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.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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