SPY: A French reunion

Konnichi-wa race fans! Spy here, working on the tan while all around is a hive of industry at beautiful Paul Ricard. Why aren’t all race tracks named after drinks?

This place is great. I mean, chaotic, and it’s going to take so long to get in at the weekend we may as well sleep in the garage, but great nonetheless. The sun is shining; the track looks magnificent and it’s got that feel of a classic F1 venue that other circuits just don’t have, plus all the grumpy old ba… men are moaning about how the restaurant they used to frequently visit in Cassis* or Bandol* 30 years ago has been turned into a phone shop. It doesn’t get any better than this. 

Spy, of course, does remember the French Grand Prix of old but this place couldn’t be more different to Magny-Cours if it tried – apart from the laissez-faire** approach to traffic management, which seems to be just as variable. Bring 60,000 camper vans down a one-lane track? Sure, why not? It’s not that bad really – so long as the traffic marshals haven’t nipped off for lunch.*** 

Actually, it’s a good thing we’re not going back to Magny-Cours. The paddock wasn’t exactly careful when it packed down for the last time in 2007… which made it a bit embarrassing to go back for the one-year extension in 2008. 

But, why has the race been away? F1 not having a French Grand Prix is like F1 not having grumpy mechanics – there’s just some things that are part of the fabric. But perhaps we needed a break to refresh. Spy’s paid this serious attention**** and come up with some potential reasons why:

The traffic:
As mentioned above, it isn’t that the French Grand Prix really went away, it’s just taken this long for the car park to clear from the previous race. It’s also possible that the French Grand Prix is being paid for by the British Racing Drivers Club, in the hope that no-one ever criticises the congestion at Silverstone ever again.

Sartorial (in)elegance: 
Looking back at pictures of French Grands Prix past at Ricard, it’s obvious what went wrong at Magny-Cours: everyone was dressed. In the good old days on the Cote d’Azur, there’s blokes wandering the grid at Ricard with shirts unbuttoned, or entirely absent, letting it all hang out. We are not talking about muscle-bound gym-junkies here, we’re talking about people who enjoy a 12-course, four-bottle lunch where eight courses involve cheese. Men with moustaches you could hide a badger in. F1 needs to get those medallions back. 

F1 should have French drivers. Preferably lots of them, ideally filled with deep-seated personal vendettas that stretch back to who cut up who in a regional karting semi-final in the 7-9 age group. When F1 first came to Ricard you could count on enough French drivers to field a volleyball team. Sadly, by the end, they went away when the junior programmes all dried up – but now we have two drivers that are definitely French, one more that’s a bit French when the mood takes him, and another that certainly knows his way around a boulodrome and a glass of pastis if there’s a sniff of a sponsor. Sadly, they all seem to get along – but you can’t have everything. 

In the old days, we came to France for the lunch – and the racing was just a bonus. Seriously, lunch in France. You really should. Back in the days when the Michelin truck had a Michelin star, it was entirely possible to forget that FP2 even existed.***** Going back even further, before F1 was spoilt with fitness, even the drivers would tuck in with a vengeance between the sessions. While the decline of the 5000-calorie déjeuner is to be mourned, it’s absence has certainly had a beneficial effect on paddock waistlines – though Spy’s hoping cuisine Provençale makes a stunning comeback this weekend. 

*Seriously, is everything around here named after booze? Why can’t we do this in Milton Keynes. Or Red Bull Vodkatown as Spy wants to rename it. The campaign starts here.

**Oh yes, Spy has language skills.

*** ie So don’t try to go anywhere between 11am and 4pm

****No, not really…

***** Though that tends to annoy team managers, best not to dwell.