Memorable French Grand Prix moments

From intense wheel to wheel battles, to Prost’s first win and Schumacher’s record-breaking feats, we take a look back at some of F1’s most memorable moments at the French Grand Prix!

1979: Arnoux v Villeneuve

One of F1’s greatest wheel-to-wheel battles took place at the 1979 French Grand Prix, between Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve. It may have only been for second place, but the Renault and Ferrari drivers went side by side and touched wheels on multiple occasions. Villeneuve would cite this battle as his best memory in Formula 1. The Canadian was just a quarter of a second ahead of Arnoux on the finish line.

It was an historic day up ahead, where Jean-Pierre Jabouille became the first Frenchman to win the French Grand Prix in over 30 years, with his Renault car recording the first turbocharged win in Formula 1.

1981: Prost’s first F1 win

At Dijon in 1981, Alain Prost claimed the first of an eventual 51 Grand Prix victories. Wet conditions saw the race stopped after 58 of the scheduled 80 laps. Though the race was resumed, the result was decided by aggregate times of the two parts of the Grand Prix.

Nelson Piquet led ahead of the red flag period, while Prost had been suffering gearbox issues; which were fixed during the stoppage. While Piquet was on Goodyear tyres, Prost’s Michelins gave him the advantage and he sprinted away into the distance. The Frenchman took his first win on French tyres, in a French car at the French Grand Prix: a very good day for the home supporters!

1996: Schumacher retires on the formation lap

Michael Schumacher suffered a disaster at the 1996 French Grand Prix. Having taken pole position, his engine expired on the formation lap. That left title rival, and eventual 1996 World Champion, Damon Hill free to take a much easier drive to victory.

Schumacher’s Did Not Start is one of only six times that the polesitter has failed to start a Grand Prix in F1 history – and this race remains the last time no driver who had previously been crowned World Champion lined up on the grid.

2000: Coulthard’s “best victory”

David Coulthard rates the 2000 French Grand Prix as one of his best victories in Formula 1. Coulthard started behind Michael Schumacher on the front row of the grid, with the Scotsman riled by the Ferrari driver’s defensive cut across the grid at the start of the race.

Later on, Coulthard closed back up to Schumacher and, at the hairpin, he was run wide by the German. Coulthard was unimpressed, gesturing at Schumacher from his cockpit. With Schumacher suffering with tyre wear, Coulthard was eventually able to pass him and make it stick. He went on to take a memorable victory.

2002: Schumacher claims his 5th title

Aside from his 1996 non-start, the Magny Cours circuit was a favourite of Michael Schumacher’s. The German cruised to his fifth world title at the 2002 French Grand Prix, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio as the driver with the most World Championships in the sport’s history.

The 2002 French Grand Prix was also notable for Kimi Raikkonen’s performance in the McLaren. After qualifying fourth, Raikkonen put up a good fight for the victory and came close to achieving his first win. However, the Finn was distracted by a spinning Toyota in front of him and locked up at the chicane just five laps from the end. That allowed Schumacher back in front, and the Ferrari driver would go on to win.

2003: Verstappen takes provisional pole

Jos Verstappen took an unlikely provisional pole position for Minardi at the 2003 French Grand Prix. Mixed conditions on Friday at Magny Cours meant that the frontrunners set their qualifying times in damp conditions. When it was Verstappen’s turn to take to the track, the surface had dried out. He ended up setting the fastest time in the session by over two seconds faster than his nearest competitors. Sadly for Verstappen, the weather remained dry for Saturday’s session, and he lined up on the back row of the grid.

2006: Schumacher’s eighth French Grand Prix win

Michael Schumacher’s success at Magny Cours continued in 2006, as he became the first driver to win at a single circuit on eight occasions.

The 2006 French Grand Prix would also be the final time that Schumacher took pole position in his career. He’d go on to set the fastest time in qualifying during his comeback stint with Mercedes at the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix. However, a five-place grid penalty meant that he would start only sixth.

2019: The late race midfield battle

Circuit Paul Ricard is yet to produce a classic F1 race since its return to the calendar. However, the 2019 French Grand Prix had a memorable late race scrap in the midfield. The two Renault drivers, McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen became embroiled in a fierce battle for seventh place.

After forcing Norris off track, Ricciardo was forced to defend from Raikkonen – with the Alfa Romeo getting ahead. Ricciardo went off track to pass Raikkonen for seventh place. Though the Australian finished ahead on track, he was handed two five-second penalties after the race, dropping him out of the points.

The 2021 French Grand Prix takes place at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 18-20.

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