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A couple of things strike me from the recent French GP circuit changes story over at Autosport. When it was announced that the Paul Ricard circuit would be the host for the returning French Grand Prix in 2018, I was surprised but very happy as I believe there should be a French and German Grand Prix.

The surprise was the venue and I said at the time that the circuit is FIA graded for Formula 1 but what I thought was an issue, and I checked recent photos, is the complete lack of fan amenities—most specifically grandstands. A few folks commented telling me that’s no big deal but I think my concern was correct as circuit bosses and race organizers are now saying:

“With respect to the circuit itself, minor changes [will be made],” added Arnaud Pericard, who is part of the French GP organisation team.

“The FIA had an inspection visit a couple of months ago and it’s just minor changes with respect to the kerbs, which we’ll do this winter.

“The circuit is already F1 graded for a long time, so it’s not massive change.

“The most important investment will be the stands, they are a big deal.”

Organisers are working towards a “conservative” capacity of between 60,000-65,000 for race day.

That will be split between 40,000-45,0000 in grandstands and 20,000-25,000 in general admission.

What I also find very compelling is the other change to the circuit which is a chicane on the Mistral Straight:

“The FIA did some research and the speed before the chicane will be 343km/h [213mph], so the chicane is useful,” French GP managing director Gilles Dufeigneux told Autosport.

“The chicane has been added to prevent the engines from running at full speed on a straight uphill line of 1.8km.

“We also wanted to facilitate the creation of an additional overtaking area.

“It will provide three straight lines where the cars can go at full speed before two massive decelerations – Turn 1 and Turn 8 and a flat out turn – Signes.

“According to the FIA, cars will reach 344km/h before the chicane and 343km/h at the apex of Signes.

“The drivers have told us the chicane will probably be an opportunity for non-DRS overtakes during the race.

“We presented the new configuration of the circuit during the Austrian Grand Prix weekend to several drivers including Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

“They liked it and said the 5.8km configuration was a nice option.”

So here we have a glowing review for adding chicanes and slowing the cars so the engines don’t take too much punishment—presumably as they don’t want to harm these complex pieces of kit and as they only get four per season, we wouldn’t want them to have to run flat out for too long—and the very technical element the sport uses and fans dislike in the form of DRS, is used as a reason for putting the chicane in so there might be opportunities for non-DRS passes.

Am I the only one that finds that odd? DRS is a construct of your own making and many fans hate it as artificially impacting the sport and now you’re making changes to tracks to try and mitigate its use? Why not just ban the DRS construct for 2018 and then any pass anywhere will be non-DRS related? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here. To be fair, the Mistral Straight is a long affair and breaking it up does add some element of passing and complexity to the track. 

The good news is that the French Grand Prix is back but changing the Mistral Straight to compensate for the hybrid power units and DRS seems a bit odd to me. I understand why they are doing it and that’s logical but it speaks back to a bigger issue at large with F1, hybrid engines and DRS are limiting factors to good racing and that should be what they are changing, not circuits.

Hat Tip: Autosport

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • GenGlenn

    Is it the DRS construct and the subsequent aero designs to take advantage of it that is responsible for cars being unable to follow closely on track and facilitate the non-DRS overtake? It’s time for DRS to go and time for the ridiculous engine penalty construct to go as well.

    • rambaldi

      The inability is a long running problem caused by any and all the aero devices on the car. Anytime you have a surface that deviates the airflow it will generate some turbulence and drag. that turbulence behind the cars messes up the nice smooth airflow for the following cars. The aero is needed for the cars to go fast, it plants them on the ground so they can carry more speed through the corners. The turbulence problem for following cars can be exasperated depending on where and what shape the aero surfaces are. High rear wings create less influence behind the car but don’t look as sexy. The underfloor of the car is meant to be better at dealing with the turbulent flow but underflow downforce isn’t guaranteed based on a cars ride height and a few other factors (so loosing that downforce and grip happens, and can be quite unsafe) so the floor area tends to be very heavily regulated.

      • rambaldi

        Forgot to add: The early 2000’s were known for it being very difficult to over take. Due to all that aero, as I explained. DRS was introduced as a result, to allow cars to follow closely and then effect overtakes. It was part of the suggestions of an overtaking working group. I think other things they suggested included the recently high rear wings. Narrower front wings (those also help in stopping cars clipping each other when overtaking) and the defined central section of the front wing. If you look at all the cars, where the pillars join the front wing the wing itself tends to be pretty boring (at least compared to near the end plates where you have a tonne of stuff going on). If you look at some of the older cars those central sections were all scooped and you had other wing planes joining on to the side of the nose. All that generated some lovely front end downforce, but were very dependant on having clear air.

  • Salvu Borg

    Grand stands will be set up.
    At least 3 of the top drivers supports the using of a chicane in Mistral straight.
    The 1.6l turbo power unit will be with us up to 2020, no matter how much some dislikes it.

  • Tom Firth

    Can’t we just be excited that F1 cars will take the Signes corner flat instead of consistently talking down the sport?

    The length of the strait without the Chicane would be abnormally long for F1 anyway so I have no issue with it including it.