Donkey protesters threaten French Grand Prix

Donkey-riding protesters seeking to banish the French Grand Prix from central France overshadowed Friday’s opening practice session for Sunday’s race.

Twelve days after the controversial six-car fiasco at Indiannapolis, where seven teams refused to race in the US Grand Prix, citing safety grounds, formula one was threatened by a new crisis as 24 cars took part in the first session of the weekend.

The protesters, waving banners, blocked a road about 15km from the Magny-Cours circuit. If their protest continued, it could seriously disrupt traffic for Sunday’s race.

“It looks like they are serious, because if they carry on and block that road or the others they talk of, all the traffic from Paris will be in chaos,” said a track spokesperson

“These guys are serious and they are against the race. They want to ban it or close it and get it out of this region,” he added.

In the past the French Grand Prix has been threatened by a lorry drivers’ blockade.

Back on the track the drivers were slow to get back to business with Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa in his McLaren Mercedes-Benz ahead of championship leading Spaniard Fernando Alonso in his Renault.

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella was third fastest in the second Renault, but few of the drivers did more than a handful of laps until the closing stages of a session run in dry conditions under a cloudy sky.

The session saw Australian Mark Webber in his Williams, Vitantonio Liuzzi of Italy in a Red Bull and Portuguese Tiago Monteiro in a Jordan make unexpected off-track excursions, the Portuguese finally spinning off heavily for a second time at the last chicane where he landed heavily on his car’s suspension and stopped.

The spectators had little to cheer until the final 20 minutes of a desultory session.
None of the sport’s big name drivers ventured onto the circuit in the opening 40 minutes and the final times were hardly representative of the likely outcome of Sunday’s race, the 10th of the 19-races season.-Sapa-AFP

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