Eric Boullier says that big changes are coming to the Formula 1 calendar after he held “positive” talks with F1 chief Stefano Domenicali over the future of the French Grand Prix.
The former McLaren boss, now Managing Director of the Circuit Paul Ricard race, is optimistic that his event will remain in the sport’s plans, but has accepted that it could share its spot with other circuits.
That could see the French Grand Prix staged every two or three years with other European venues, such as Portimao or even Monaco, doing the same.
It comes after Domenicali hinted that F1 could race at up to 30 venues in the future, though this would involve tracks sharing positions on a calendar that can, for now, grow no greater than 24 races long, as outlined in the current Concorde Agreement.
Speaking exclusively to RacingNews365.com, Boullier said: “We’ve had discussions [during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend] with my chairman, Mr [Christian] Estrosi, and Stefano Domenicali.
“It was a positive meeting because they said they want the French Grand Prix to stay on the calendar. I think there will be a lot of changes in the future on the calendar, not only for us but for everybody.”
Which circuits could share rotating F1 spots?
With talks over the future of the race still far from over, Boullier was not prepared to comment on which venues could enter into a rotation agreement with Circuit Paul Ricard.
The French Grand Prix is one of three European venues with a race contract expiring at the end of the current season, joining Monaco and Spa, although the Belgian Grand Prix is understood to have a new deal pending.
But there is a long list of FIA Grade 1 circuits currently without a place on the calendar, including Portimao (Portugal), Hockenheim (Germany) and Istanbul (Turkey).
Boullier added: “If you have 30 Grands Prix and only 23 dates, obviously, if you want to fit them in you must find a clever way to do it. It was a positive meeting and we now have to work.
“We will follow the wishes of Formula One Management (FOM). I think alternating would not necessarily be with just one other Grand Prix, it could be changing every year.”
Competition means French GP is in fight for spot
The challenge for Boullier is to prove to FOM that Circuit Paul Ricard is worthy of a valuable place on the calendar. His case will not have been helped by the disastrous traffic problems of the past at a venue tucked between the hills of the Sainte-Baume.
This year, there is a plan in place to avoid those troubles with fans set to be transported to the track by shuttle bus from the ‘Park and Ride’ facilities, the major cities and train stations. FOM will be watching closely.
“We have a huge mobility plan with seven ‘Park and Rides’ in place,” Boullier explained.
“You cannot drive your car to the track this year, that’s not allowed, except if you are media, video teams, or team personnel.
“From a 25,000 capacity car park at Paul Ricard, we are down now to 7,500. The people who pay for that access are going to be funding my mobility plan, where we have a €10 return train ticket from wherever you live in the south of France.
“We also have a TGV from Paris and over 400 buses that will be running shuttles from the cities and train stations.”
Can French GP compete with ‘glamour’ events?
Circuit Paul Ricard must also ensure they put on a show for the paying audience, at a time when ‘glamour’ is fast becoming a buzzword used to justify a venue’s place on a packed calendar.
“We have historic demonstrations this year, W Series, Porsche Supercup and F2. We have radio-controlled racing, drone racing, an FMX show – which is spectacular jumping with electric bikes – and we have a stunt team coming, running biofuel cars,” Boullier said.
“We also have concerts every day on the big stage that we had in 2018, so it’s going to be exciting.”