After an absence of 10 years, the French Grand Prix makes a much-welcome comeback to the Formula 1 world championship calendar. It marks the return of one of the sport’s oldest and most famous races, and restores it to the Circuit Paul Ricard a track that has been absent from the championship since 1990.
Aside from Ricard, the French GP has been shared between six other circuits: its most recent home has been Magny-Cours, but the race has also been held on the famous Reims road course, the sweeping, fast Rouen-les-Essarts, Dijon, Clermont Ferrand (France’s ‘mini-Nurburgring’), and a single, unloved outing on the Le Mans short circuit.
Despite an extensive refurbishment back in the 2000s, Paul Ricard has actually been restored to the original challenging configuration it used until being truncated in 1986, following a fatal testing crash involving Brabahm’s Elio de Angelis.
There is one striking change, however; the famous Mistral Straight, which makes up almost half the circuit’s length, has been split in two by a mid-straight chicane.
Located in the south of France, close to Marseille, the Circuit Paul Ricard first hosted the French Grand Prix back in 1971. McLaren won its first race at the track in 1976, when James Hunt took his second victory of the season during a memorable year spent battling Ferrari’s Niki Lauda.
The track is a particularly useful testing venue, and was used by teams throughout the noughties – the ability to re-configure the layout using a host of different track options meant that the high-speed track was as useful as preparing for Monaco as it was for a track like Canada.