April 26, 2012
Paul Ricard has always been an iconic circuit ever since it's release in 1969, however it has been some 22 years since the track has last held a Grand Prix, after the French Gp moved to Magny Cours up until 2008 where it was moved off the calender. However since 2008, there has been much speculation of reviving the French Grand Prix, and this has all come to fruition, when early this week it was announced the Paul Ricard circuit would make a welcome return to Formula 1. So what exactly can Paul Ricard bring to the table next year, and is it really capable of hosting a great race?
Since it's demise from the F1 calender in 1990, Paul Ricard led a rather dorment existence in the French countryside. That was until the death of its owner (coincidently sharing the same name), where the track was sold to a company called Excelis who was currently owned by Bernie in 1999. Redevelopment work was extensively taken out on the circuit to bring it up to its current state of the art status we see today. It was then renamed to Paul Ricard HTTT (which stood for high tech test track) and from then on, team's looked to expolit the mild winter's and the many different track layouts it offers, to vigirously test every aspect of their cars before their respective season's started.
The Track in itself is very unique in it's appearance and that is something that sets it apart from most of the other European circuits on the calender. With it's vast run off zones and very flat track surface, many would consider it to be a boring and featureless track, however the track layout features many exciting combinations. The defining characterstic remains the immense 1.8km long Mistral Straight which stretches from one end of the circuit to the other. It is the perfect place to stretch a cars legs, and would surely deliver a huge potential for overtaking moves during a race. This is because instead of it being on the back of a slow tight bend, the corner leading on to the Mistral Straight is in fact a fast left hand sweeper where cars are naturally picking up the throttle.
The fastest corner on the circuit is a truely scary prospect however, which you can place directly next to the famous corners on the F1 Calender such as 130R at Suzuka and Copse at Silverstone. It is a flat out 6th gear right hander, however with many a great corner's It has claimed many a driver over the year's it hosted a Grand Prix, including the likes of Aryton Senna and Nigel Mansell. That is not the only fast section on the track though, thanks to it's elongated design very much like Suzuka, it is dominated by fast flowing corners and long straights. Thanks to a very long pitstraight and fast left right sweeping turns 1 and 2, most of the first sector will be spent hard on the throttle. The only restbite the driver's will recieve from this incredible speed will be sector 3 on the track which in the words of Martin Brundle will be a bit "mickey mouse".
Now this can potentially cause a headache for the team's come the 2013 season, not only will they be looking to compensate for the fast long sections with a low downforce set up, they will also have to compromise for the much slower sector 3. Come the French GP weekend in just over a year's time, we could potentially see many team's go different ways with setup.
So does it have the potential to create a great race? On the face of it, you would be hard pressed to disagree. A lap of the circuit will be ferociously frantic and quick. It will be extremely similar in some aspects to the pre Tilke Hockenheim layout with engines being pushed to the limit with the consistent high speeds. Big capacity Granstands will be built before the race next season on request from Bernie. Based on the popularity in Magny Cours over the years with crowd capacity, you would expect huge numbers to turn up for the Grand Prix weekend, which would allow a great atmosphere. That in turn should turn a fairly blank test track, in to a real show stopper of an event.
With the many hunderds of combinations the track is capable of, it is still not clear which layout Bernie will allow to host the Grand Prix. Will the layout incorporate the full Mistral straight? If so, it will become the longest straight on the F1 Calender, and with the inclusion of DRS and KERS you would have to expect some serious overtaking. It would become probably the fastest circuit on the calender along with Monza, and would force team's to push the boundaries on low downforce set up. With many new circuits that have been introduced recently, the longer and slower laps have disappointed viewers. A higher number of frantic laps would most certainly ramp up the excitement to 11.
So in conclusion then, the Paul Ricard circuit would definitely offer something unique to the F1 calender. It will place France the birthplace of F1, firmly back on the map after 5 years abscence, and with some of the breathtaking sequences will produce surely some real exciting entertainment.
But why oh why Bernie, did you have to scrap Spa? Valencia serves up less entertainment than watching paint dry.