Jean Todt's landslide election to the most powerful and influential post in international motor racing could be the catalyst for a return to the calendar of the French Grand Prix, it is being mused – as both he and Ferrari dismissed claims that he did not leave the Scuderia
on good terms last year.
For the first time in more than half a century in 2009, there was no French round of the F1 World Championship, despite the event being one of the oldest and most historical on the annual schedule. 'Economic reasons' reportedly led to the race being dropped by the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone – though other paddock whispers suggest that the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive was merely looking for a convenient reason to leave the unpopular Magny-Cours circuit in rural Nevers.
Since then, a variety of alternative venues have been mentioned as potential future homes for the race – focussing most prominently on Paris, but also Paul Ricard in the south of the country, around a much-altered track that in its original guise welcomed F1 on-and-off from 1971 to 1990 – but there has been no firm conclusion and much political procrastinating and debate. Hinting that the earliest date for a return now looks to be 2013, Ecclestone urged that time is running out.
“I've sent a contract to them and it hasn't been sent back,” the 79-year-old told Le Parisien
newspaper of his frustrations with the FFSA, France's national motor racing federation. “It's a shame, because it's going to get harder to find a spot on the calendar. They need to act quickly, because time is short.”
Todt, however, has already revealed that he will support his homeland's bid to regain a spot on the F1 calendar, telling AFP
that the topic is already the subject of 'discussions with our friends at the Fédération Française du Sport Automobile', that talks will take place with government officials and that he 'hopes France again has a grand prix'.
Back in August, FFSA President Nicolas Deschaux had commented that the appointment of Todt as FIA President 'could make our job' of re-instating the grand prix 'easier', and since his countryman's election, Deschaux has duly been named a member of the new FIA World Motor Sport Council (WMSC)
Meanwhile, Todt has also dropped hints that despite their bitter pre-election battle punctuated by slur and counter-slur, he may be willing to find a place in his administration for his defeated presidential rival Ari Vatanen. Outgoing incumbent Max Mosley has mooted that his successor might 'find something for [Vatanen] to do'.
“He had his list [of supporters] and I had mine,” 63-year-old Todt told AFP
, “but we cannot exclude any outcome. We need competent people.”
Finally, the man dubbed 'Napoléon' in the paddock for his power and diminutive stature sought to rubbish the notion that his parting with Ferrari in early 2008 had been a rather less than cordial one due to a reported fall-out with president Luca di Montezemolo, following more than a decade-and-a-half at the helm of the Maranello-based outfit during which he had led the scarlet brigade to no fewer than 13 world championship crowns – seven constructors' titles and six drivers' laurels, five of them with the legendary Michael Schumacher. There are conflicting views about whether the new head of the sport's governing body will favour or persecute his former employers.