Formula 1: French Grand Prix Set to Return

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2012

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 11:  France fans wave the tricolor during the International Friendly between France and USA at Stade de France on November 11, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The French Grand Prix will return to the Formula 1 calendar in the very near future, but no date has yet been set.

Circuit Paul Ricard, which last hosted a Grand Prix in 1990, will be the venue for the race and will alternate with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in an announcement on Friday:

"We are working on the idea of hosting a Grand Prix every other year at Le Castellet.  This idea was agreed by the Formula 1 authorities. It is not up to me to set a date for a Grand Prix."

Fillon added that while a deal was close, financial terms had not been agreed on.

"The Formula 1 organisers' proposal is reasonable enough, but we have to make them remove the 'enough'.  There is a two-million euro gap.  French state will bail for (the fee) but we will not go further."

France held the first-ever multi-entrant motor race in 1894.  The Paris-to-Rouen race was won at an average speed of around 12 mph (19 kmh) by Count Jules-Albert de Dion.  However, for a number of reasons—one of which was, incredibly, a lack of compliance with the technical regulations—the official winner was Georges Lemaitre.

The first-ever Grand Prix (according to the most commonly-accepted definition) also took place in France, in 1906.  Things were somewhat different back then—the 12-lap race had a total distance of 769.35 miles, and the fastest lap was a little over 52 minutes.

Nigel Mansell drives the #5 Canon Williams Renault Williams FW14 Renault 3.5 V10 during practice for the French Grand Prix on 6th July 1991at the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours in Magny Cours, France. (Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)
Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

The last French Grand Prix was held in 2008 at the Magny-Cours circuit.  The track wasn't exceptional, nor was the location, and few tears were shed when the race was dropped from the 2009 calendar.

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Paul Ricard lies in a more favourable location, and was given an extensive face lift after being sold to a company called Excelis in 1999.  Excelis is—or was—at least partially owned by Bernie Ecclestone. 

The circuit is very safe and features a wide variety of turns, with excellent facilities which are already up to F1 standards. 

One feature of the circuit which fans may struggle to get used to are the run-off areas.  Rather than the gravel or plain tarmac we see elsewhere, the high-tech run-off zones at Paul Ricard consist of gaudy, brightly-coloured blue and red lines.

While they undoubtedly work, the areas were clearly at the back of the queue when the God of Racetracks was handing out beauty treatments.  Hopefully they'll be painted less eye-catching shades in time for the arrival of F1.

Spa Safe For Now

Though tamed, smoothed and neutered over the years to ensure compliance with the rigorous safety standards of modern F1, the Spa-Francorchamps circuit retains much of its character.

Ferrari test in 2005
Ferrari test in 2005Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Fast, flowing and undulating, it remains a favourite with the drivers and is still one of the best tracks on the calendar.

The Belgian Grand Prix has long struggled to achieve financial viability, and having it alternate with France is better than the prospect of it disappearing altogether. 

With F1 moving further afield into emerging markets, this sort of deal may become more common throughout Europe.

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