Having failed to conclude negotiations to keep the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours on next year's Formula One calendar, Bernie Ecclestone could switch the event to Paul Ricard - a track he owns through the company Excelis, but which has yet to stage a major international meeting since being comprehensively overhauled.

The decision could now come down to whether Ecclestone wants to keep France as part of the enlarged 18-race schedule, but a spokeswoman for Paul Ricard has told Reuters news agency that the circuit would be prepared to step into the breach.

"If Mr Ecclestone wants it here, we will be able to do it here," she confirmed, "As long as there is no official meeting, we cannot say any more but, if we must, then we will run it."

A formal announcement regarding a possible switch of venue for 2004 - Magny-Cours has inked a deal to return in 2005 - was apparently scheduled for earlier this week, but has since been delayed.

The principal problem with relocating the event to Paul Ricard, which previously staged the race before falling into decline, is the fact that the circuit, which has since been reborn as a 'high-tech test track' and acts as 'home' to the Toyota F1 team, has no spectator facilities - although the circuit does not expect this to pose a threat to its chances.

"If it was proposed for tomorrow, we do not have the infrastructure to host the race," the spokeswoman confirmed, "But [circuit director] Phillipe Gurdjian has organised grands prix in difficult circumstances before and this would simply be another challenge."

Magny-Cours was dropped from the 2004 calendar because it could not afford to run the race, but has since agreed a new five-year contract to stage the grand prix between 2005-09.



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