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Classic events in doubt as F1 drafts plans for city-centred future

The future of the French Grand Prix and several other classic European races was declared uncertain on Monday as the dust settled following Max Verstappen’s crushing victory in front of a sell-out crowd at the Paul Ricard Circuit.

Widespread misgivings about F1’s plans to scrap established traditional races, or rotate them, and instead to hold more ‘international’ big city street circuit events, including a proposed Las Vegas race, dominated paddock debate during a sun-baked weekend.

World champion Verstappen had joined other drivers before the race in objecting to the likely loss of the sport’s iconic traditional circuits, including the Spa-Francorchamps track in the Belgian Ardennes, from a proposed 25-race calendar for next year.

Other historic events, including the Monaco and Italian Grands Prix, have been cited as targets for the axe as Liberty Media, owners of the commercial rights, forge a new future, breaking from the past and targeting new younger audiences.

“I don’t want to see myself in 2028, or whatever, driving only on street circuits close to a city just for the fan engagement, or whatever,” said championship leader Verstappen.

“I understand everyone wants to make money, but there is also a limit to that because it’s important to keep these really cool circuits on the calendar instead of just driving on street circuits, which I think F1 cars are not designed for anyway.”

Verstappen has been reluctant to accept the sport’s Americanisation, led by owners Liberty Media’s push for a Netflix-driven expansion into new markets including the United States, the Middle East and South Africa and objected to participating in the ‘Drive to Survive’ series.

The sport’s traditionalists were given hope on Monday when race promoter Christian Estrosi said he was “not resigned” to the loss of the French Grand Prix next year after record crowds at this season’s event.

“It’s the end of a contract in which France had to show its know-how in organisation,” he said. “200,000 people filled the circuit between Friday and Sunday, which is an absolute record.

“We are in the middle of a discussion -– so no, I am not resigned. I saw our country regain its Grand Prix de France –- this magnificent, popular sporting event. I am convinced that in the coming weeks, we will have extremely positive things to announce for the future of our Grand Prix.”

Le Mans to host race?

French driver Esteban Ocon of Alpine suggested Le Mans, the venue of the world’s most famous 24-Hour race, could be used in a new format that also helped to preserve the Belgian Grand Prix.

“I think we have multiple options,” he said. “I don’t think around Paris is realistic with the way the people there are running the area, but there are others that could work –- Magny-Cours, of course, but it is hard to get to. Le Mans as a French Grand Prix could be awesome.”

He added that alternating races in France and Belgium could be a solution.

“I don’t care about the business aspect of it as a driver, but it leaves F1 in a better place and for us it’s important, but as a driving experience I like Jeddah and many of these new tracks.”

France, Belgium and Italy, along with Britain and Monaco, hosted races in the inaugural 1950 world championship season.

All five have been touted as under threat in recent years as the hosting fees have risen with the arrival of new events including Miami, Singapore, Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Jeddah and more planned.

France has paid a reported fee of around $20 million to host a race at Le Castellet since returning to the calendar in 2018, after a 10-year absence, while Saudi Arabia pays a reported $50 million.

“The reality is that F1 is extremely attractive and there are a lot of cities and countries that want to host F1,” said French GP director Eric Boullier.

Verstappen offered a more purist view that helped explain why thousands of fans would spend three days in cold, wet woodlands, staying in tents, to watch the Belgian race rather than a luxury hotel in a warm climate with a street track.

“It’s just a great track to drive… I understand that to get there compared to other tracks, it’s probably a little bit more difficult, but it is just fantastic,” he said.

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