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  Monday, 28 October, 2002, 18:43 GMT
Axe falls on Belgian GP
Ralf Schumacher blasts through Eau Rouge at Spa in 2002
The fabulous Eau Rouge corner could be lost to F1
The Belgian Grand Prix has been dropped from the 2003 Formula One calendar because of a row over tobacco advertising.

And the race, which is staged round the hugely-impressive Spa-Francorchamps circuit, could be lost to the sport forever as a result.


If this bill was approved, next year's Grand Prix would be saved, giving us the time to examine a definitive solution
Philippe Monfils
Belgian senator

That is because Belgium could struggle to return to the championship in 2004 with new circuits at Bahrain and Shanghai having already been granted races from that year.

The decision to axe the race came in the wake of the Belgian government's announcement that it planned to introduce its own tobacco advertising ban on 1 August, 2003.

That would be less than a month before next year's race - scheduled for 31 August - is due to take place.

F1 has already pledged to introduce its own advertising ban - but not until the 2007 season.

So in an attempt to protect the teams that rely on tobacco sponsorship until alternative funding can be found, they have opted to give Belgium the chop.

Team boss David Richards, whose BAR outfit are owned by tobacco giant BAT, said that exception could not be made for Belgium.

"We have to stand firm on this issue when so many other governments and circuits have gone out of their way to accommodate us," he said.

It is not the first time the Belgian Grand Prix has been the subject of controversy.

Michael Schumacher celebrates victory in the Belgian Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher has won six times in Belgium

But two previous rows were ultimately resolved and the race reinstated.

This time there is also room for manoeuvre, as the calendar has been reduced to just 16 races - one short of the maximum allowed.

And in a last-gasp rescue attempt, two Belgian senators said they planned to introduce a bill to the upper house of parliament this week aimed at postponing the anti-tobacco law.

Their original bid to protect Belgium's grand prix failed in July when Green and Christian Democrat senators rejected a bill that would have lifted the ban on cigarette advertising for Spa's annual race.

"The aim (of the bill) is simply to postpone the application of the law until 30 September, 2003," French-speaking Liberal Senator Philippe Monfils said, citing the economic benefits of the race for the Spa region.

"If this bill was approved, next year's Grand Prix would be saved, giving us the time to examine a definitive solution," Monfils said.


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Jonathan Legard

Rob Bonnet

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See also:

21 Oct 02 | Formula One
15 Sep 02 | Formula One
13 Apr 02 | Formula One
01 Sep 02 | Formula One
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