LE CASTELLET, France, Jun 23 – Crisis talks to resolve serious traffic and parking problems at the French Grand Prix were taking place late Friday after a day of extraordinary queues, over-heating cars and angry ticket-holders.
Many spectators, who had purchased tickets to watch Friday’s two opening practice sessions, were unable to reach the circuit by car because of the long tail-backs on the narrow roads leading to the relatively inaccessible Le Castellet circuit.
Teams were also affected with Force India operations chief Otmar Szafnauer forced to cancel a business meeting because of the problem and drivers, including four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, also left frustrated by road blocks and traffic jams.
Szafnauer said it had taken him “two hours to go 10 miles” on Friday morning.
“We had a guest flying in for a meeting with me and then flying back. He never made it. He had to turn around and go back to the airport.
“He phoned and told me ‘sorry, I’ve moved seven kilometres in two and a half hours -– my flight is at five so I have to turn back.”
French driver Romain Grosjean of the Haas team said he was travelling in with Vettel when they were stopped at a police roadblock on a back lane.
“We were driving, riding with Vettel, and got stopped by the police and we wanted to go again and the police wouldn’t let us. I had the pass, I had my t-shirt -– I had everything.”
Eventually, it is understood the police allowed Vettel to go through.
In a statement, the Var prefecture said it believed “the situation is improving” and added that a planned meeting with the organisers of the French Grand Prix was to go ahead in a bid to create a contingency plan.
Tail-backs of up to six kilometres were still in evidence on Friday evening as local homebound traffic added to the chaos created by the return of the French Grand Prix at Le Castellet after 28 years.
Many team staff and officials were held up for hours in the long tailbacks on the only road to the circuit.
The Var prefecture’s plan had been to close many smaller roads and operate only a single lane -– and to fill car parks one by one.
The local authority switched its plan to allow the use of two lanes on roads close to the circuit and to fill car parks simultaneously in a bid to ease the congestion.
The circuit had decided in advance to restrict capacity to 65,000, but on Friday found it was unable to manage the pressure of thousands of spectators arriving together.
Formula One chairman Chase Carey said: “It’s great to be popular. We have got a great crowd on Friday and it will grow bigger as the weekend goes on and they will all have fun.”