Motor Racing: French move to salvage GP

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The Independent Online
HOPES that next year's French Grand Prix would go ahead rose yesterday when the government in Paris said cars carrying cigarette advertising would not be seized when they race in France. The international motor sports federation, Fisa, last week struck the grand prix off the world championship calendar, saying there were inadequate assurances cars would not be impounded.

Fisa's decision came after a court fined the Williams team Fr30m ( pounds 3.5m) for infringing French tobacco laws because their cars carried cigarette advertising at the Australian Grand Prix last month. The race was shown on French television. The French Health Minister, Bernard Kouchner, said yesterday that the case had been dropped following an agreement between Williams and the French anti-tobacco lobby.

The French Senate ratified an amendment passed last week by the National Assembly permitting television coverage of foreign races showing cars with cigarette advertising and halting legal action similar to the Williams' case. In addition, cars will not be impounded.

Kouchner confirmed that revenue from a slight increase in the price of cigarettes would be diverted into a special fund to compensate losses for all sports sponsored by tobacco companies.

Mark Blundell, the 26-year-old McLaren test driver, is poised to return to grand prix racing next season with the Ligier team. Blundell, based near Royston, Hertfordshire, was in southern France testing with McLaren yesterday and could not comment, while Ligier also avoided confirming of the appointment. But associates of Blundell confirmed the deal and said that he was almost certain to return after a year out of competitive Formula One racing.