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.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.