French GP mulling major changes to track layout

In the wake of a far from thrilling race earlier this year, it has emerged that circuit chiefs have been in discussions with the FIA and FOM to find ways to make the venue better for overtaking.

Those talks are focusing on three key changes to the venue that could help improve matters. This includes a reprofiling of the chicane on the Mistral Straight to make it tighter; the addition of a third DRS zone before Signes, plus an all-new layout in the first section of the track.

Former F1 team boss Eric Boullier, who is now a strategic advisor for the French GP, says that he began talks with race director Michael Masi as early as July this year, and subsequent conversations have taken place with FOM about what to do.

Speaking exclusively to about his plan, Boullier said: “I asked what do we need to do? They came back to me with a completely new track layout which was not Paul Ricard at all. It was a new track so a different story! But that was part of the purpose of my request, to find out what could be done.

“So I’m now in the process of coming back to them and saying which ideas are good and I agree with. We are working on it and we will see what can done.”

The likely area of focus for Boullier is in the opening section of track, with the current medium-speed configuration not good for allowing cars to follow each other.

“Based on the results I’ve seen from FOM, this [first part of track] is going to be my suggestion. So not to redesign everything. We will keep the chicane, and we will keep Signes and Beausset, because they are signature corners.

“But maybe we can change from Turn 1 to Turn 4 to make it, let’s say, faster, with big braking. And then having two big straight lines that should cause a team to run less downforce.”

While there have been suggestions that the track could be improved by removing the chicane on the back straight, Boullier says that is not an option being considered.

“Everybody says take out this chicane and have a straight line and it’s going to solve your problem,” he said. “Yes, but it’s creating more problems for me because I’ve got 10,000 grandstand seats there. And obviously the main revenue stream of a grand prix promoter is ticketing.

“So where am I going to put these 10,000 people in the grandstand? Plus, also, all the overtaking manoeuvres happened there.”

Boullier did say, however, that the chicane could be tightened up – which would help make it a sharper braking zone.

“We can change a little bit the configuration where it makes the braking harder and it gives another 20 metres longer for the second part where, if we have a third DRS zone, we could see maybe some more overtaking,” he said.

Boullier said that no final decision has been taken about what would be done yet, and costs would need to be figured in as well.

“I don’t know yet,” he said when asked when the work would be signed off. “We have to take the decision and work out who is going to pay for this.”

Paul Ricard is also planning a packed support race schedule for 2020, which will include a historic festival element that will feature a Goodwood-style open paddock for fans.

Boullier added: “We have decided to push with FOM towards series with more than 30 cars, and a lot of track action to make the fans happy with the on track show.

“And because this will be the 70th anniversary of F1, I would like to bring some old cars and have an open paddock, Goodwood-style, where fans can touch the cars and talk to the owners. It is not good to have these fenced paddocks everywhere – it is good to open it up.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W10, leads Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG W10,Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF90, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB15, and the rest of the field on the formation lap

Photo by: Joe Portlock / Motorsport Images