I have just got home from the launch of the 2018 French Grand Prix and it is very clear from proceedings today at the Automobile Club de France that the man who has made this happen is Christian Estrosi.
If you’re not French you may never have heard of him, but he’s an interesting fellow, who I first encountered back in 1984 when he was driving a Mike Rowe Racing Ralt in the European Formula 3 Championship. I was the only Englishman reporting on the series at the time but at the time my French was not very good and his English was dreadful and so we didn’t talk a great deal, although I was kept up to speed with his adventures by the team boss Mike Rowe.
Estrosi was 28 at the time (he is now 61) and it was clear that he was never going to climb higher up the racing ladder, but he had been a swashbuckling motorcycle rider and something of a hell-raiser in his day. He had competed in 500cc World Championship motorcycle racing, so he was clearly a man who liked to go racing. Even then he was already sporting attaché for the city of Nice, under the mayor Jacques Médecin, who ruled the city from 1966 to 1990. Estrosi went on to hold an impressive array of local positions including being the député (similar to an MP) for Nice from 1988-1993, 1997-2005 and 2008-2009. He was elected Mayor of Nice in 2008 and held various government ministerial positions from 2005 onwards, becoming Minister of Industry in 2010. He became president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur at the end of last year. This is a regional government body with wide-ranging powers, which encompasses six departéments (counties) and is the third most important region in France in terms of the economy, behind the Ile de France (Paris) and Rhone-Alpes (Lyon). The region has a GDP of more than $US 180 billion.
To give you an idea of the man, he celebrated his 60th birthday by climbing Mont Blanc. He was originally married to another politician, Dominique Sassone, who is now a French senator, but a couple of weeks ago he married journalist Laura Tenoudji, a woman 20 years his junior. He is a man of energy and ambition and as soon as he became head of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region he began planning to bring back the French Grand Prix. There had been various anaemic campaigns to revive the race in the course of the last 10 years, but the national sporting authority has never shown much energy in this respect so it was only when Estrosi arrived that things started to happen. He has now put together a consortium of different regional bodies to come up with $15 million. A further $17 million will be raised with ticket sales and partnerships and he hopes that the race will attract 66,000 spectators in 2018. The investment is justified by the fact that the regional government has calculated that the race will have an economic impact on the region of $69 million and thus an investment of only $15 million is a good deal, which will bring a five-fold return. During the press conference, he pointed out that the Grand Prix was far more cost-effective than the investment that the region makes in the SNCF, the national railway company, which costs $270 million a year and is perpetually on strike. That shut up the financial journalists who were looking for a story about wasting public money…
Estrosi reckons that the race will create 500 jobs, but he won’t discuss the details of his deal with FOM, saying that the fees are in line with other European races, but it is reckoned that the payments to the Formula One group will be in the region of $22 million a year, which leaves the consortium with $8 million to pay for the event.
Estrosi did not mess about with his negotiations and went straight to McLaren’s Eric Boullier to make contact with Ecclestone. It was a clever strategy and the deal was done very quickly. The five-year contract was signed on December 1.