Four-time world champion Alain Prost has been brought in to help push forward plans to return the French Grand Prix to the F1 schedule, with one eye on fulfilling Bernie Ecclestone's plan to use the race as a replacement for the cancelled Grand Prix of America in 2013.
Several events were put forward when it became clear the second US race, due to have been staged on the banks of the Hudson River in New Jersey, was a non-starter for 2013, with Turkey initially thought to be the favourite. However, Ecclestone has made no secret of his desire to see France reinstated, despite bids from both Paul Ricard and Magny-Cours having failed to win a place on next year's calendar, and Prost, who has been a conspicuous visitor to the Red Bull
garage since testing one of the team's cars at Paul Ricard recently, has revealed that he is in talks with the sport's supremo about plans to resurrect the race in time to fill the void on the schedule.
"We were very close to organizing a French Grand Prix in Paris a few years ago, and now I've been asked to advise and see if everything is correct," the six-time French race winner told CNN
from Abu Dhabi, "I have the opportunity to meet Bernie and we'll see what happens. It might be the right timing, that's all I can say. But, in the end, it is always a question of money."
The return of the French Grand Prix looked a sure thing earlier this year, with a deal all-but signed, but the results of the French presidential election in May - which saw incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy ousted in favour of socialist leader Francois Hollande - scuppered the financial deal that had been in place with the French government. Both Paul Ricard and Magny-Cours lodged bids with the FFSA, although the Mediterranean venue appeared to have the edge, amid rumours that it had attracted local government backing. Having been transformed into a technology-laden testing venue, the Ecclestone-owned circuit has gradually been used for more and more racing in recent years, but concerns remain about the lack of spectator facilities and access. Magny-Cours, meanwhile, has the infrastructure needed to host the grand prix, and has a layout popular with the drivers, but its location and apparent lack of comparable funding may count against it.
Prost, however, has his own views on where the race should be held, even if his first choice is a definite non-starter, having been canned a few years ago.
"We could have organised a race in Paris a few years ago, which was really the best project," the 13-year F1 veteran claimed, "If we cannot do that, I think the Circuit Paul Ricard is really the best place.
"In Europe, we are, in a way, missing F1 - we still have some races, but we miss the historical races. We still have Monza, we still have Silverstone, but we see that it is not that easy to organise. We have been everywhere in the world for the benefit of F1 but, at the end of the day, the culture, the tradition of F1 and motor racing is really in Europe."
"I feel a little bit nostalgic [about Paul Ricard]. In my heart, I would be very pleased [if it returned]. It became a fantastic track, a fantastic place, and it would be a shame not to use it. I have a lot of memories. It's like Silverstone in England. If you stop racing, you lose almost all of the history from the country and that is not good."
If the French Grand Prix was to become a viable replacement for New Jersey, it would slot into its traditional place between Canada and Britain on the schedule, possibly filling the 23 June weekend to form a double-header with Silverstone, although that date clashes with a rescheduled Le Mans 24 Hours. The existing calendar allocated 16 June for round eight to create a Montreal-New Jersey double-header.