Opened in 1970 by the French pastis magnate, the Circuit Paul Ricard occupies a prime spot on the French Riviera between the cities of Marseille and Toulon.
First used for the French Grand Prix in 1971, 2018 marks the return of the Le Castellet venue to the Formula 1 calendar for the first time since 1990, when Alain Prost won his home Grand Prix driving for Ferrari.
A weekend spent watching Formula 1 at the Circuit Paul Ricard is the perfect launch pad for a holiday on the Mediterranean. Apart from Marseille and Toulon, the pretty port towns of Hyères and the famous Saint-Tropez lie close by, while wine fans will find themselves smack bang in the middle of a region that’s world famous for its rosés and spicy, full-bodied reds.
Did you know?
The Circuit Paul Ricard’s distinctive blue and red run-off areas are designed to slow cars down without the need for gravel traps. Made of a mixture of asphalt and tungsten, the blue areas slow cars gradually, while the more abrasive red areas slow the cars more aggressively.
Although the Circuit Paul Ricard does sit alongside the business-oriented Le Castellet Airport, in terms of commercial flights, either Marseille Provence or Toulon Hyères are your best bets – although as both lie over 50km from the track (66km for Marseille, 55km for Toulon) you’ll probably be needing a rental car too. France’s super-quick trains are another option, with Bandol, 20km south of the circuit, the nearest station.
French police are hot on their legal requirements for drivers. Failure to carry a hi-viz vest for everyone in your car, a spare set of bulbs or a warning triangle can all result in a fine, while foreign cars need to show a country code sticker and wear headlight converters if required. However, the law brought in in 2012 requiring drivers to carry a breathalyser in the car now carries no fine.
Where to go?
Staying in Marseille? The city’s domineering Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica is worth a visit, not least for the stunning 360 degree views of the Old Port and surrounding coastline. Given the popularity of the local tipple, a wine tour at one of Provence’s many vineyards wouldn’t go amiss either. And if all that sounds like too much hard work and you just want to lie on a beach, you’re in luck; several of France’s best beaches are within striking distance of the Circuit Paul Ricard. Try Antibes, Les Calanques de Cassis, Marseille’s Prado Beaches, Porquerolles Island, Saint-Tropez or Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s Paloma Beach.
Where to stay?
The circuit itself has two hotels – the 3-star Grand Prix Hôtel and the luxury Hôtel Du Castellet – although these will most likely get booked up well in advance of the Grand Prix. Most racing punters tend to opt between Marseille and Toulon, both of which offer a wide variety of accommodation.
If history is your thing, a two-hour drive from the Circuit Paul Ricard will take you to Avignon, where seven popes resided between 1309-1377 (and where Jean Alesi was born and still lives). Ornithologists also have a treat in store, with the Parc naturel régional de Camargue, a two-hour drive west of the circuit, hosting one of the largest populations of hypersoft-pink flamingos in Europe between April and September. Need more inspiration? Hit up the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur tourist board.
If you’ve been inspired by the F1 drivers over the weekend, why not book a track day on the same circuit? A number of track day operators use the Circuit Paul Ricard, with some even offering the chance to rent exotic supercars. Alternatively, if you fancy a slower but no less exciting pace, the track also boasts a top-level karting track, featuring the same distinctive blue run-off areas as its big brother.
Circuit Paul Ricard
RDN8 2760 Route des Hauts du Camp
83 330 Le Castellet
Main image & wine image - © C.Chillio - CRT PACA