Magny-Cours says that it has been overlooked in the recent negotiations about the French Grand Prix. This is true but only, according to French Prime Minister François Fillon, because the Formula One group does not want to go back to the Nievre circuit, believing it is too far out in the wilds to be right for an F1 event. The Fédération Française du Sport Automobile ran the event for several years at Magny-Cours before throwing in the towel when it became impossible to fund it any longer. Now Serge Saulnier, the former race team owner who is the managing director of the company that runs the circuit, says that the facility should be considered for a race.
“We are candidates for the French GP,” he told L’Equipe. “I am surprised that the ministerial group in charge of this project considers Paul Ricard to be the only option. In fact we have never been taken into consideration, never been listened to or met with.”
Saulnier says that the circuit has F1 homologation for the next three years, granted by the FIA in February.
Since early 2010 the circuit has been run by a private Société Anonyme d’Economie Mixte Sportive, which is co-owned by the local Conseil Général de la Nièvre and by private investors. It is part-owned by former F1 team owner Guy Ligier, who is believed to own 25 percent of the firm. Now 82, Ligier was an F1 driver in the 1960s and then became a team owner in the 1970s an 1980s before selling the business to Cyril de Rouvre in 1992. The team then went on to be owned by Flavio Briatore before ebing sold in its entirety to Alain Prost in 1997. Prost Grand Prix shut down in 2002.
Ligier made his first fortune in civil engineering, building many of France’s autoroutes. He also runs a road car business building microcars and since leaving F1 has made another fortune from natural fertiliser. He also owns the Automobiles Martini competition car business, which he acquired in 2005. This continues to build sports cars with the latest product being the JS53 which is used in the Speed Euroseries.
The circuit is run by racers. In addition to Saulnier, the board of directors includes former F1 engineer Gilles Alégoët.
The Nievre departement is famously socialist. President François Mitterrand was elected a deputy for the departement as long ago as 1946 and later represented the region as a senator, the president of the Conseil Général from 1964-1981 and the mayor of Château-Chinon from 1959-1981. Pierre Beregovoy, who served as Mitterand’s Prime Minister, was mayor of Nevers from 1983 onwards and deputy of the département three years later. Marcel Charmant, who was president of the Conseil Général after Mitterand retired only last year after 10 years in office. Together Mitterand and Beregovoy organised funding for the sleepy Magny-Cours race track to be converted into an F1 standard facility in the early 1990s, which resulted in the French GP being switched from Paul Ricard to the Nievre, a move that was considered scandalous at the time. It was never a popular F1 venue because of the lack of access and poor accommodation, but the French GP was held there between 1991 and 2008. Mitterand left office in 1995 and since then France has been run by right wing Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy. They have done little to aid Magny-Cours, indeed the A77 motorway that was due to run to the gates of the circuit, planned back in 1991, was not completed until last year. Although the journey time has now been reduced it is still a trip of around three hours from Paris.
Patrice Joly, the new president of the Conseil Général de la Nièvre, has been talking about building a mobility and transport theme park at the circuit, with the goal being to attract between 350,000 and 400,000 visitors each year. This would cost the region around $60 million as most of the required infrastructure is already in place at the circuit and the authorities own the landed needed. Joly believes that the park would generate more hotel rooms and that these would help to make Magny-Cours a more attractive F1 venue. There are also plans for a new high speed train route from Paris to Lyon, which could include a major station close to the circuit. This would reduce journey times from Paris to just one hour. In recent days the Commission Nationale du Debat Public has revealed that the preferred route by a long way is one that will include the stop near Nevers. The final decision will be taken in June. If the line is built, however, it will not be operational before 2025.
A socialist president would probably help any project for a race in Magny-Cours once again, but that may take some time to develop. It is worth noting also that the rising star of the French socialist party is Arnaud Montebourg, who was born in the Nievre and represents the neighbouring Saone et Loire departement.