Race guide for the French Grand Prix

By on

The diverse and long Circuit Paul Ricard will play host to Round 12 of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship, the French Grand Prix. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó picks out the vital facts ahead of the first destination of the calendar’s fifth double-header.

The last two grands prix saw Ferrari take two consecutive victories after a difficult period of five races in which the Scuderia always had the potential to fight for the win, but strategy mistakes and reliability issues prevented Charles Leclerc to add more victories to his tally.

Thanks to the Italian team’s recent results, the battle in the championships is more heated now with Leclerc trailing championship leader Max Verstappen by 38 points and Ferrari being 56 points adrift of Red Bull. However, with the reliability issues Ferrari has been going through recently and the looming engine penalties can make it very difficult for the Scuderia to keep itself close to Red Bull.

History of the French Grand Prix

Grand Prix motor racing originates from France. The French Grand Prix is the oldest Grand Prix race, first run on the 26th June 1906 in Sarthe, with a starting field of 32 automobiles. The designation of ‘Grand Prix’ 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, 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 in 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 first Formula One calendar with Reims-Gueux hosting the race in 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, which also prompted Mercedes to withdraw 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 holds the record for most wins in history of the French Grand Prix. The German won on eight occasions, two times for Benetton and six times for Ferrari. Home hero Alain Prost is second on this list with six wins, followed by Nigel Mansell and Juan Manuel Fangio who both won four times. Jack Brabham and Jackie Stewart both have three French GP victories to their names. The list of two-time winners includes Mike Hawthorn, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson, Niki Lauda, Dan Gurney and Jim Clark.

Ferrari is the absolute dominant force when it comes to the French Grand Prix. The Italians have won on 17 occasions. Williams is the second most successful constructor with eight wins followed by Lotus with seven victories. The French constructor Renault have been victorious five times just as McLaren. Brabham clinched four wins. Tyrell, Benetton, Mercedes and Alfa Romeo have all collected two wins in France.

Track characteristics

The track’s combination of high-speed straights, the extremely fast Signes corner at the end of the now bisected Mistral straight, and sequences of technically-demanding, low- and medium-speed corners at the end of Sectors 1 and 3 also make the choice of downforce level more complex as teams balance outright speed with agility through the corners.

Aerodynamic balance is a key factor to success on the current race layout of the Paul Ricard circuit especially in the first and third sector which features a series of medium-speed corners and quick changes of direction.

With the France F1 Grand Prix venue featuring a bit of everything - fast corners and flat-out straights as well as slower and more technical sections, Pirelli brought the three compounds in the middle of its five-compound range: the P Zero White hard is the C2 compound, the P Zero Yellow medium the C3, the P Zero Red soft is the C4.

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Mario Isola said: “This year’s French Grand Prix takes place nearly a month later than it did last year, when it rained on Sunday morning, so it’s fair to expect warmer temperatures.

„This year’s generation of tyres and compounds is different and more resistant to overheating than the 13-inch versions used last year, so we’ll have to see how that affects the strategy. A bit of history: Paul Ricard was actually where our 18-inch tyres for the current era made their debut, at a test with Renault and Sergey Sirotkin back in 2019.”