Today’s state-of-the-art venue may be new to younger F1 fans, but Le Castellet can trace its F1 origins back to the early 1970s, when it held the first of its 14 French Grands Prix to date.
Constructed in less than a year, and with famous drivers such as Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo consulted on its 5.8km layout, the Circuit Paul Ricard – named after its sponsor – opened in April 1970, before staging its maiden F1 race – won by Jackie Stewart from local hero Francois Cevert – the following year. The track would prove a happy hunting ground for French drivers, with Rene Arnoux winning in 1982 and Alain Prost triumphing no less than four times, including the last Grand Prix at the venue in 1990, by which time it was deemed outdated for F1 purposes.
The start of the 21st century saw a rebirth under new ownership, with the transformation of the circuit into the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track. Used (as its name suggested) exclusively for testing, its multi-configuration layout proved popular with F1 teams and set new standards in safety, pioneering the use of painted run-off areas instead of traditional gravel traps. In 2007, the Paul Ricard HTTT was designated First centre of excellence by the FIA Institute for safety in motorsport. It opened its doors to the public again in 2009 after the construction of a new grandstand and since then has hosted several major championships.
In 2016 a deal was struck to return the French Grand Prix to the track, and prior to its 2018 revival numerous modifications have been made to both the circuit and its setting to ensure a suitably stern challenge for the drivers and an equally thrilling spectacle for race fans.
10 French drivers have won the French Grand Prix; 7 before World War I and II and 3 during the Formula One championship. French driver Alain Prost won the race 6 times at 3 different circuits; however German driver Michael Schumacher has won 8 times – the most anybody has ever won any Grand Prix. Monegasque driver Louis Chiron won it 5 times, and the Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio and British driver Nigel Mansell both won 4 times.
Scuderia Ferrari has enjoyed a lot of success in France, with 17 victories throughout history, far ahead of Williams (8) and Lotus (7). The Maranello team has also won the last three races in France, with Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa winning in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively.