Especially as Paul Ricard always evokes memories of the time when Formula 1 – as well as being a technical challenge and a huge global business – was also all about sheer joie de vivre.
The years that passed without a French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard were definitely a loss for the automotive world. But even the races that took place in Magny-Cours from 1992 up until about 10 years ago were significant chapters in F1 history. Especially during Michael Schumacher’s golden years with Ferrari – who in 2002 became champion at an earlier point in the season than anyone had ever managed before, securing the title at the French Grand Prix with six races still to go.
Two years later, Schumacher tackled the same race with no fewer than four pit stops, driving every lap like a qualifying lap and winning in front of Fernando Alonso’s Renault, which he would never have beaten otherwise, had he followed the same strategy. Magny-Cours has formed part of history, as the home of the Ligier team too. But Paul Ricard….well, that was something else.
Let’s deal with the naming first. In actual fact, the circuit carries the name of the perfectly preserved medieval village of Le Castellet nearby, clinging onto a hillside that overlooks the sparkling Mediterranean. But the more familiar name of Paul Ricard comes from the classic drink, which in the 1970s went from being merely a sponsor to the track’s official nomenclature.