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French president Macron backs push for F1 return

French President Emmanuel Macron has indicated that he wants Formula 1 to return to his country, with a street race in Nice a possible candidate.

Daniel Ricciardo demonstration on the streets of Nice, France

The French GP returned to Circuit Paul Ricard in 2018 after a long absence, but its contract was not renewed after the 2022 event, and it fell off this year’s schedule.

Even before Ricard’s demise was confirmed, a street event in Nice had emerged as a possible replacement, although some observers thought that F1’s interest was also related to its ongoing negotiations with Monaco over a new contract, a situation that has now been resolved.

According to the newspaper Nice-Matin, Nice mayor Christian Estrosi recently wrote to Macron asking for his support and stressing the importance of the French GP.

He responded favourably and gave Estrosi and FFSA president Nicolas Deschaux the responsibility of dealing with F1/Liberty Media and launching a feasibility study for the return of the race, while not committing to a particular venue. Both men were previously involved in getting the event to Paul Ricard.

Macron wrote: "Be sure that I fully share your ambition. Indeed, as you point out, our country must be able, like the other major international sporting events it organises every year, to reconnect with F1, for the pleasure of all.

“It is an issue of attractiveness for our country, the influence of our automotive industry and innovation to support the decarbonisation of this sector."

He added: “As such, you will be able to study the different possible location options [in France], identifying for each their economic model, their compatibility with our ecological commitments and their possible contribution to regional and national development.

“In this context, you will focus on engaging in discussions with the holders of the rights to F1.”

A mix of French and Dutch flags are waved at the end of the race as Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, 1st position, takes victory

A mix of French and Dutch flags are waved at the end of the race as Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, 1st position, takes victory

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

Estrosi’s Nice connections make it an obvious candidate, and it remains to be seen which other cities are given serious consideration.

Macron’s backing is significant, as current Paul Ricard boss Jean Alesi believes that the venue’s disappearance from the calendar was hastened by a lack of political support.

“The problem with F1 in France is not with the circuit, it’s with the politics,” he told Motorsport.com. 

“It’s probably the only F1 grand prix that’s never had a president come to watch it – except for at Magny-Cours once, when [Francois] Mitterrand attended as part of his political wish for the race to be there.

“Since then, it’s never happened. The problem is not with the circuit; the problem is the wish of the country. My other job is a F1 Ambassador, so my link to F1 is direct – with no bullshit – and they are very clear about that.”

An F1 source noted that the organisation is open to discussions with Macron’s team to run the race in “an iconic French location.”

Daniel Ricciardo demonstration on the streets of Nice, France

Daniel Ricciardo demonstration on the streets of Nice, France

Meanwhile, in a related story on Wednesday, the Nice Cote d’Azur metropolitan authorities agreed to pay €5m to help the Public Interest Group of the French GP organisation pay off a €27m debt that it had accrued from the Paul Ricard events.

The move was not without controversy, especially as it came before the delivery of an audit into the activities of the organisation, which is due at the end of the month.

"There is no question of paying an advance of 5 million when there are potential irregularities,” EELV [ecology] MP Fabrice Decoupigny told Nice-Matin.

“You don't vote without knowing. They put the knife to our throat, while at the same time, Christian Estrosi increases the tram ticket by 70% and stops subsidies for electromobility."

One local mayor said: "I asked for the list of creditors, I got nothing. And then, an advance means that we can give more than 5 million. This is enormous in view of the efforts we are asking of our fellow citizens whose taxes have already increased."

The row appears unlikely to help any future efforts to commit public funds to a street race project in Nice.

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