Paul Ricard – a serious bid?

If I had a dollar for every rumour of a deal that was about to be announced involving money from Qatar, I would be almost as rich as the average Qatari. There seems to be a default belief in the motorsport media that Qataris will fund anything – on the grounds that they live in a place where money comes out of the ground. It is not really like that.

The number of large-scale international Qatari sponsorships is very limited. The Qataris are not gamblers and they want a return on any investment and sponsorship value is all too often rather too fluffy a concept for a hard-nosed businessman. The country’s investment policy is similarly conservative. In recent years, as Europe has been gripped by economic problems, the Qataris have been buying into businesses that look like they will give them a good return. The aim is not only to generate money from a diversified portfolio, but also to acquire a little more influence in economic and political circles. Thus the country’s wealth funds have invested in solid companies such as oil giants Shell and Total, banking firms such as Barclays and Credit Suisse, utility and infrastructure businesses like Vinci, Suez Environnement, Veolia, Siemens and Spain’s Iberdrola. There has been industrial investment with Volkswagen, the mining company Xstrata, the entertainment/telecommunication firm Vivendi and media/aerospace group Lagardère. They have acquired a great deal of real estate, notably the Shard tower in London, while also putting money into luxury goods and hotel companies, such as LVMH, the jeweller Tiffany and Harrods, not to mention the Paris Saint-Germain football club.

They have not spent a lot in motor racing, outside Qatar, but that has not stopped the rumours such as the sale of Silverstone. Nothing came of it. Several F1 teams have also been mentioned as possible acquisitions for Qatar, but there is no sign of that becoming a reality.

The latest rumours are that the deep-pocketed Qataris are going to buy the Excelis company, which owns the Paul Ricard complex in the south of France. This facility is a nice little business, with the circuit being booked for around 300 days a year, with its various tracks and function rooms being used by all manner of companies, in addition to racing folk. The business includes the airport, which can take Airbus A320s, and three hotels: the Résidence des Équipages; the Best Western Grand Prix Hotel and the Hotel du Castellet. Between them they offer nearly 200 rooms and various quality restaurants.

Contrary to the rumours that fly around Excelis is not owned by Bernie Ecclestone, nor by his ex-wife Slavica. It belongs to Castelet Investment Holdings Ltd, which is registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. This firm is represented by Luc Argand, the 64-year-old Swiss lawyer who is also the trustee of the Bambino Trust, the Ecclestone Family trust company. This looks after the assets that will one day belong to Bernie Ecclestone’s two daughters. Under usual trust terms, the trustees are required to deal with assets “as any prudent person of business” would do, so the decision as to whether the company should be sold would be taken by Argand, whether or not the Ecclestones agree or not.

The French media have “spun” the Qatar rumour into the idea that such a new owner would immediately agree to fund a French GP at the venue. In reality, this would only be done if it were seen as being a good investment.

At the same time, the circuit director Stéphane Clair has been saying that the track has the €30 million that it needs to host a race in 2013. That is not the story that one hears from other sources, who reckon that Ricard has only €10 million guaranteed. This comes from the various local authorities, collectives and chambers of commerce, in a consortium headed by Jacques Bianchi.There may be more cash available, as Clair claims, but the Formula One group will not be doing any deal unless there are massive guarantees.

A meeting is planned to discuss a deal this weekend in Abu Dhabi and the French will need to have all their ducks in a row if they want a race in 2013. Time is short and while they might gain a few weeks by agreeing to a race in late August, the gap on the F1 calendar that needs to be filled is in June.

If the money is there, then a race can go ahead in 2013, but if the whole project is relying on a Qatari investor leaping in at the last moment, the likelihood of a French GP is significantly reduced.

32 thoughts on “Paul Ricard – a serious bid?

  1. Joe, if the French Grand Prix is going to take place next year (emphasis on the if and next year) would it be a week after canada or on the same weekend as the 24 hours of Le mans. Do you think it will be detrimental to both events as they would be competing for the a large percentage of each others spectators. Although there is nothing wrong with having the two events on the same weekend (Canadian GP after the 24 was always good), do you think that having in the same country on the same weekend would not be the best thing for french motorsport given they are the two biggest events.

    Would having the french GP a week after Canada and flying all the kit straight to Paul Ricard (or other french circuit where it may or may not be) be feasible/ a better solution, with the team transporters then bringing the cars and stuff back to the factories after the French GP.

    On a much sadder note I think that most people would agree the cancellation of the New Jersey GP is now a positive thing as the resources and people that would be needed to construct the circuit would be much better utilized rebuilding the damage hurricane Sandy caused and helping people rebuild their lives.

  2. Access and non-existent public transport to Le Castellet remains a major problem. As the crow flies, I live about 40km away and it takes me well over an hour to drive there in a 911 and that is when traffic is light.

  3. From what I remember there are no grandstands at Ricard. Would it be a TV/Paddock Club only event, or temporary grandstands Montreal style? Finding 30 million with no spectators would be quite hard I’d have thought

  4. If a deal would be made, a different race will have to go, won’t it? I mean, it wouldn’t make that much sense spending that amount of money just to replace a race next year. They’d want to stay on the calendar I assume. Unless they put 21 races on the calendar for 2014… but would the teams agree?

      1. Alternating with where for the alternate years?

        Or is this the potential precedent that sees various GPs become two-yearly without having a specific alternate-year partner??

  5. It’s a pity for Magny-Cours if Paul Ricard does get its race but there seems to be no competition as far as facilities are concerned – never mind F1 drivers second homes in the region! I’m sure most personnel would prefer the south of France – time to leave the native Charollais cows of La Nievre in peace I guess.

  6. I think the New Jersey GP may have received a huge boost this week after the State and Fed’s get finished with supplying funds for rebuilding the infrastructure…

    1. I’d say the opposite. Money that could have been earmarked for a “marketing exercise” will now be absorbed into rebuilding efforts.

      To me the NJ GP was an opportunity for the Chris Christie to put himself on the national stage. He has a much bigger opportunity now. Therefore no need for a GP to do that.

  7. You have obviously had some Maurtitian light shed upon things Joe, or done some very good digging.

    “It belongs to Castelet Investment Holdings Ltd, which is registered in the tax haven of Mauritius. This firm is represented by Luc Argand, the 64-year-old Swiss lawyer who is also the trustee of the Bambino Trust, the Ecclestone Family trust company.”

    So is Castelet owned by the Bambino trust? You seem to infer that is the case when you say “the decision as to whether the company should be sold would be taken by Argand, whether or not the Ecclestones agree or not.”.
    Or is having the same representative just a huge coincidence?

  8. I’m confused, buying a football club like PSG and spending big on buying players and giving them high wages is not a sensible investment either. It’s hardly the move of someone looking for a return, football is money sink if you spend like they are. Whilst the other examples you mentioned are fine, PSG is a poor example imo.

  9. What my late father, an Argentine and a globally prominent television-design pioneer, said in so many words: ‘Racing is a pastime for a rich man who doesn’t care and doesn’t need to care about whether it’s making him money.’ Maybe he was really a Qatari.

    1. ‘To make a small fortune have a big fortune and start a winery’. Yep, as a winemaker I’ve seen it. There are rich persons games aplenty.

      1. For all practical purposes the Bambino truts equals Bernie. Since corporate governance probably isn’t very high on the agenda of F1 Hodnings (or whatever company that sells F1-races), I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Bernie has given himself an offer he cannot refuse. 😉

  10. Joe, do you really think that Bernie would be completely hands-off and just leave Mr Argand to do whatever he thought was prudent? I find it hard to believe.
    Surely he would be able to provide ‘expert business advice’ to Mr Argand based on his years of proven experience in these matters.

      1. True. It is also the law that one should refrain from offering bribes to bank representatives, but apparently it happens sometimes.

      2. I would have thought though that as non-beneficiary (assuming it’s his daughters who benefit under the terms of the trust) he could be an advisor hence influence decisions – is there a lawyer in the house?!

    1. I would rather think Mr. B. Ecclestone would have picked someone he trusted would make the right decisions to keep the trust in good order than risk being seen to manage it himself. Especially with the scrutiny on the matter from the whole Gribowsky thing currently!

  11. Quelle epoque!
    Once there was a policy, now illegal of course, of propagating French Culture as a major priority. And French cuisine, and high fashion, etc etc.
    I can’t help thinking of M. Jacque Lang, the last literate minister of culture, and what he would have made of this. Writing the cheques without hesitation, laying on lavish ceremonies that would have included Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve, jetting in the heads of state of all major powers, proper lunch provided by chefs from Lyon and Paris …….
    I hear you sigh, and talk of folly and financial ruin.
    Yes. But, what have got now, as it is, with nothing to show for it?
    Exactment! Financial ruin. Merci.

    Vive La Belle France! Prost! Ricard! Jean d’Arc! Napoleon! Fernandel! Jacque Tati!
    et vive les Princes Qatariennes!!

    Joe, I believe you are a Francophile. Will we ever regain the France we once had Joe?

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