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Saturday, August 2

Ecclestone said to guarantee race

BRUSSELS -- The Belgian Grand Prix will return to the Formula One calendar from next season after a ban on tobacco advertising was postponed, according to a leading politician in Belgium's Wallonia region.

"I can formally confirm that the grand prix in Francorchamps will take place in 2004," Economy Minister Serge Kubla told Belgian radio station RTBF in an interview on Saturday.

The Minister said he had spoken with Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim and had been assured the race would take place.

However the return of the classic event at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit is only provisional and has not been confirmed by Ecclestone, according to sources close to the Formula One commercial chief.

Ecclestone, whose company Formula One Management runs the commercial business of the sport including organising the calendar, has not confirmed the schedule, or any of the races on it, for 2004, sources said.

They suggested Belgium was one of several races expected to be included on a provisional list of 18 events that is likely to be trimmed to 17 or even 16.

On Thursday, Belgium's lower house voted to push back the date of the ban from this month to July 31, 2005, when a European Union ban comes into force.

Belgium has been struggling to get its Spa-Francorchamps race track back on the Formula One calendar after it was left off this year's schedule due to local anti-tobacco legislation.

Three of the top four teams in Formula One -- Ferrari, McLaren and Renault -- are sponsored by tobacco companies and a vote not to go to Spa this year was taken by the teams.

The track is a favourite of Ferrari's world champion Michael Schumacher, who made his debut at Spa in 1991 and won his first F1 race there in 1992.

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