The French Grand Prix has been the scene of French manufacturer Renault’s first 1-2 finish and the event at which Frenchman Jean Alesi scored his first points on debut. Here are six milestone Formula 1 events which have happened at Circuit Paul Ricard!
1982: First 1-2 finish for Renault
Renault took their first 1-2 finish at the 1982 French Grand Prix. Rene Arnoux won the race, finishing seventeen seconds ahead of team-mate Alain Prost. The win was somewhat controversial, with Arnoux and Prost having agreed before the race that Arnoux would allow Prost to pass to aid his championship hopes.
Renault would have to wait another 24 years before their next 1-2 finish, which came at the 2006 Malaysian Grand Prix. Despite their two Constructors’ Championship wins, the 1982 French Grand Prix and the 2006 Malaysian Grand Prix remain Renault’s only 1-2 finishes in F1.
1989: First race and points for Jean Alesi
Jean Alesi was one of four drivers to make his F1 debut at the 1989 French Grand Prix. Eric Bernard, Martin Donnelly and Emanuele Pirro also made their maiden appearances at the event. Of the four, Alesi was the only one who finished in the points.
Driving for Tyrrell, Alesi qualified in sixteenth and finished fourth. He was only seven seconds away from scoring a podium on debut, finishing just behind Riccardo Patrese’s Williams. Alesi would go on to race in 201 Grands Prix, achieving his only win at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix.
1971: Last race for Pedro Rodriguez
Two-time Grand Prix winner Pedro Rodriguez made his final Formula 1 appearance at the 1971 French Grand Prix. Rodriguez had won at the 1967 South African and 1970 Belgian Grands Prix. He made his final appearance with BRM at Circuit Paul Ricard in 1971.
He qualified fifth for the event, but failed to finish after suffering an ignition issue. He died one week later after crashing in a sportscar race at the Norisring in Germany. Pedro’s brother Ricardo was also killed in a crash at the non-championship 1962 Mexico Grand Prix. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is named in their honour.
1978: Last points for James Hunt
James Hunt recorded the last points finish of his career at Circuit Paul Ricard in the 1978 French Grand Prix. Having started fourth, Hunt dropped to sixth on the first lap, but was soon back up to where he started. On the sixteenth lap, Hunt passed polesitter John Watson and the McLaren driver held on to third place for the rest of the race.
It was his 23rd and final podium finish as well as the 35th and final time that he’d score points. Hunt would cross the finish line only three more times in his career, doing so for the final time with the Wolf team at the 1979 South African Grand Prix.
1973: Only starter from Liechtenstein
At the 1973 French Grand Prix, Rikky von Opel became the first, and so far only, driver from Liechtenstein to start a Formula 1 race. The great grandson of the German car manufacturer Opel’s founder, von Opel made twenty entries into F1 races in total, with the 1973 Paul Ricard race being the first one at which he actually appeared.
He qualified 25th and finished fifteenth. Racing for Team Ensign, von Opel moved to Brabham for the final six races of his career in 1974, scoring a best result of ninth place in both the Swedish and Dutch Grands Prix. Liechtenstein, which has a population of less than 40,000, is yet to have another F1 driver.
1990: Only podium for Leyton House
At the 1990 French Grand Prix, the Leyton House team took an unlikely podium finish. After failing to even qualify for the previous round of the championship, Maurício Gugelmin and team-mate Ivan Capelli actually led a lot of the Paul Ricard race. Both were overtaken by the Ferrari of Alain Prost and while Gugelmin retired with a blown engine and Capelli struggled with engine problems in the closing stages, the Italian hung on to score second place. It was the team’s only podium finish, as well as one of only three occasions that they scored points in their 30 Grand Prix appearances.