Return | Formula 1 looks set to come back to France, five years after the French Grand Prix was wiped off the calendar. (Image | Formula 1 On Live)

Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone announced on Sunday that the sport could soon be returning to France in the wake of construction delays in New Jersey, that have caused the Grand Prix of America to be postponed until 2014.

It could go one of two ways: south to Circuit Paul Ricard, which has not hosted a race since 1990, or back to Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours, in central France.

So what does this mean for the sport? Firstly, it could mean the return of a classic racing circuit steeped in history, the setting for 17 Grand Prix races between 1991 and 2008, and almost certainly signifies at least one journey to the land of Proust, De Gaulle and Prost.

In an era where Formula 1, under the guidance of money-driven Ecclestone, has turned its back on Europe to embrace the “new world” of racing, could this be the breath of fresh, albeit familiar, air so many fans have yearned for?

Last time out | The 2008 French Grand Prix was won by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. (Image | F1 Fanatic)

Perhaps, but then again, the French Grand Prix has been plagued with problems over the years. Reporting when it was cancelled four years ago, the New York Times highlighted financial reasons as being behind the decision. It also said that poor accommodation facilities and difficult access were regarded as the main weaknesses of the Magny-Cours track.

Ecclestone had wanted to stage a race near Paris, but the plans never came to fruition. However, with the announcement that the US will not be ready in time, this is a chance for either the famous Magny-Cours or Paul Ricard to get back on the calendar and return the sport to its roots.

For the first ever Formula One-type race actually happened in 1906, on the streets of Le Mans in the south of France – this led to the establishment of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the 24-hour endurance race track famous with motorsport fans.

French language permeates Formula 1, and there have been many famous drivers from the country, most notably Prost, the winner of four Drivers’ Championship titles. But for a businessman such as Ecclestone, time is money and sentiment means nothing. He is poised to move quickly to plug the gap in the schedule.

The 82-year-old mogul said: “We are ready to sign a contract. Which circuit they are going to use is one thing. Who is going to pay for it, that’s the bottom line. If they are ready, we can slot it in the calendar.”

Refusal | French president François Hollande has said he will not fund a Grand Prix in his country. (Image | Wikipedia)

This could be precisely the problem. France’s socialist president François Hollande has stated that the national government will not contribute financially to any plan to revive the French Grand Prix, meaning that local administration in either the Magny-Cours and Le Castellet areas would have to fund the project themselves. Tricky, in one of the worst economic crises in the country’s history.

As the BBC said when reporting on the story, there have been various attempts to reinstate the French Grand Prix and none have so far been successful.

It was rumoured that there might be a “share deal” back in August between Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and a French track, so that races would switch between the neighbouring countries. It is fair to say the sport’s history and heritage will not be helped by such a move.

There does appear to be an appetite for the French Grand Prix among racing fans. Comments on the BBC article expressed support for Magny-Cours in the context of some of the classic races held there, including the first one back at the track in 1991, won by Nigel Mansell.

Others touted the Sarthe circuit as a possible alternative, while one commenter said: “The heartbeat of F1 lies in Europe so France would be welcome.”

This is precisely the point, that a sport which has moved so drastically away from its origins could benefit and reclaim some of its credibility, if this remains important, through the proposed move.

Obviously there are a number of impediments, but another European race would be a victory for all concerned with the true spirit of Formula 1 – as long as it does not come at the expense of the Belgian Grand Prix.

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