Circuit Paul Ricard: The Ultimate Track Guide

The French Grand Prix returned to the F1 calendar in 2018. Its new home – Circuit Paul Ricard – is no stranger to long-term F1 fans, having held races between 1971 and 1990.

TRACK LENGTH3.630 miles
MOST POLESAlain Prost (3)
MOST WINSAlain Prost (4)

France’s motorsport heritage is illustrious, with the country holding the first ever ‘Grand Prix’ in 1906. Sixteen different venues have played host to the event since its inception – most recently the Magny-Cours track hosted F1 until 2008.

After a decade off the calendar, the French Grand Prix returned in 2018 at the Circuit Paul Ricard. Located near Marseilles, construction of the circuit took less than a year and the track opened its gates for the first time on 19th April 1970. The circuit was built with funding from drink magnate Paul Ricard, hence its colloquial name. The track is officially known as ‘Le Castellet’ after the village it is located in.

The French Grand Prix first appeared at Paul Ricard in 1971 and hosted the event on various occasions throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The track was shortened in 1986, following the fatal crash of Elio de Angelis, who was testing a Brabham. The circuit was not to blame for the crash, the rear wing of the Brabham had broken, sending the car flying off at the then fast first turn. Nonetheless, the changes to the circuit were made as a precaution. The race moved to the Magny-Cours circuit in 1990, where it remained for the next eighteen years.

The Paul Ricard track itself is incredibly flat, due to it being built on a plateau. The elevation change around the circuit is just 30 meres. The track has long run-off areas, painted black, red and blue, giving the circuit a distinctive look. The track has been used a lot for testing because of these long run off areas and the fact that you can generally expect good weather. Another perk of the track is the Mistral Straight, which is a mile long.

When Formula 1 left, French national racing and motorcycle racing were the only track activities throughout the 1990s. At the turn of the millennium, the track was under new ownership. Excelis – a company owned by Bernie Ecclestone – had bought the facility and it became a test track. Renovations were complete by the end of 2001 and the circuit changed its name to the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track. A new grandstand was built in 2009 as the circuit finally reopened as a racing track.

In December 2016, it was announced that the French Grand Prix would return to the Formula One calendar. The track and its surroundings have been modified in anticipation of the first F1 event to be held here in almost thirty years.  Not everyone has been impressed with the return of the circuit. Lewis Hamilton, who tested here with Mercedes in 2017, says that the return of the French Grand Prix is at the “wrong track”, adding that “it’s not as great as Magny-Cours”.

2018 marked the 87th running of the French Grand Prix and the fifteenth to be held at the Paul Ricard circuit. It made up a trio of races to be F1’s first ‘triple header’. The track has also hosted in-season testing during recent seasons. The 2020 French Grand Prix was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the event will return to the calendar in 2021. Circuit Paul Ricard holds a contract to host the French Grand Prix until the 2022 season.


A strategic battle brought about a fascinating French Grand Prix, with Max Verstappen clinching victory from Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap.

Plenty of drivers explored the limits in Free Practice, with a multitude of spins and trips over Circuit Paul Ricard’s abrasive run-off areas. In Q1, both Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher found their way into the barriers, each bringing a halt to proceedings. Schumacher’s earlier lap was good enough to see him record Haas’ only Q2 appearance of the year, but he was unable to take part in the session.

Max Verstappen secured pole position for the race but went a little too deep at Turn 1, handing the lead to Lewis Hamilton. 20 laps into the race, Verstappen pulled back ahead of the Mercedes thanks to his undercutting strategy. The McLarens were providing plenty of entertainment in the midfield, with Daniel Ricciardo also benefiting from the undercut and Lando Norris going head to head with his rivals. Norris eventually overtook his team-mate for seventh place.

The Mercedes got back ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull following a second pit stop for the Dutchman. Bottas soon came under pressure from Verstappen on his fresh tyres and once Verstappen had cleared the Finn, he set off in search of Hamilton. Verstappen found his way past on the penultimate lap of the race and went on to take victory. Sergio Perez finished third following a late race overtake on Bottas.


The 2019 French Grand Prix was a rather lacklustre affair, with Lewis Hamilton taking a dominant victory. The main talking point was the battle in the midfield in the closing laps.

McLaren impressed in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, with both cars starting within the top six. Lewis Hamilton took pole, lapping two tenths faster than team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton led away from pole as Carlos Sainz battled Max Verstappen for fourth place. Sergio Perez picked up a five second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage on the opening lap. At the back, the two Williams drivers battled each other, resulting in George Russell taking out a marker board. The Toro Rosso drivers also squabbled over fourteenth place, with Daniil Kvyat eventually coming out on top. Lando Norris struggled with DRS issues, which didn’t help him in a final lap tussle with Kimi Raikkonen and the two Renault drivers. Daniel Ricciardo made his way past Norris first, but in doing so allowed Kimi Raikkonen past. Ricciardo then overtook the Alfa Romeo and claimed seventh place – but a post-race penalty saw him drop to eleventh in the final result. Hamilton led every lap on his way to victory, finishing almost twenty seconds ahead of his team-mate. Charles Leclerc completed the podium, while Sebastian Vettel picked up the point for Fastest Lap.


As Formula 1 returned to France for the first time in a decade, Lewis Hamilton took the victory while Sebastian Vettel crashed into the other Mercedes.

Rain in the final practice session saw Charles Leclerc top the order for the first time in his career, but the track dried out in time for Qualifying, where Lewis Hamilton was largely unchallenged for pole. Leclerc’s pace would impress again, as he made it through to Q3 for the first time. Romain Grosjean had another misdemeanour in qualifying when his car came into contact with a barrier. Come race day, there was first lap drama as Sebastian Vettel collided with Valtteri Bottas at the first turn and a few corners later, two of the French drivers – Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly – were eliminated from proceedings. Vettel would pick up a five second penalty as both he and the Mercedes driver’s races were all but ruined – Vettel eventually recovering to fifth, Bottas seventh. The rest of the race passed without any major incident, aside from the Virtual Safety Car being called after a tyre blowout for Lance Stroll. Hamilton took the win by over seven seconds. Max Verstappen finished in second place, while a late race duel saw Kimi Raikkonen steal third place from Daniel Ricciardo.


YearPolesitterTeam On PoleWinnerWinning Team
1971Jackie StewartTyrrellJackie StewartTyrrell
1973Jackie StewartTyrrellRonnie PetersonLotus
1975Niki LaudaFerrariNiki LaudaFerrari
1976James HuntMcLarenJames HuntMcLaren
1978John WatsonBrabhamMario AndrettiLotus
1980Jacques LaffiteLigierAlan JonesWilliams
1982René ArnouxRenaultRené ArnouxRenault
1983Alain ProstRenaultAlain ProstRenault
1985Keke RosbergWilliamsNelson PiquetBrabham
1986Ayrton SennaLotusNigel MansellWilliams
1987Nigel MansellWilliamsNigel MansellWilliams
1988Alain ProstMcLarenAlain ProstMcLaren
1989Alain ProstMcLarenAlain ProstMcLaren
1990Nigel MansellFerrariAlain ProstFerrari
2018Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2019Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2021Max VerstappenRed BullMax VerstappenRed Bull
2022Charles LeclercFerrariMax VerstappenRed Bull
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