The Formula 1 World Championship is back on track this weekend at Le Castellet's Paul Ricard Circuit in the shape of the seventh round of the season, the French Grand Prix. It is one of the longest running events in the category, although last year it was not held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, a maximum of 15,000 fans per day, split into "bubbles" of 5000 each, will be allowed in the grandstands, as long as they have been vaccinated, have recovered from having the virus or are in possession of a negative test result.
At the end of the Nineties, the facility was turned into a testing venue and therefore it boasts some unusual features such as no fewer than 167 different possible configurations, while a short version, at under 4 kilometres also has a sprinkler system to create a wet surface. The run-off areas are surfaced with a mixture of asphalt and tungsten, which produces very high grip and stops the cars very quickly in the event of an off-track excursion.
The layout used for Formula 1 since 2018, when the Grand Prix returned to the calendar after a ten year break, is 5.842 kilometres in length with 15 corners. The first sector is the quickest and presents the most opportunities for overtaking, especially immediately after the start line, going into Turn 1 and at the exit of Turn 3. Good power and performance from the engines is a clear requirement in the second sector, featuring the Mistral straight and turns 8 and 9 where the cars are pushed to the limit. In the third sector, aerodynamic downforce is again the main factor: immediately after Signes, one of the fastest and most evocative corners on the calendar, comes a tighter section featuring fast and slow sections where traction is key. There are two DRS zones: one on the main straight and the other between turns 7 and 8, in the first part of the Mistral straight.
As usual, the cars take to the track for the first time on Friday for the two one hour-long free practice sessions starting at 11.30 and 15 CET. Qualifying takes place on Saturday at 15, preceded by the final free practice session at 12. The 61st French Grand Prix to count towards the World Championship gets underway at 15 on Sunday. It runs over 53 laps, equivalent to 309.69 kilometres.
Ferrari French GP Stats
GP contested: 59
Debut: 1950 (P. Whitehead 3rd)
Wins: 17 (28,81%)
Pole positions: 17 (28,81%)
Fastest laps: 15 (25,42%)
Total podiums: 50 (28,25%)
Facts & Figures
5. The furthest back on the grid from which the race has been won at Paul Ricard. It happened twice: in 1973 with Ronnie Peterson and in 1985 with Nelson Piquet. Two drivers have won from fourth on the grid: Alan Jones in 1980 and Alain Prost in 1990, when he was at the wheel of a Ferrari F1-90 to give Scuderia Ferrari its one hundredth Formula 1 win. When it comes to making it to the podium from a long way back, in the very first race here in 1971, Emerson Fittipaldi went from 17th on the grid to third at the flag.
7. The number of circuits that have hosted the French Grand Prix. Magny-Cours holds the record with 19 races on the trot from 1991 to 2008, followed by Paul Ricard on 16, while Reims hosted 11. The four other tracks are Dijon-Prenois (5 times); Rouen (5); Clermont-Ferrand (4) and Le Mans which while home to the iconic Endurance race has not played a major role in Formula 1, hosting just the one race in 1967. This event was not run on the historic 13.6 km road course but on La Sarthe's 4.442 km Bugatti Circuit, the regular home for many years now of the French MotoGP.
11. French drivers who have raced for Ferrari in Formula 1. The most successful was Alain Prix who took five wins in 1990, fighting Ayrton Senna for the title right to the penultimate round in Japan. On three wins we find Rene Arnoux, who was a front runner in 1983, when Ferrari won the Constructors' title. The man from Val d'Isere was also in the hunt for the Drivers' crown, just missing out at the final round. Patrick Tambay and Didier Pironi had two wins each from 1982 to 1983, while a single career victory came Jean Alesi's way, at the wheel of a 412 T2 when he won in Canada in 1995 on his 31st birthday. The first Frenchman to win a Grand Prix at the wheel of a Ferrari was Maurice Trintignant, in Monaco in 1955, when much of the field retired and he made the most of the reliability of his 625 F1. Other Frenchmen to have raced for Maranello were: Robert Manzon (5 starts, 4 points); Raymond Sommer (2 starts, 3 points); Jean Behra (3 starts, 2 points); Louis Rosier (15 starts) and Jean Simon (1 start). 73 French drivers have taken part in at least one Formula 1 GP.
59 years and 349 days. The length of time since Giancarlo Baghetti won the 1961 French Grand Prix at Reims, on his Formula 1 debut. The Italian had made the headlines winning non-championship races in Syracuse and Naples in a Ferrari 156 F1 entered by FISA (Federazione Italiana Scuderie Automobilistiche). On 2 July 1961, he produced an amazing performance to beat the Porsches of Dan Gurney and Joakim Bonnier, established a record that has still not been matched to this day. No driver since then has managed to win on their Formula 1 debut.
115. The number of years since the first ever French Grand Prix was held on 26 and 27 June 1906 at Le Mans. It was won by Hungary's Ferenc Szisz, in a Renault AK. For the next edition held in Dieppe, Italy provided the winning driver, Felice Nazzaro and the winning FIAT car. For decades, this race organised by the Automobile Club de France was considered the most prestigious in the world. Scuderia Ferrari's first win in this race came in 1934, courtesy of Monegasque driver Louis Chiron in an Alfa Romeo. The French Grand Prix naturally featured on the calendar in the very first year of the Formula 1 World Championship in 1950.
This week in Ferrari history
16/6. In 2010, the Engineering Faculty of Modena and Reggio Emilia University was named in honour of Enzo Ferrari, paying tribute to his sterling efforts in setting up the faculty in the city.
17/6. A guest of honour turned up to greet those taking part in the "Ferrari 275 Tour" which ran through the roads of Italy in 2004. It was none other than John Surtees, Formula 1 World Champion with the Scuderia in 1964. The Englishman met up with the 53 crews taking part in the rally at Querceto castle near Florence. After all, he himself had a 275 to drive during his time with Scuderia Ferrari, remembering it as "one of the most exciting road cars I'd ever driven in my life."
18/6. A year ago, Maranello awoke to a very special dawn chorus: three and a half months after the last day of Barcelona testing, Charles Leclerc drove an SF1000 through the streets to symbolise the restarting of the Formula 1 season following the long break caused by the pandemic. The Monegasque started at the Officina Classiche in the heart of the famous Maranello factory, where the race department had also been based for a while, then went down Abetone Inferiore, passing in front of the Gestione Sportiva at Via Enzo Ferrari 27, on past the Ferrari Museum, another site popular with the fans, before ending inside the Fiorano track. Two weeks later, the 2020 season finally got underway in Austria over the first weekend in July.
19/6. In 2007, Eugenio Molinari set two new world speed records on the waters of Lake Como, steering a craft fitted with an engine from a Ferrari F430. He recorded average speeds of 123.288 and 122.035 km/h over the flying kilometre. It was not the first time that Ferrari engines had been used for powerboat racing and for setting speed records. Back in 1953, a boat was fitted with the engine out of a 375 F1, the first Maranello car to win a Grand Prix. The craft was the Timossi Ferrari Arno XI, driven on the Iseo Lake by Achille Castoldi, hitting a top speed of 242.708 km/h. Molinari's feat in 2007 came one week on from an event to celebrate the company's 60th anniversary.
20/6. In 2004, Michael Schumacher took his seventh Canadian Grand Prix victory, his sixth in a Ferrari. The German finished ahead of his brother Ralf in a Williams and his team-mate Rubens Barrichello. However, the English team's car failed post-race scrutineering, so that Scuderia Ferrari found itself celebrating its 66th one-two finish. Up to this point, Michael's season had been impressive, with seven wins from the first eight races. He would go on take his seventh and last world title, his fifth with the Maranello marque, at the Belgian Grand Prix, at the end of that summer.