The last French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard was in 1990, but the circuit will make a welcome returns in 2018. So what happened back on the 8th July 1990? Lets take a step back in time and find out!
Qualifying saw Nigel Mansell in the Ferrari take pole ahead of the Mclarens of Gerhard Berger and Ayrton Senna. Prost was fourth and the Leyton House cars, which failed to qualify at the last race in Mexico, were seventh and tenth. When the lights turned green (no lights out back then!) Berger jumped Mansell to take the lead, the Ferrari then followed by Senna and the Benetton of Alesandro Nannini. Senna muscled past Mansell on lap 10 and set about catching and passing Berger. However, he did not take the lead until lap 28 when Berger made his pitstop. Both he and Senna suffered terrible stops of over ten seconds which really cost them dear, putting them behind the Ferrari of Alain Prost.
It was at this point that the Leyton House cars of Ivan Capelli and Maurício Gugelmin came into play, and inherited the top two positions. Back 1990, pitstops were not compulsory, and it was not impossible for cars to get to the end of a race without a pitstop. This is exactly what Leyton House were doing. Just remember, these two cars hadn’t qualified for the last race, let alone get into the lead! It was a remarkable turnaround. The smooth surface at Paul Ricard and the 1.1 km long Mistral Straight allowed to the team to fully exploit their highly efficient aerodynamic package. Remember Giancarlo Fisichella taking pole and second at Spa in 2009? That was down to the Force India exploiting their package at Spa, which like the Leyton House, was highly aerodynamically efficient.
Leyton House weren’t just going to cruise to the win, oh no! Prost had already passed Gugelmin and was closing in on Capelli. The extra grip on the Ferrari was paying off. However, it was no easy task passing the Leyton House. Sadly, the dream of at least a double podium vanished, as Gugelmin retired late in the race. Capelli however still lead, but for how much longer?
Sadly, just three laps from home, the Leyton House encountered engine problems and Prost eased by to take his 42nd Formula 1 win. Capelli though did hang on for second place ahead of Senna, and it was a remarkable result for the team. It was to be their only podium finish, and the third and last podium in Capelli’s career. The team changed ownership and was renamed in 1992 to March F1, but at the end of 1992, they folded and were no more. That second place with the CG911 in France was to be the teams best result. However, the team did introduce a rather good designer to the world of Formula 1. You might have heard of him….Adrian Newey.
And that was the last time a French Grand Prix was held at Paul Ricard…at least until 2018! With two French drivers in Esteban Ocon and Romain Grosjean on the grid, not to mention the works Renault team, things are certainly looking up for Formula 1 in France!