French Grand Prix back on starting grid

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This year's French Grand Prix was finally given the go-ahead today, ensuring the 2004 Formula One World Championship will be the biggest in history.

The race at Magny-Cours on July 4 got the green light from grand prix supremo Bernie Ecclestone and team chiefs - meaning this year's calendar will feature 18 races.

Ecclestone confirmed the grand prix after the organisers met their financial obligations to the sport.

Organisers had needed to find £15million to compensate the teams for an 18th race - against the Concorde Agreement which governs the sport - and the £5million it owed Ecclestone.

"It's on. There will be 18 races," Ecclestone said after the meeting in London.

Max Mosley, president of the sport's governing body, FIA, said: "They've met all their obligations, all the financial obligations according to Bernie, and therefore the teams have agreed and there's no problem.

"The teams are getting the 18-race financial deal. It's really down to Bernie. He gets money from all sorts of people."

France, which has only missed one year since the F1 championship was established in 1950, had only been granted provisional status when the calendar was released last year because of the financial problems.

The organisers were given a December 31 deadline to come up with the money - but this was extended. Even so, Mosley admitted a decision could have gone either way.

"It was very close," he added. "There were certain detailed arrangements that they had to follow with Bernie and it wasn't completely in place until a day or so ago.

"We did give them perhaps longer than we should have done but the FIA were very reluctant to see the French Grand Prix come off the calendar if it could be avoided."