French protester expected to be released

The Frenchman who wandered around the circuit during the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim and crossed the track in front of oncoming cars will be released from detention and allowed to return home, authorities said today.

The Frenchman who wandered around the circuit during the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim and crossed the track in front of oncoming cars will be released from detention and allowed to return home, authorities said today.

"According to the current stage of investigation, there are no reasons to keep him in investigative custody," said Oskar Gattner, spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Mannheim, which has jurisdiction over the nearby Hockenheim circuit.

Gattner said the man may have to post bond before being allowed to return home.

"As long as we know his address in France, nothing speaks against it," Gattner said. "Besides, we don't think he will go on the run."

The 47-year-old Frenchman, who has not been identified, dodged security and wandered along a wooded section of the Hockenheim circuit, eventually crossing the track as Formula One cars approached at high speed.

It took a couple of minutes before stewards reached the man and took him away in a car, while the race was slowed down by a safety car for two laps.

The man told police he was protesting against his dismissal for health reasons by the German car maker Mercedes-Benz after 20 years of service.

Mercedes-Benz provides engines for the McLaren Formula One cars. The man's action actually helped McLaren's great rival Ferrari and its driver Rubens Barrichello win the race.

The same man was dragged away by a steward from the starting grid just 15 seconds before the formation lap. Police later said the man had cut through a fence about 500 meters away from the track.

"I am disappointed that the person who was responsible for the safety car coming out couldn't have been taken away before the race when he was already close to the track," said Mercedes director Norber Haug. "The outcome for him and for the drivers could have been very serious."

Hockenheimring officials worried about the consequences of the man's action for the circuit, which is trying to secure an extension of its contract to run Formula One races beyond 2001.

The circuit could face a heavy fine from the FIA, the sport's governing body.

"It is very regrettable that something like this could have happened here," said Gustav Schrank, chairman of the company that runs the circuit and mayor of Hockenheim.

"We will sit down together with the police and others involved to prevent something like that happening again," he said.

The circuit has filed trespassing charges against the Frenchman.

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