Fifty years ago, on April 19, 1970, Paul Ricard oped the circuit that bears his name in the departement of the Var not far from Toulon. The French businessman was an icon of the region and had become successful by the sales of his famous beverage Pastis Ricard — first in the districts of Marseille, then everywhere else in France and later even overseas.
Advised by some of the greatest French drivers like Henri Pescarolo and Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Ricard created the race track on his own property next to the airfield he had build for his company. Hallmark of the circuit was the famous long straight of 1.8 kilometre, the Mistral Straight, an allusion to the climate-defining wind that often reaches speeds of up to 90 kilometres per hour. The circuit’s location on a plateau makes it remarkably flat considering its mountainous region with only 30 meters difference between the lowest and the highest points of the track.
Unanimously recognised for introducing a new level of safety for the time, the French circuit organised its first Formula 1 Grand Prix one year later in 1971 and a total of fourteen until 1990 with legendary winners such as Niki Lauda, James Hunt and France’s own René Arnoux and Alain Prost.
Unfortunately, progressive establishment of restrictive laws to ban alcohol advertisements in the country, the circuit’s name came under fire. As a result of the financial troubles the track slowly slid into, in 1999, the circuit was bought by Formula One powerplayer Bernie Ecclestone and closed its doors to the public to solely focus on private testing.
Benefiting from the sunny climate of the French riviera throughout the year, the track asserted itself as a reference for private testing sessions where various configurations were used from 0.826 up to 5.861 kilometre. The run-off areas of the circuit were covered in abrasive coloured strips to slow down cars when they get off the track and avoid collisions with the safety barriers.
Finally, nearly ten years after Ecclestone took charge of the track, Circuit Paul Ricard reopened to the public and has hosted many importants events since for series such as the Le Mans Series, FIA World Endurance Championship and the GT World Challenge, as well as continuing to serve as a testing ground. Even Formula One returned for the first time since 1990, hosting the French Grand Prix again since 2018.
To celebrate the track’s 50th anniversary, we selected a few of our favourite shots from the past five years.