Analysis: France have Best Team, No Driver

While good news for French motor racing, Renault's dream season does not change the fact that the country of four-times champion Alain Prost no longer has a driver in Formula One

Analysis: France have Best Team, No Driver

Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who clinched the drivers' title last month, celebrated again in China on Sunday after a victory that handed the French manufacturer their first constructors' crown.

The only French driver involved in the showcase series this year was Franck Montagny, a test driver for Renault, who has now left them to search for a full-time drive elsewhere.

When the season started in March in Melbourne, there was no French driver on the grid for the first time in 40 years.

The country has a rich history in Formula One with 67 French drivers having taken part since 1950. French drivers have started a total 681 races, winning 79.

The most well known was Prost, who won four world titles, the last in 1993 in a Renault-powered Williams, before trying his luck, with frustrating results, as the boss of a French team bearing his name.

Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis carried the French flag the best they could after Prost retired from driving but their racing days are over and nobody has stepped in.

Need Money

Drivers need money to join Formula One, which is paid either by constructors or sponsors and financial partners.

Up until recently, drivers wanting to break into Formula One could target several of the smaller teams if they managed to raise enough funds but most of these have been bought over.

The only home left for those drivers is Jordan, to be renamed Midland.

"There are talented drivers in France but the problem is money", said 25-year-old Frenchman Tristan Gommendy, who was involved this year in the World Series by Renault and launched a public subscription on his website in a bid to raise the estimated 3 million euro ($3.62 million) he needs to make it to Formula One.

"If you don't have any financial backing, you can't join a top team, no matter how good you are," he added.

Sebastien Bourdais is another Frenchman unable to get a drive in Formula One, despite great results in the United States in the ChampCar series.

"For years sponsors and financial partners have been showing no interest in French drivers", said Gommendy's agent, Philippe Dupuy.

"The reasons for that are not quite clear but the result is that there is no Frenchman in Formula One," he added.

French Law

One of the reasons for the French drivers' struggle is the Loi Evin, a French law banning sponsorship from the makers of cigarettes and alcohol, traditionally among the strongest backers of the sport.

Also, the France-based junior formulae, which for years enabled gifted young drivers to make it through to Formula One, have lost much of their relevance.

The dream scenario for the likes of Montagny, Bourdais and Gommendy would be for Renault to decide they want a French driver.

That is unlikely to happen.

"What we want first of all is a fast driver capable of winning the title," the president of Renault's F1 team, Patrick Faure, said at this year's French Grand Prix.

"Having a French driver would be a bonus but just being French is not good enough to get in the team."

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