The Circuit Paul Ricard is a racing circuit just outside of Le Castellet, France. It held the French Grand Prix on several occasions between 1971 and 1990, before being replaced by the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.
The circuit's name was often referred to as the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track (Paul Ricard HTTT), but in 2016, the reference to "HTTT" was removed, and now the logos simply state as Circuit Paul Ricard.
The circuit is built on land formerly owned by pastis magnate Paul Ricard. Ricard was known to be a bit of an eccentric, and wanted to experience designing and building a highway. Friends convinced him that a race track would be very similar, and might provide a return on his investment. Construction started in 1969, and the track opened in the fall of 1970, with a two liter sports car race, along with several supporting events. Officials of the ACF inspected the track, and were delighted with what they found. Many of France's tracks were no longer suitable for Formula One, and this was a perfect replacement. The track was named as the host for the 1971 French Grand Prix.
The circuit was state of the art for safety in 1970, but by the mid 1980s, it was falling behind. One issue was the 1.9km long Mistral back straight, named for the winter winds that blow out of the Alps into southern France. The cars were not designed for prolonged periods at around 200 mph (320km/h), and incidents were increasing in severity. The worst was a collision between Mauro Baldi and Jochen Mass at the braking point at the end of the straight. Mass wound up trapped in his car, wrapped in chain link fencing, in a spectator area. He was rescued shaken but unhurt. However, 12 spectators suffered various non-life threatening injuries.
The circuit has a long and narrow footprint, on a plateau above the French Riviera, between Marseille and Toulon. Paul Ricard's private airport runs parallel to the track. The pit straight is one km long, with the line about 1⁄4 along. It leads into a very fast left-right combination, known as "Esses de la Verrerie". A some more very gentle curves brings the drivers to "La Chicane", which despite the name is a fairly wide (but slow) right-left combination. This sequence is now referred to on some maps as "La Hotel". The track was originally built to go straight to "Comp" at this point, but the cars were building up too much speed.
Two fairly technical 90° righthanders, known as "Comp" and "Ste Baume", require great precision to line up properly for the gentle "L'ecole" left hander, and the Mistral straight. This is 1.9 km of pure horsepower, where it is not unheard of to have competitors draft past each other two and three times before the end. If the wind is blowing down from the Alps, then some cars can exceed 350 km/h here, but if it is coming off of the sea, then they will be lucky to reach 300. The straight is initially flat, with a slight downhill in the middle third (about where it parallels the pit straight), and an uphill stretch at the very end.
The straight ends with a sweeping right hander called "Signes", which would be flat out in most other tracks, but requires a careful amount of braking here. A gently bending straight puts the cars into the beginning of the most technical section of the track, "Double Droite du Beausset", a wide, double-apex corner that turns the cars more than 180° right. A very short straight to the quick right-left "S de Bendor", and almost immediately into the 90° left "L'epingle". A wide, sweeping right called "Le Village" is taken flat out, followed by an off-camber left called "Virage de Tour". Another short squirt, and the final corner, a 90° right called "Virage du Pont", leads onto the pit straight.
The pits themselves are on driver's right, and are at a slight angle to the track, so the pit road blends into the track at the exit without changing direction. When originally built, there were two entrances and exits from the pits, with the second entrance passing under the first exit.
During a tire testing session, a couple of months before the 1986 race, Elio de Angelis lost his rear wing of his "ultra-flat" Brabham-BMW BT55 in the Verrerie esses. The car hit the barriers and turned upside down before catching fire. There were no marshals in the area, as that was a "safe" section, and the track was trying to keep expenses down. Drivers Keke Rosberg and Derek Warwick pulled him from the wreck, but he was already suffering from severe smoke inhalation. He died 29 hours later in a hospital in Marseille, despite relatively minor injuries.
As a reaction to the accident, the circuit was changed dramatically before the grand prix. Gone was the entire north end of the circuit, and about 1⁄3 of its length. The course now made a 100° right (known as "La Bretelle") near the end of the pit straight, cut across roughly 200 meters, and made another right onto the Mistral straight. The track now measured 3.813 km, and the Mistral had been reduced to just over 1 km. The drivers felt that this was an overreaction, but the teams like it because the engines would be less likely to blow up, and the sponsors liked it because the cars now passed by the start 80 times, instead of 54. They used this configuration five times, until the race moved to Magny-Cours.
After Ricard died in 1997, the track was eventually purchased by a company owned by Bernie Ecclestone. It was rebuilt as an advanced test track, featuring more than 160 possible course variations. In 2016, it was announced that the French Grand Prix would return to the calendar, on an updated Paul Ricard full circuit.
The track has been modified in several places, along with some necessary repairs to a facility that is now almost 50 years old. Part of the Mistral was built on landfill over a ravine, and that fill has settled a bit, leaving the fastest part of the straight with some serious bumps. The new circuit will use one of the chicane options about halfway along, to keep the cars from launching at 350 kph. The Verrarie esses now have three variations, and the F1 cars will use the slowest and sharpest. The S de Bendor has vanished, and L'epingle is now more of a hairpin. The final corner, Virage du Pont, has been sharpened and tightened, leaving a new circuit (known as "1C-V2") with 21 corners, and a length of 6.086 km. And an entirely new pit building will greet the teams in 2018.
The following is a list of Formula One World Championship events held at the Circuit Paul Ricard circuit:
- ↑ Billiotte, Julien (5 December 2016). "Le Grand Prix de France confirmé au Ricard - F1i.com" (in French). http://www.f1i.com/infos/grand-prix-de-france-confirme-ricard/. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
- ↑ Benson, Andrew (5 December 2016). "French Grand Prix returns for 2018 after 10-year absence". http://www.bbc.com/sport/formula1/38210811. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
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