The French GP left the Formula 1 calendar this year, after being held for four years at Paul Ricard, from 2018 to 2022. An exit that could mean another long period of inactivity.
He had previously sat out the calendar from 2009 to 2017, after 18 years at Magny-Cours, who had taken over from Ricard in 1991 for political reasons.
Former Tyrrell, Ferrari, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Jordan driver Jean Alesi, who took on his new role this week, is in no doubt who is to blame for the race loss.
“The problem with Formula 1 in France is not the circuit, it’s the politics,” he told Motorsport.com. “It is probably the only F1 Grand Prix that has never been seen by a president, except at Magny-Cours once, when Mitterrand attended as part of his political wish for the race to take place there.”
“Since then, it has never happened. The problem is not the circuit, but the desire of the country. My other job is that of Formula 1 Ambassador, so my connection with F1 is direct, bluntly, and they are very clear about it.”
Fans gathered around a Gorilla sculpture in French colours at Paul Ricard
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
“Having a French GP is a nice thing on the F1 calendar, but if we don’t have the chance to do it, then it’s because the country isn’t interested in motorsport, and that’s a big shame,” added Alesi. “It’s not a problem for F1 to have a Grand Prix in France, France is to blame.”
“Of course part of my new role will be to send a letter, requesting a meeting with the President of France, but I don’t know if that will happen. If that happens, and we can get the French GP back, I’d be the happiest man of the world!”.
“Alpine and Renault are very strong in F1 right now. But it’s not because of France, it’s because F1 is very strong. If you go to the Elysée and talk to Macron, it would be much more useful than lobbying anyone else.”
Paul Ricard remains in the hands of Slavica Ecclestone, who reclaimed ownership as part of her divorce settlement with ex-husband Bernie, but the addition of Alesi, winner of the Canadian GP in 1995, is part of a ‘major management overhaul.
“The Board of Directors of Paul Ricard has changed completely: before there were the same people for 20 years”, explained Alesi. “The new directors were looking for a new president and I was already in the loop, so they asked me if I’d be interested. Being president of Paul Ricard means a lot to me, so I accepted.”
“The circuit is only 120km from Avignon, and when I was a child I used to come to see the Formula 1 tests there, and my passion for motorsport has grown on this land.”
Jean Alesi, Tyrrell 018 Ford
Photo by: Sutton Images
Alesi made his F1 debut with Tyrrell, replacing Michele Alboreto in the 1989 French GP, which he finished with a sensational fourth place after starting from 16th on the grid.
“The spotlight was on me in 1989, that was an incredible day in my life, but it was already a very special place for me, which increased my desire to be part of this sport and to be around Formula 1 “, he said.
“We have 280 days of track activity booked for this year. It’s a very, very busy circuit, with a lot of income, and we host endurance races, motorcycles, national races – even some Italian championships come to us. We are very busy, but the Formula 1 is very fascinating for us, so to have a Grand Prix again would be great.”
“We have a lot of Formula 1 teams that come to Paul Ricard for testing: it’s a very useful circuit for these cars, with long straights, big run-off areas, the possibility to test the wet tires whenever you want with our irrigation. And, of course, the weather is always very good here.”
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