JUNE 18, 2008

Interesting goings-on in France

The French News is an English language publication, produced in English for those who live in France, but prefer their mother tongue. This week it is reporting from Burgundy, the region in which Magny-Cours in located, that it has been agreed that $46m is to be pumped into keeping the French Grand Prix going for a few more years to come. The report states that the money will be used "to improve the on-site and off-site facilities with the addition of 27 new stands, press centre, restaurants, improvements for the teams and visitors, and much needed hotels". The report does not say from where this money is going to come but hints that it is from the government as "to keep the event in France is a matter of Gallic pride".

The report seems bizarre in a number of ways not least the suggestion that there will be 27 new stands. This is probably explained by the fact that the word "stand" means "pit" and the author has confused this with grandstands. The suggestion therefore is of a new pit building. This is odd as there is not that much wrong with the existing facility in overall terms.

The idea that $46m will make any difference to the number of hotel rooms available in the region is also rather hard to understand, unless it is being paid to hotel companies as an incentive to build new facilities. It is not clear how these hotels are supposed to survive for the rest of the year as the region does not attract large numbers of tourists.

All this is also at odds with an interview with the chief executive of the race Eric Barbaroux, which is published today in Autohebdo magazine.

Barbaroux says that ticket sales this year are 10% up on last year and that if all goes well the race will break even again. He says that the only possibility for a Grand Prix in France in 2009 is at Magny-Cours and that any other suggestions are "science fiction". Barbaroux also reveals that studies in the region show that the economic impact of the race is $100m and that there are contracts with the regional authorities for 2009. He says that everything will depend on how things go this year. There will be a meeting of the French federation on June 26 to decide whether to go ahead again in 2009, as a contract exists until the end of 2011.

One source of funding which may come into play is Red Bull. France's only current Grand Prix driver is Sebastien Bourdais, who drives for Toro Rosso.

For years Red Bull has been banned in France because of an amino acid in the drink called taurine, which some claim speeds up heart rates to unhealthy levels. Although they could not sell the drink in France the Minis headed off in all directions handing out a taurine-free version of the drink.

In mid-May, the French government gave in and agreed to allow Red Bull to sell the original drink as under European Union rules a product sold in other member states cannot be banned unless there is scientific proof of a danger to consumers. The government will require that cans containing taurine should carry warnings to consumers but sales will begin in the next few days. At Le Mans there was Red Bull everywhere, except on the cars, although there are rumours the Pescarolo team may soon get some funding from the free-spending Austrians.

At the moment France has a tiny share of the energy drink market. Red Bull says it will market the drink aggressively in France with a big advertising campaign (unusual for the company) and involvement in extreme sports and motor racing. Red Bull spends around $472m a year on sports marketing.

Throwing some money at the French GP might be a good idea for all concerned.