Journeyer concludes his look back on the history of the French Grand Prix – read part one here.
A Leyton House leading a race? A driver winning after making four pit stops? The French Grand Prix has seen some highly unusual developments.
1988: This year of McLaren domination saw a nice tussle at Paul Ricard between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Senna used the pitstops to his advantage, by sprinting on fresh tyres while Prost hadn’t pitted yet. It worked, but Senna’s stay in the lead didn’t last long: he got boxed in behind Pierluigi Martini’s Minardi and couldn’t figure out a way past. Prost did, and passed both Senna and Martini in one go, taking the win.
Read more about the 1988 French Grand Prix here: 1988 French Grand Prix flashback
1990: This would serve as Leyton House/March’s last hurrah. Alain Prost won, but he had to work for it, overcoming the Leyton House 1-2 in the closing stages of the race – and even then, only after both the turquoise cars suffered trouble. However Ivan Capelli still managed to finish second.
Astonishingly, the same cars had failed to qualify altogether in Mexico! The team went into a slow decline after, however, and closed its doors at the end of 1992. This was also the last race at Paul Ricard, with Magny-Cours taking over for 1991.
1999: This was one of the very few really exciting F1 races Magny-Cours hosted. The rain played a huge role in making it great for racing. Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard, and Rubens Barrichello were all mega-quick here and contended for the win.
But in the end, the luck was with the Irish and Jordan, winning with Heinz-Harald Frentzen and catapulting them into the World Championship hunt.
2002: The championship-deciding round, and it was only race 11! It was the earliest championship clincher in F1 history.
As for the race, it had its interesting bits. Everyone, it seemed, had trouble with the white line at the pit exit. Penalties abound, even for Michael Schumacher. Kimi Raikkonen kept it clean, and nearly won – but he went wide on the oil layed down by Allan McNish’s Toyota at the Adelaide corner.
It was a bit controversial, as there were yellow flags displayed at the time, but there was no complaint from the stewards. And so, 45 years after Fangio won his fifth title, Schumacher won his fifth as well.
2004: James Allen called Schumacher “a winning machine” here, and why not? Renault looked blisteringly quick on Saturday, and Alonso had a good chance of winning, especially after leading the first half of the race.
But Ferrari didn’t give up, switching Schumacher from a a three-stop strategy to four (similar to what they did at Hungary in 1998). Renault tried to adjust by running Alonso heavier so he could pit later, but that just played into Ferrari’s hands even more.
Barrichello also conquered a Renault – that of Jarno Trulli. Rubens fought back from 10th on the grid, and caught Trulli by surprise at the final corner to take third. That marked the beginning of the end for Trulli at Renault and we was driving for Toyota by the end of the year.
2007: Last year’s race wasn’t a classic by any means, but it saw its fair share of action. In particular, I liked Alonso’s fight from tenth, especially his duel his Heidfeld. Albers’ pit lane shenanigans were also hilarious – but the team didn’t agree and Albers was sent packing after the next race. Kubica’s drive to fourth was also very encouraging after his Canadian shunt.
As for the Ferraris, I was impressed with Raikkonen’s jump ahead of Massa. He wasn’t able to pull it off right away, but his patience paid off. He took advantage of the traffic Massa encountered, and took two extra points – which would help him clinch the championship.
This weekend Hamilton will be starting at 11th at best, but can he do better than Alonso’s 2007 showing from tenth? Will he be creating some magic moments on the way to the front? If this is going to be the last F1 race at Magny-Cours, it could well be one of the best.