French Grand Prix: Circuit Paul Ricard

Circuit Paul Ricard
Circuit Paul Ricard (United Autosports /

The French Grand Prix is one of the most important of the year, mainly because it’s the oldest Grand Prix in the world. The first was held in 1906 and whilst in more recent times they have struggled financially to be able to put one on, the return in 2018 is one that’s been welcomed by the wider Formula 1 fan base.

The return comes at the Paul Ricard Circuit, which is situated in the south of France, not too far from Marseille. Being that the race is often held around June-July time, you can almost guarantee that the weather is going to be sunny and hot. This works well for most teams as they are able to get temperature into their tyres quickly on what is one of the more forgiving Grand Prix’s in terms of wear on the car. 


Swap Start/End

Circuit Info

Location Length Corners Capacity Year Opened
Le Castellet 5.842km 15 90,000 1970

Circuit Layout

France F1 Track at Circuit Paul Ricard

One of the key features to the track is that it’s very flat. In fact, there are next to no inclines in the race at all, which is pretty race for a Formula 1 circuit. Although, the power that the cars make today means that inclines certainly don’t play the same role that they used to. 

Another key element is the fact that the straight is over a mile long, making it one of the longest that the drivers get to race on. Most F1 cars are able to get somewhere near their top speed on this stage of track.

But, the track has seen quite a few design changes over the years, none more drastic than the chicane that they added in the mile long straight. This means that cars re forced to accelerate about as hard as they will all race, decelerate to very low speeds, before aging getting up to speed to finish the straight and head into the sweeping right hander.

Unfortunately for Formula 1 in France, the track is used an awful lot by teams for testing. The mild winters and the fact that it’s 500m above seas level means that it’s an ideal place for teams to come and test new parts of their cars. The downside of this is that it follows the same negative feedback that the Circuit de Barcelona gets, in that fans think the drivers know it too well.

The absence of French F1 for a number of years means that this isn’t as big an issue now as it was in their hay-day, but if they are able to secure their place on the calendar for a prolonged period of time, the conversion will likely fire up again. 

Recent Winners

YearDriverCarFastest Lap
2008 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1.16.729
2007 Kimi Raikonen Ferrari 1.16.207
2006 Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1.17.111
2005 Fernando Alonso Renault 1.16.502
2004 Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1.15.377

Other Racing at Circuit Paul Ricard

The Bol d'Or in 1985 (Bryn Pinzgauer /

As with a lot of the top racing circuits in F1, the track is very popular with other disciplines of motorsports. These include the likes of the World Touring Car Championship, Moto GP, FIA GT and the 6 Hours of Castellet. 

Another of the highlights is that of the Bol d’Or, which is a 24 hour motorcycle race, similar to that of Le Mans. The race has jumped in and out of the Paul Ricard Circuit over the years, with a spell between 1978 to 1999 and then again from 2015-2018 and is very much regarded as the home of the Bol d’or. 


Racing at Paul Ricard Circuit
Paul Ricard Circuit (RENAULT SPORT /

Planning of the creation of the track started in the latte sixties, with Paul Ricard being one of the main figureheads of both planning and design. The track finally opened in 1970 and was immediately offered the Formula 1 Grand Prix to host just 1 year later. They were able to hold on to it for 14 years through to 1990. 

Other Events at the Track

In 1973 the team behind running the circuit were keen to expand into other sports, given that aside from F1, the track remained fairly redundant for a lot of the year in terms of top-class motor racing. They were able to gain the first French Motorcycle Grand Prix in 197 which they were able to host for 13 years in total, through to 1999.

By 1980 they had secured racing for the Bol d’Or and the Moto Journal Paul Ricard 200 Miles race from 1974 through to 1982. The Bol D’Or was originally on a rolling contract, where they would decide the following year where they would hold the race, but in fact, they were so impressed with the track they were able to host 22 events through to 1999.

F1 Relocation

By 1990, they had lost rights to the Formula 1 races, with these being relocated to that Magny-Cours Circuit. It wasn’t until 1999 when the track was bought by the Excelis Company, owned by Philippe Gurdjian, who was the organiser for French F1 racing from 1985 to 1997. It was his role to aid in the development of the track and allow it to become a dedicated testing track for all forms of motorsports. 

Major Changes

In 2001 the circuit saw major changes to the track, mainly with new turns being added and the removal of the chicane after Double Droite du Beausset. They also fully redeveloped the pit wall and garages, to allow for state of the art equipment and modern technology to be utilised within the track. 

The course didn’t reopen to the public until 2009 after almost a decade of being used exclusively as a test track. New grandstands were built and with it saw an influx in the way the circuit functioned. The increase in size of the pit building added 34 garages and additional paddock areas. 

F1 Returns in 2018

In terms of the French Grand Prix, issues with money meant that after the 2008 the race was no more. It wasn’t until 2016 when it was announced that the Grand Prix would return, albeit after several rumours over the years that it would be coming back sooner.

Whilst many tracks applied for the hosting of the race, the majority of applications fell on deaf ears, with funding being a major factor. But, the powers that be decided that the most appropriate and well-equipped track would be that of the Paul Ricard and decided that in 2018, this would be where the French Grand Prix would return.