Vergne doubts French GP will return to F1 anytime soon

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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.

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.