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Argentina F1 return waits on political outcome

Argentina F1 return waits on political outcome

Bernie Ecclestone

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) – Bernie Ecclestone wants to take Formula One back to Argentina but is waiting to see who wins presidential elections later this month, according to Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi.

Gastaldi, an Argentine whose family was involved in promoting the last grand prix in Buenos Aires in 1998, said his brother Marcos had been discussing a new proposal with Ecclestone.

“Bernie had this idea to wait and see what happens with the election which is in a couple of weeks. So we might have a good chance,” he told Reuters at last weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

“Some homework is being done this year and we might be able to work things out if it’s the right environment. We have a good group behind us (so) that if Bernie is happy with the new official environment it could work out.

“The racetrack is there. Yes, it needs changes but if we manage to bring some comfort to Mr Ecclestone, and we manage also to give him all the guarantees from the government and promoter, it could happen soon.”

Opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires and an advocate of free markets, is standing against ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli in the Nov. 22 run-off to replace outgoing leftist president Cristina Fernandez.

Ecclestone confirmed to Reuters separately that talks were ongoing. “It can happen. Not will, can,” he said.

Argentina in 1953 became the first country outside Europe to host a championship grand prix, excluding the Indianapolis 500 which counted as a round despite few Formula One drivers attending, and hosted 20 races.

The local hero and five times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, who died in 1995, won four times in a row between 1954 and 1957 at a time when the grand prix was heavily supported by populist president Juan Peron.

The race dropped off the calendar after 1981, with Britain and Argentina at war over the disputed Falklands Islands (Malvinas), but returned in 1995 with Britain’s Damon Hill winning twice and Michael Schumacher triumphant in 1998.

The only current Formula One races held in Latin America are Brazil — the next round on the calendar — and Mexico which returned this year for the first time since 1992.

“Bernie is very keen to bring back the race in Argentina because he knows there’s a great deal of fans. It would be the same as coming to Mexico,” said Gastaldi.

“The thing is that it has to be the right environment and then I’m sure that if Bernie is happy with the proposal we can move on.”

Mexico’s return was hailed as a great success, with 135,000 people attending on the Sunday alone and creating a lively atmosphere.

The Argentine Grand Prix also drew massive crowds in the eras of Fangio and Carlos Reutemann, but foundered on the rocks of economic crisis and political upheaval.

“We were organising the grand prix with my family and two friends back in the 90s. it was an independent business, no involvement with the government or city hall. Just a company that we put together to promote the grand prix,” said Gastaldi.

“The environment in my country didn’t work, didn’t help. So we decided to stop organising the grand prix.

“We had a 14 years contract with Bernie that we signed and Bernie realized that it was very heavy to try to move forward for us and so he gave us the rain check to cancel the contract,” he added.

Gastaldi, whose role at Lotus beyond 2015 remains uncertain with the struggling team set to be taken back by former owners Renault, said 85-year-old Ecclestone favoured going back to the old racetrack in Buenos Aires.

“Bernie believes that it makes more sense to go to the main city, like in the old days. You have the infrastructure, logistics,” he said.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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