Paul Ricard has not always delivered an exciting race when the circuit has previously hosted the French Grand Prix. But Formula One has enjoyed its fair share of last lap dramas when the sport has visited the track near Marseille.
Part of the problem for Paul Ricard has been its even mix of high, medium and low-speed corners, plus acres of run-off, that made it a prime location for testing. And the weather is typically good just a 10km drive from the French Riviera.
Teams can push their cars through the 290km/h right-hander at Signes and blast down the Mistral Straight. But a twisty first sector and string of fast bends in the last can reduce the overtaking opportunities.
Lewis Hamilton won the last French Grand Prix held at Paul Ricard from pole position in 2019. But behind the seven-time F1 champion, Charles Leclerc chased down Valtteri Bottas for second while a four-way battle unfolded further back on the final lap.
- FEATURED: Which Paul Ricard records can Hamilton and Mercedes can break in 2021?
2019 French GP: Ricciardo, Norris and Raikkonen duel
Hamilton enjoyed a comfortable win at Paul Ricard in 2019 for back-to-back French Grand Prix victories. Bottas, a further 18 seconds back, had to grit his teeth under duress from Leclerc, though.
The Ferrari racer took the battle for second to the flag, crossing the line with less than a second between them. There was barely a hair’s breadth separating four cars over the lower points-paying positions.
Daniel Ricciardo, then racing for Renault, chased down his current McLaren teammate Lando Norris for P7. The Australian, however, forced the Briton off the track, allowing Kiki Raikkonen to jump ahead.
Ricciardo was able to re-overtake the Finn into Signes, but two time penalties dropped him out of the points. Niko Hulkenberg also nipped in to move ahead of Norris for eighth after starting P13.
- TRENDING: How much does an F1 pit crew make?
1975 French GP: Hunt, Lauda and Mass battle for victory
The 1975 French Grand Prix saw some of Formula One’s greatest drivers battle it out for victory around Paul Ricard. Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Jochen Mass would take three teams to the podium with just two seconds between them.
Lauda started the race from pole for Ferrari with a qualifying lap four-tenths of a second clear of the field. The same margin would cover second-placed Jody Scheckter in the lightweight Tyrrell 007 down to Vittorio Brambilla in eighth.
Lauda led the field off the line before Clay Regazzoni stormed through to second from ninth on the grid, only for his Ferrari engine to explode six laps into the 54-lap event. Scheckter would regain P2, but handling issues meant he was forced to concede the position to Hunt and eventually to Mass.
Mass was rapid in his McLaren chasing down Lauda’s Ferrari and Hunt’s Hesketh to see the group bunch up for the final lap. A mistake from Lauda entering the last corner then presented Hunt with a chance to steal the lead, but the Austrian held on, just.
- TRENDING: Could Sergio Perez win the 2021 F1 championship?
Close battles to the flag
Across Formula One’s previous visits to the Paul Ricard circuit, there have been many incidents where the podium fight has come down to the flag.
Emerson Fittipaldi and Jo Siffert were the first to take their dual for a rostrum to the wire in 1971. A heavily bandaged Fittipaldi (following a road accident) jostled with the BRM racer for third from Lap 39 to 55, eventually holding off the Swiss by six seconds.
It was a close run to the line in 1978 between Lotus teammates Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson. Andretti took the lead from pole-sitter John Watson on the first lap, while Peterson worked his way through the field from fifth to come home three seconds behind.
Less than three seconds separated Keke Rosberg and Alain Prost for second place at the 1985 running of the French Grand Prix. The original Flying Finn charged past the French racer on the final lap after taking on new tyres 15 laps from the end.
While in 1990, Ayrton Senna came home three seconds behind Ivan Capelli for the last place on the podium. Capelli’s P2 marked the third and final rostrum of his F1 career and the only podium for the Leyton House team.
- TRENDING: Which current F1 drivers live in Monaco