Built by the pastis drink magnate, Paul Ricard, when this 3.610-mile circuit opened in 1970 it was state of the art so far as facilities were concerned. Unfortunately it was also flat and featureless, unlike the circuits at Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand which were real road circuits.
Its innovative facilities made it one of the safest motor racing circuits in the world at the time of its opening, the circuit comprising three layout permutations, a large industrial park and an airstrip. Indeed, the combination of modern facilities, mild winter weather and airstrip made it popular amongst racing teams for car testing during the annual winter off-season.
Located at Le Castellet in southern France it was chiefly notable for the mile-long Mistral Straight, the longest flat-out stretch in modern motor racing, and that was followed by the fast and demanding Signes corner before it became a bit Micky Mouse.
Still, it first hosted the French GP in 1971 and was the home of the race for 20 years.
The Mistral Straight and other fast sections made the track hard on engines as they ran at full revs for extended spells and failures were common, such as Ayrton Senna's huge crash during the 1985 French Grand Prix after the Renault engine in his Lotus failed and he went off backwards at Signes on his own oil and crashed heavily, fortunately with only light bruising to the driver.
Nigel Mansell crashed at the same place on the same weekend during practice and suffered a concussion which kept him out of the race, though his crash was the result of a slow puncture in his left rear tyre causing it to explode at over 200 mph, which detached his Williams FW10's rear wing.
The Honda powered FW10 holds the race lap record for the original circuit when Mansell's teammate Keke Rosberg recorded a time of 1:39.914 during the 1985 French Grand Prix. During qualifying for the 1985 race, Swiss driver Marc Surer clocked what was at the time the highest speed recorded by a Formula One car on the Mistral when he pushed his turbocharged, 1,000 bhp Brabham-BMW to 210 mph (338 km/h). This compared to the slowest car in the race, the 550 bhp naturally aspirated Tyrrell-Ford V8 of Stefan Bellof which could only manage 172 mph (277 km/h). Not surprisingly, Bellof qualified 9 seconds slower than Surer and 12 seconds slower than pole winner Rosberg.
During the 1970s and the 1980s the track developed some of the best French drivers of the time including four time world champion Alain Prost who won the French Grand Prix at the circuit in 1983, 1988, 1989 and 1990.
Extensively used for testing, in 1986, Brabham driver Elio de Angelis was killed in a testing accident at the fast first turn after the rear wing of his BT55 broke off.
Although the circuit was not the cause of the crash, it was modified in order to make it safer. Amongst the modifications, the length of the Mistral Straight was reduced from 1.8 km in length to just over 1 km, and the fast sweeping Verierre curves where de Angelis had crashed were bypassed.
This meant that instead of heading into the left-hand Verierre, cars now braked hard and turned sharp right into a short run that connected the pit straight to the Mistral. This changed the circuit length for a Grand Prix from 3.61 miles (5.81 km) to just 2.369 miles (3.812 km). It also had the effect of cutting lap times from Keke Rosberg's 1985 pole time of 1:32.462 to Nigel Mansell's 1990 pole time of 1:04.402.
The last French Grand Prix held at the circuit was in 1990, at which point the event moved to Magny Cours, partly as a result of political pressure in France.
Paul Ricard hosted the French Grand Prix on 14 occasions between 1971 and 1990. The long circuit was used from 1971-1985, with the club circuit used from 1986-1990.
On six occasions (1971, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1989) the winner at Paul Ricard went on to win the World Championship in the same year. Ronnie Peterson (1973 and 1974) and Rene Arnoux (1982) are the only Ricard winners who never won the championship.
In the 1990s the circuit's use was limited to motorcycle racing and French national racing, most notably until 1999, the Bol d'or 24-hour motorcycle endurance race. The track was also the home of the Oreca F3000 team.
After Paul Ricard's death, the track was sold to Excelis, a company owned by Bernie Ecclestone in 1999. The track was subsequently rebuilt into an advanced test track, and was for a time known as the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track (Paul Ricard HTTT) before changing its name back to Circuit Paul Ricard.
Among the facilities is the aircraft landing strip suitable for private jets and a Karting Test Track (KTT) that features the same type of abrasive safety zones as the car track.
The track has also hosted some races, including the 2006 Paul Ricard 500km, a round of the FIA GT Championship. Other GT championships have run races here, most notably the Ferrari Challenge and races organized by Porsche clubs of France and Italy.
In December 2016, it was announced that the French Grand Prix would return to the calendar for the 2018 season and would be held at Paul Ricard. This would be the first French Grand Prix since 2008 (held at Magny-Cours) and the first at Paul Ricard since 1990.
On 19 June 2017, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council published its 2018 provisional calendar with the French Grand Prix scheduled for 24 June with the race followed immediately by the Austrian and British Grands Prix, thereby giving the sport its first triple-header.
In preparation, Pirelli ran three tests at the track between May and September as Red Bull and Mercedes tried out the Italian manufacturer's 2018 compounds.
The track offers 167 possible configurations from 826 to 5,861 metres, with elevation ranging from 408 to 441 metres above sea level.
Known for its distinctive black and blue run-off areas the surface consists of a mixture of asphalt and tungsten, used instead of gravel traps, as common at other circuits. There follows a second, deeper run-off area with a more abrasive surface designed to maximize tyre grip and hence minimize braking distance, although at the cost of extreme tyre wear and finally Tecpro barriers.