France was the birthplace of modern Grand Prix racing over 100 years ago, but was absent from the calendar from 1999-2017. The race returned to Circuit Paul Ricard in 2018 after a 25-year absence.
France has a long history with motorsport, arriving in the country almost when the car itself did. Organized racing began toward the end of the 19th century and it was here that the Grand Prix was invented. Grand Prix de I'Automobile Club de France was the title of the first race in 1905. This initial race happened on a closed-off street circuit near the town of Le Mans. However, several rival races would pop up and also claim the title. There was a rival Grand Prix de France and even a series of Formula 2 races took the name. Even more confusing, the Automobile Club de France placed the title retrospectively on races that had been organized in 1895 and 1903. They did this so that they would own the record for the oldest Grand Prix races in the world. Oddly, this happened even though the ACF was not fully formed at the time the races had taken place and they were not even Grand Prix races.
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Paul Ricard, a Marseilles industrialist, was responsible for financing a state-of-the-art track near Marseilles. This would be the stage for the 1971 race and have a coveted spot in French Grand Prix History. The track was extremely tough on the engines of the cars due to its long straight. A 5.8km track, it was used until 1985 when safety concerns saw it shortened and used for five more races. Longtime hero of the Circuit Paul Ricard has to be Alain Prost. A local hero, he claimed victory in the last three races on the track in this period.
Fast forward ten years and the French Grand Prix returned to the Formula 1 calendar in 2018. A five-year deal to stage the race at Paul Ricard was announced in late 2016 by Christian Estrosi, President of the Regional Council of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, who promised the event would be an important driver of economic development and tourism for the region.
While the 2020 French Grand Prix was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, it returned in 2021. 15,000 fans were permitted into the grandstands on each day of the weekend. The 2021 French Grand Prix took place one week earlier than it had originally been scheduled to run, due to the cancellation of the Turkish Grand Prix.
Michael Schumacher has more French Grand Prix wins than any other driver, winning the event eight times. He took all of his victories at the Magny-Cours track.
Ferrari has the most French Grand Prix wins, with 17. At the Paul Ricard track, Williams and McLaren share the record for the most victories, with three apiece.
Alain Prost won his home race on six occasions, including four wins at Paul Ricard. Read more: France’s Home Race Heroes
Nigel Mansell and Lewis Hamilton are the only drivers other than Prost to have won at the Paul Ricard track more than once. Mansell won here in 1986 and 1987, while Hamilton has won in 2018 and 2019.
French manufacturer Renault won the first French Grand Prix in 1906, then had to wait another 73 years for its second victory in 1979! Renault has won a total of six French Grands Prix, most recently in 2005. Another French manufacturer, Bugatti, also won the race six times between 1926-1936.
Paul Ricard offers 167 track configurations, from 0.8km to 5.5km.
The podium at the 1982 French Grand Prix was made up entirely of French drivers. Rene Arnoux won the race, and was joined in the top three by Alain Prost and Didier Pironi. Patrick Tambay finished in fourth too!
The 1996 French Grand Prix, held at Magny-Cours, was the last F1 race to not feature any drivers who had been crowned World Champion. Michael Schumacher qualified on pole but was unable to start the race due to engine problems. Future champions Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen all finished in the top five.
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Circuit Paul Ricard
5.842km (15 turns)
73 laps (309.69km)
1:32.740, Sebastian Vettel, (Ferrari, 2019)
1st Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:27:25.770
2nd Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +2.904s
3rd Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +8.811s
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