Formula 1 drivers have praised the return of the Circuit Paul Ricard for this weekend’s French Grand Prix following Friday’s two ninety-minute practice sessions.
“Beautiful”, “fun”, “fast”, and “cool” were some of the words used by drivers to describe the French circuit, which last featured on the Formula 1 calendar as a race venue in 1990.
“I’m enjoying it more than I thought,” said Red Bull’s Ricciardo, who finished P3 and P2 in the respective practice sessions.
Ricciardo said he feared that the circuit’s unique open layout, starkly different to that of Monaco and Canada, would dent its character, “but actually the layout here is fun and fast,” he felt.
Force India’s Sergio Perez also expected the track’s character to be dull, “but now that I drove it for the first time I quite like it,” the Mexican said following FP2.
Ricciardo’s favourite corners were the first two, which form a chicane with heavy braking and a quick exit. The circuit’s speed and braking zones were characteristics which left Haas driver Kevin Magnussen describing it as “cool.”
Driving was an aspect that impressed Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who said the circuit is “good to drive.”
“It’s actually quite a fun track,” Kevin Magnussen felt, echoing the same words used by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who said France is a “fun” new place to be in.
“I enjoyed it as it’s something different,” Raikkonen said.
The Mercedes drivers were also complementary, but more of the country than the circuit itself.
“This place is beautiful, it’s really stunning down here,” Lewis Hamilton said about Le Castellet, the town where Circuit Paul Ricard is located; a thought echoed by Valtteri Bottas who was just pleased to be back in France for a race.
Not everyone was sure that Paul Ricard was living up to its history, as Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley thought the circuit would be better if the Turn 8/9 chicane was removed from the back straight.
“I think a long straight line will potentially create more overtakes,” he told Motorsport.com on Friday.
Hartley has raced the circuit without the chicane in the FIA World Endurance Championship, where he drove sportscars.
No circuit changes can be made ahead of Sunday, but Hartley said the chicane’s removal should be a “discussion point for next year.”
This weekend is the first French Grand Prix since the departure of Magny-Cours in 2009.
Despite this, the track has been completely resurfaced ahead of this weekend, which marks the first Grand Prix at the circuit since 1990.