French Grand Prix – Preview

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Formula One is looking forward to a very intense period of the championship. It launches the first station of its triple-header with this weekend’s French Grand Prix, returning to the Mecca of Grand Prix racing after a ten-year-long absence.

Magny Cours played host to the last French Grand Prix in 2008 which marked the start of the seemingly never-ending period without Formula One on French soil. This weekend, the Moving Circus returns to France which hosted the very Grand Prix of the history back in 1906.

History of the French Grand Prix

Grand Prix motor racing originated in France and the French Grand Prix, open to international competition, is the oldest Grand Prix race, first run on 26 June 1906 Sarthe, with a starting field of 32 automobiles. The Grand Prix name which has the meaning of Great Prize referred to the prize of 45,000 French francs to the race winner which was of huge value, having been worth 13 kg of gold. The earliest French Grands Prix were held on circuits consisting of public roads near towns through France, and they usually were held at different towns each year, such as Le Mans, Dieppe, Amiens, Lyon, Strasbourg, and Tours.

The 1906 race was the first ever Grand Prix, which was an event that originated from the Gordon Bennett Cup races that had started in 1899. This race was run on a 66-mile (106 km) closed public road circuit starting at the western French town of Le Mans, through a series of villages and back again to Le Mans. Hungarian Ferenc Szisz won this very long 12‑hour race on a Renault.

The World War I caused huge damage to France which meant Grand Prix was not brought back to the country until 1921.

In 1925, the first permanent autodrome in France was built, it was called Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry, located 20 miles south of the centre of the French capital of Paris. The construction of the first French purpose-built track was prompted by England’s Brookands, USA’s Indianapolis and Italy’s Monza tracks.

Until the birth of the Formula One World Championship, there were different venues hosting the French Grand Prix. Among those are Pau, Le Mans, Reims-Gueux, Lyon-Parilly, Miramas and Saint-Gaudens.

In 1950, the French Grand Prix was part of the Formula One calendar with Reims-Gueux hosting the race for the first three years. Until 2009, France was a fixture on the calendar except 1955. That year, the French Grand Prix was cancelled because of the Le Mans disaster, and Mercedes withdrew from all racing at the end of that year. The race continued to be held at Reims in 1956, another spell at a lengthened Rouen-Les-Essarts in 1957 and back to Reims again from 1958–1961, 1963 and one last event in 1966.

1991 brought a new chapter to the history of French Grand Prix. That year, the race moved to the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours, where it stayed for another 17 years. The move to Magny-Cours was an attempt to stimulate the economy of the area, but many within Formula One complained about the remote nature of the circuit.

Most successful drivers and teams

Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in the history of the French Grand Prix. The German won an impressive eight times. Home hero Alain Prost claimed victory on six occassions while Juan Manuel Fangio and Nigel Mansell both won fiur times. Of the current drivers, there are no repeat winners.

Among the teams, Ferrari stands out with its tally of 17 triumphs. Williams is the second most successful squad while Lotus stand on the lowest spot on the rostrum of most wins earned by constructors.

The track
Last hosting a Formula One Grand Prix back in 1990, a race won by home favourite and Ferrari driver Alain Prost, the Circuit Paul Ricard has undergone quite a transformation in recent years. Now under the control of Excelis, a company owned by Formula One promoter Bernie Ecclestone, the circuit Paul Ricard is a high tech racing facility boasting some of the most advanced technology on and off track anywhere in the world. With built in sprinkler systems allowing the circuit to simulate full wet conditions and a unique runoff areas around the circuit made of asphalt and tungsten rather than the more traditional gravel traps. This expansive use of modern safety runoff gives Paul Ricard a unique look against more traditional circuits favoured by the current Formula One calendar.

The Paul Ricard track has a big variety of layouts. The 2018 Grand Prix configuration has a length of 5.861km. Drivers have to completing 53 laps which equals to a total race distance of 310.633km. The track is made up of 15 corners of which 6 turns are left-handed ones.

The start-finish straight is quite long. The distance from pole position to the first apex is 590m means the start offers plenty of opportunities for gaining places after the race start.

The pit lane is spectacularly long, drivers are obliged to adhere to a speed limit of 80kph at the 595-meter-long pit lane which costs 26.7s. This relatively big time loss will force teams and drivers to work out the best one-stop-strategy.

Long straights and long, high-speed corners means drivers spend almost 70 per cent of the lap at full throttle. This along with a few heavy accelerations zones leads to a medium-level fuel consumption. Drivers apply the brakes six times, but only a few of them are heavy braking actions which puts relatively less demands on the brakes.

FIA marked two DRS zones out. The first one is between turn seven and eight while the other one is placed on the start-finish line.