French Grand Prix

Introduction

As is implied by the spelling, the Grand Prix is of French origin. The modern era of Formula One Grand Prix is cited as beginning in 1950, although the term was coined far earlier. Road racing in France became popular in the late nineteenth century.

The first French Grand Prix was the one at Le Mans held in 1901. The race was around 700 miles long, much longer than today’s races. The style of racing, car construction and the tracks used have all evolved according to the technology. The enthusiasm and passion for the French Grand Prix has remained constant.

The First French Grand Prix Tracks

The first French Grand Prix races were held on roads that were treated with wood, tar and sawdust. The 1908 Grand Prix saw the introduction of pits: purpose built holes dug by the side of the road where cars could be tended to by the mechanics who used to ride with the driver.

The 1914 Grand Prix at Lyons was a major development in Formula One as it used a purpose built circuit of which cars had to complete 20 laps. This is the format used today, although road races still featured in the French Grand Prix over the next 20 years.

French Grand Prix

French Grand Prix

Another early site of the French Grand Prix was Reims. It is located near Gueux in the west of the Champagne region and is made up of three village roads that were cordoned off to form a primitive track. It was one of the main homes of motor racing in the 1920s when purpose built tracks were still a fairly novel phenomenon.

The long back straight of the course meant that slipstream played an important part in racing technique on this track. It played host to the French Grand Prix in 1932 which the Alfa Romeo team won. The French Grand Prix was held there again in 1938, by which time various viewing areas had been built. Mercedes-Benz won the event shortly before the outbreak of war.

The track was not used for the French Grand Prix again until well after the Second World War. It did so in style, however, and hosted the French Grand Prix in its first year as part of the Formula One World Championship in 1950. The event was won by Fangio, who repeated this feat the following year.

In 1952 the French Grand Prix moved to Rouen and then back to Reims several times. 1965 saw the French Grand Prix set in the spectacular setting of the Auvergne mountains. The Clermont-Ferrand circuit was used until 1967 when the Le Mans track made its only appearance in the history of the French Grand Prix.

The next few years saw the race move between several circuits, such as the Paul Ricard and the notably short Dijon-Prenois track. The Paul Ricard track had to be modified in 1986 after the death of Elio de Angelis in testing.

In 1991 the race was moved to the Circuit de Nevers Magny Cours. This was an attempt by President Francois Mitterrand to encourage economic investment in the remote rural area. The track is fairly remote and the area has not developed a great deal since the track was built.

The track itself is 4.422 km long and consists of 70 laps, which makes a total race distance of 308.586 km. The fastest lap record is held by Michael Schumacher at 1 minute 15.377 seconds.

The 1953 French Grand Prix

The 40th Grand Prix de France is hailed as one of the greatest Grand Prix races ever. The race was essentially between four Ferraris and five Maseratis. Neither the British cars nor Gordinis came close to the main rivals. Gonzales, driving for Maserati, took an early lead by starting with his tank only half full.

The weight advantage meant he shot ahead early on and led for the first 29 laps, often leading for almost 20 seconds. Three of the Ferraris raced in an arrow formation, taking it in turns to lead. On the 29th lap, Gonzales stopped to refuel and was overtaken by five cars that had been fiercely battling behind him.

Team mates Fangio and Hawthorn took it in turns to lead the race, Hawthorn hanging back on the final corner before the straight. On the final lap he pulled gracefully out of the corner and shot past Fangio to win the race by a second. Gonzales came in a very close third and Ascari fourth. The young Englishman was praised for his race craft, precise cornering and bravery. He had driven with the style and intelligence of an extremely experienced sportsman, a great feat for someone of his age.

2007 French Grand Prix

Early 2007 saw great uncertainty about the future of the Magny-Cours circuit with regard to the Grand Prix. In March, the Federation Francaise du Sport announced that the track would not be used the following year.

In May Bernie Ecclestone then stated that 2007 would in fact be the final year that the French Grand Prix would take place at Magny-Cours. The fact that it was to be the final Grand Prix at this historical site meant that the eighth race of the 2007 Formula One season was always going to be fiercely contested.

During the test races at Silverstone, Toyota seemed to be doing better than Ferrari and McLaren. The third day saw Ferrari come back on top though, and this filled Raikkonen and Massa with confidence for the final race in France. Despite glory on the track, Ferrari were embroiled in a legal battle with their own employee, Nigel Stepney.

This did not perturb the drivers, however, and Ferrari came out as the fastest cars in the practice sessions on the first day of the event. Alonso and Hamilton finished close third and sixth respectively for McLaren, despite Hamilton having difficulty with his car.

Hamilton went on to return to form the next morning and beat both Ferraris. There was more trouble in store for the McLaren team, however, and Alonso finished in eighth place owing to a faulty brake. The two Ferraris finished close behind Hamilton in the close of the practice laps.

Hamilton led the first two parts of the qualifier but fell into second place in the final round. Massa beat him to pole position by 7 hundredths of a second. A poor final corner meant that Raikkonen finished third, as the three favourites prepared for the final race.

Hamilton and the two McLaren drivers pulled out ahead fairly early on, with Raikkonen a few seconds behind team mate Massa. Raikkonen did not have a pit stop until the 21st lap, 2 laps later than Massa. This tactical move gave him the lead which he retained for the rest of the race. Hamilton had pitted early in the 16th lap and effectively gave the race away then. Fellow Ferrari driver, Alonso, battled up to 7th place after a crash ahead of him but eventually fell back and finished 10th.

Approximately a month after the 2007 French Grand Prix had taken place, Bernie Ecclestone and the French Prime Minister held a meeting to discuss the future of the French Grand Prix. The public complaints about the location of the course were eventually ignored and the 2008 French Grand Prix is set to take place at Magny-Cours once again.

Tickets

Tickets can be bought from the official Formula One Website. Grandstand tickets for the whole three days of the event cost around £300 for adults and £170 for children aged under 14. Single day tickets for the race day, Sunday 22 June, are around £150. The exact prices vary slightly according to the part of the Grandstand. Parking for the three days is fairly reasonable at £30.

3 day tickets for the General admission area, Eceinte Golf, are £70 for adults and £35 for children. Race day tickets for this area are not much cheaper, but the viewing space is limited, hence the cheaper prices. This area provides good views of the front straight. General admission area Grandin Est are priced the same, but offer views over the Adelaide Hairpin as well as the front straight.

Accommodation, travel to France and car hire can also be booked along with the tickets. The track is located 100 miles from Clermont-Ferrand and 150 miles from Paris so it should be relatively easy to make your own way there in a hired vehicle if you are on a budget. Accommodation in Paris for the dates surrounding the event can be very expensive and needs to be booked well in advance.

Contact Details

  • Address: Circuit de Nevers, Magny-Court Technopole, 58470 Magny-Cours, France
  • Telephone: 33 386218000
  • Fax: 33 386 218080
  • Website