Alesi: “Politics”, not F1, to blame for French GP exit
The French GP slips off the schedule this year, after a four-year return to the calendar at Paul Ricard from 2018-2022, that could mean another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
It was previously dormant from 2009-2017 after an 18-year run at Magny-Cours, which took over from Ricard in 1991 due to political reasons.
Former Tyrrell, Ferrari, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Jordan F1 racer Alesi, who took up his new role this week, is clear over where the blame lies for the loss of the race.
“The problem with Formula 1 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 Formula 1 Ambassador, so my link to F1 is direct – with no bullshit – and they are very clear about that.
“F1 has probably 32 countries in the world right now asking to host F1 races. The last Grand Prix we had here, last year, was very, very popular with the people. So it’s a shame to lose it.”
Fans gathered around a Gorilla sculpture in French colours at Paul Ricard
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
The French GP is one of the original races from the 1950 F1 World Championship, but the title dates all the way back to 1906.
“Having a French GP looks good on the F1 calendar, but if we don’t have the possibility to do it, then that’s because the country is not interested in motorsport, and that is a big shame,” Alesi added. “It’s not a problem for F1 to have a Grand Prix in France, the blame is on France.
“Of course, part of my new role will be to send a letter, to request a meeting with the president of France, but I don’t know if this will happen. If it happens, and we can get the French GP back, I would be the happiest man in the world!
“With Alpine and Renault, they are very strong in F1 right now. But it’s not because of France, it’s because F1 is very strong. If I go to Elysee and speak with Macron, it would be much more useful than lobbying anyone else.”
Paul Ricard remains in the hands of Slavica Ecclestone, who claimed ownership as part of her divorce settlement with ex-husband Bernie, but 1995 Canadian GP winner Alesi’s addition to its organisation comes as part of a major management overhaul.
“The board at Paul Ricard changed completely – before, it was the same people since 20 years,” explained Alesi. “The new directors looked for a new president, and I was in the loop before, so they asked me. For me, it means a lot to be the president in Paul Ricard, so I accepted.
“The circuit is only 120km from Avignon, and when I was a child I was coming to watch the Formula 1 testing there, and my passion for motorsport grew up on this land.”
Jean Alesi, Tyrrell 018 Ford
Photo by: Sutton Images
Alesi made his F1 debut for Tyrrell, replacing Michele Alboreto, in the 1989 French GP and finished a sensational fourth from 16th on the grid.
“The spotlight was on me in 1989, that was an amazing day in my life, but it was already a place that was very special for me, that increased my desire to be part of the 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 wealthy circuit with lots of revenue coming in, and we host sportscars, motorbikes, national racing – even some Italian championships come to us. We are very busy, but Formula 1 is very glamorous for us – so to have a Grand Prix again would be great.
“We have a lot of Formula 1 teams coming to Paul Ricard for testing – it’s a very useful circuit for these cars with long straights, lots of runoff area, the possibility to test wet tyres when you want with our sprinkler system. And, of course, the weather is always very good here.”