also result in a much more positive approach to motorsport with the favourite to get the job of Prime Minister being Francois Fillon, the senator for the Le Mans region. Fillon is a member of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest and on the organisation committee of the Le Mans 24 Hours. In addition to that he has competed in the classic Le Mans 24 Hours event and in a number of other classic road rallies and has attended most of the Le Mans 24 Hours for the last 50 years. He lists motorsport as one of his hobbies and, having worked in the Le Mans region in a number of different roles for the last 25 years, understands the enormous value of a big racing event.

The other piece of good news is that Francoise de Panafieu, who will run for Mayor of Paris next year, may also get a post in the new government, which will bolster her bid for the top job in Paris. A change of mayor is going to be necessary for there to be any chance of official support for a Grand Prix in the Paris area.

The election may, however, trigger strikes amongst those who oppose Sarkozy's policies although the new president plans to meet union representatives as soon as possible to try to get agreements so as to avoid such conflict. The last Prime Minister to seriously try to reform France was Alain Juppe, who held office between 1995 and 1997. He was driven from office by industrial action but is also tipped to be given a role in the new government.

Another man who may find a bigger job under Sarkozy is Christian Estrosi, who has been one of Sarkozy's deputies in recent years at the Ministry of the Interior. Estrosi is a former motorcycle champion who raced in the European Formula 3 Championship in the 1980s before turning his attention to politics.