Jean-Eric Vergne is still hanging onto hopes that the French Grand Prix will return to Formula 1 in the near future, even if he realistically cannot see it happening.
The last grand prix to be held in France was at Magny-Cours in 2008, but the event was cut for the 2009 season and has not taken place since. Despite there being speculation about the return of the race at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France, no concrete plans have yet been made, nor do they look likely.
In an interview with gpupdate.net, Vergne – one of three French drivers on the grid in 2014 – shared his thoughts on the possibility of the race returning, but did not seem too optimistic.
“We know that these countries pay a lot of money to receive Formula 1 and France isn’t what it used to be,” he explained. “It isn’t as rich as it was before. We have a different politics.
“I don’t really know much about it. All I know is that I hope that France will come back on the Formula 1 calendar.
“I would love for that to happen. It would be a great thing. There are three French drivers in Formula 1 so that would be beautiful.
“France has a great pedigree in motorsports. To have Formula 1 coming back, I think everybody would love it.”
Formula 1 is currently looking for ways to ‘improve the show’ and make the sport more entertaining following a global decline of 50m TV viewers in 2013. 16m of this drop came in France after the move from free-to-air broadcasting to a subscription service. Vergne was quick to acknowledge the fall in popularity of the sport in France, but he is confident that the return of a race would go a long way to rectifying the situation.
“I think it lost a little bit,” Vergne said. “But if the French Grand Prix comes back, I think it would grow again. We have three French drivers and an engine manufacturer which won many titles in the last few years, so the potential is there.”
Realistically, the French Grand Prix is facing an uphill struggle to get back on the calendar as the sport continues to go global and look for new markets: the recent addition of a race in Azerbaijan for 2016 is proof of where F1’s focus currently is.
Of course, older circuits are by no means exempt from rejoining the calendar. The Austrian Grand Prix at the revamped Red Bull Ring was a great success after eleven years away, but with Red Bull billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz footing the bill, it was welcomed onto the calendar.
Unless a major backer or a group of investors is willing to do something similar for the French Grand Prix, a return is unlikely. The fact that there has been a decline in the sport’s popularity in France will make it even more difficult for any potential investors, as the value would be in the long-term and not immediately evident.
As Vergne did point out, with three home drivers on the grid (Vergne, Romain Grosjean, Jules Bianchi), France a market that could hold some value for Formula 1 if it did choose to go back there.