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New Formula 1 Track: Crash Course in Environmental Politics?

Last year France was axed from the Grand Prix calendar after the French motorsport federation withdrew support of the Magny-Cours track, citing lack of funds.  Formula 1 CEO, Bernie Ecclestone, ruled out returning to the rural venue, with his sites set on a Paris race date to grace the Formula 1 calendar.

Things were looking up for Formula 1 racing fans earlier this year though.  In March 2009 plans to construct a new  €112 million track at Flins-Les-Mureaux, north-east of Paris, were announced.  The site beat out competition from four other venues on the French shortlist; it was the cheapest of the sites.  

From the beginning this news has stirred up controversy over the potential pollution wafting into the city from construction and the races.  Now the controversy is going towards all-out political battle at the highest echelons of power.

In one corner is France’s PM, François Fillon, who has competed in the LE Mans Legend historic sports car race and takes a keen interest in the FIA.  He fully supports the proposed site of Flins-Les-Mureaux.  But French Environment Minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, and the Secretary of State for Ecoology, Chantel Jouanno, are much less than enthusiastic. 

Borloo and Jouanno say that construction and racing at the site is environmentally irresponsible.  Though much of the rhetoric revolves around air pollution and related climate change, the real issue is Parisian drinking water.  A drinking water table that supplies about 500000 Parisians, passes directly under the race track site.

This past weekend, hundreds of environmentalist demonstrated in Versailles against the track.  Their banners read: <<F1: Non, Organic [Framing]: Oui.>>  Many analysts agree that there is merit to reconsidering the site, but also stress that the issues are being taken out of context and are reflecting a larger political issue.

Alain Prost, the former quadruple World Champion and strong supporter of the new track, told Le journal du Dimanche newspaper: “things need to be clear at the government level” He acknowledges that public debate is possible, but current plans to stage the Grand Prix there in 2011 would be greatly complicated.  The review process is also complicated because of memories of failed plans to build a track near Disneyland Paris in recent memory.

Track architect, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, insists that the circuit will actually be “the world’s first totally ecological race track.”  Minister Borloo is also being criticized for vetoing the project without hearing conclusions from independent experts.

This seeming political game becomes even more complex because most Formula enthusiasts believe that Flins-Les-Mureaux is the only chance of France returning to the Formula 1 Calendar in the foreseeable future.  The question simply becomes: to what extent might France pollute in potentially dangerous ways to win back their race?

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