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Spa set to alternate F1 dates?

30 August 2011

The Belgian Grand Prix, while one of the more popular stops on the F1 schedule, has never been the most financially stable, and is now seeking a radical means of remaining on the calendar.

While event sharing is not a novel idea - it has worked for both Hockenheim and the Nurburgring in hosting the German GP in recent seasons - countries alternating their position in the championship is less common, but that is what looks likely to happen as Spa-Francorchamps attempts to retain its F1 status.

F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone has proposed such an idea with other events in the past, most recently suggesting that Silverstone and Magny-Cours share a slot if the British round could not meet his demands for hosting fees, but it now looks likely that the Belgian GP will alternate with a reinstated French race, possibly at the Ecclestone-owned Paul Ricard.

National sports newspaper l'Equipe hailed Sunday as 'a great day for French motorsport', amid reports that a deal had been signed to return the French Grand Prix - the originator of motorsport - to the calendar in 2013. It is understood that that reinstatement would come at the cost of losing Spa, with the two races alternating on the schedule thereafter.

"We have a contract until 2013, but competition among countries wishing to organise events on their territories is growing stronger," Belgian GP president Etienne Davignon admitted to the Belga news agency, "Alternating would be one solution to perpetuating the Belgian Grand Prix on the world championship calendar."

Lotus Renault team boss Eric Boullier revealed that there was a growing push to get the French Grand Prix back onto the schedule after a three-year hiatus, with several circuits having been mentioned in connection with a return. While it is now looking unlikely that either a street or purpose-built circuit would take F1 to Paris, Magny-Cours, Dijon-Prenois and Paul Ricard had all been mentioned as possible host venues.

"[A French GP] is part of a comprehensive project that includes an awareness of all-things French, a French driver and perhaps other scenarios like this," Boullier told journalists during the Spa weekend, "There are assumptions that have been developed that are valid, invalid and potentially achievable, and, when one is sure to come true, [prime minister Francois] Fillon will speak."

While Magny-Cours has its fans among the drivers, it has never been a favourite venue for the teams, who claim that its remote location makes for a poor F1 experience, making Paul Ricard the favourite to land the French GP should it return.

The Ecclestone-owned facility close to the Mediterranean has been extensively overhauled since falling out of favour with the F1 fraternity in 1990, and was used primarily for testing before a gradual return to racing led to more and more championships booking dates there.

"Everyone would benefit," Boullier said of the potential for a reinstated French GP, "If a French driver made ​​podiums and won races in F1, it would restore the public's passion for the French F1. Television would be interested and the Grand Prix de France would become legitimate again. Everything fits."

Alain Prost won the last F1 race held at Paul Ricard, during his 1990 campaign with Ferrari, although Ivan Capelli came close to giving the tiny Leyton House team a remarkable victory. Ayrton Senna completed the podium.


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