October 31st, 2002

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Spa to be dropped next year :¬(

Formula One's governing body has defended the decision to drop next year's Belgian Grand Prix in the face of criticism from the European Union and fans of the sport.

The decision by F1 teams to drop the race from the calendar was a response to Belgium's unilateral impostion of a tobacco advertising ban next year.

But it has been met with dismay by fans because Spa-Francorchamps is widely regarded as the finest circuit in the world.

And the EU's health and consumer protection commissioner David Byrne has launched a stinging criticism of the move.

Byrne said: "Is the tainted money of big tobacco more important to F1 than the spirit of the sport and the dedication of its fans to one of the most exciting race tracks?"

But the FIA questioned in a statement both Byrne's credibility and "respect for legal detail".

It said the decision not to go to Spa was due to the need to comply with both existing sponsorship contracts and a new Belgian law banning tobacco advertising.

"Had Mr Byrne and the European Commission shown similar respect for legal detail, their original EU directive on tobacco advertising would not have been annulled by the European Court of Justice," the FIA statement said.

It added that Byrne and the EC "would have more credibility" if they moved to "end the subsidy of nearly 1bn euros paid by Brussels to encourage tobacco growing in the EU".

The FIA said responsible health agencies worldwide were co-operating with it to introduce a global ban on tobacco sponsorship in motorsport from 1 October, 2006.

"Countries which choose a different date on an individual basis merely render this objective more difficult to attain," the statement said.

But at this year's Belgian GP, McLaren boss Ron Dennis - whose team is sponsored by cigarette company West - said that the race's problems are not solely to do with tobacco.

He said the issue is also about the amount of money the race makes and the quality of the tracks facilities.

Dennis said: "We have to be careful about moving too far away from the heritage aspects of F1, but this isn't solely a tobacco issue.

"There are 17 races currently permitted in the world championship, and some have better [commercial] packages than others.

"In terms of revenue-raising, this one is probably towards the bottom end of the scale."

The FIA calculates that the tobacco industry provides F1 and world rally teams with sponsorship worth more than $350m a year.

Two countries on the F1 calendar prevent tobacco advertising at their Grands Prix - Britain through a voluntary agreement and France with a legal ban.

The FIA maintains that, since F1 is televised globally, local bans are ineffective as audiences in France and Britain can watch races elsewhere which are not subject to any ban.
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Jackie's warning!

Sir Jackie Stewart says the plight of the Belgian Grand Prix should act as a warning to Silverstone.

Stewart believes that the decision to axe the great Spa-Francorchamps circuit from the F1 calendar demonstrates that no grand prix can take its future for granted.

With the likes of Bahrain and China queuing up to hold races, Stewart is worried that the British Grand Prix could be the next casualty.

He told Motorsport News: "Everyone is in love with Spa-Francorchamps, and particularly with Eau Rouge, but the bottom line is that it has had its grand prix taken away.

"For whatever reasons, they struggled to get their venue in order and if one of the most historical events can be taken away it is a warning for everyone else.

"If we still want an F1 race in Britain, we must fight for it."

Stewart, president of the British Racing Drivers Club which owns Silverstone, said that losing the race that losing the British Grand Prix would be a hammer blow to the country’s thriving motorsport industry.

He said: "It is not a given that we will have the British Grand Prix in the long term, so it is not a given that we will have a British motorsport industry.

"If the British GP goes, the industry will not survive as we know it."
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