Paul Ricard, 2018

Paul Ricard’s nightmare traffic hasn’t improved

Paddock Diary: French Grand Prix day one

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Will traffic problems overshadow Formula 1’s return to Paul Ricard? Fernando Alonso said on Thursday he hopes fans are able to make it into the track smoothly but as @DieterRencken discovered the situation seems little better than it was before.

9am Thursday

Arrive at Brussels Airport for 1015 flight to Marseilles; really looking forward to return of French Grand Prix, for various reasons. Amongst others, I hadn’t visited the Circuit Le Castellet (aka Paul Ricard) since Toyota’s F1 car launch in 2003.

It had nominated HTTT (High Tech Test Track) as it was known back then as its test circuit on account of generally good all-year-round weather, plus, I suspect, then-F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, whose family trust owns Excelis, the circuit’s operating company, squeezed them to test at ‘his’ facility.

That was, of course, back in the days of unlimited testing – well, limited only by the size of team budgets and the contributions made by their associated tyre companies – and I was keen to see how Paul Ricard had weathered with dwindling use. It also reminded me why Ecclestone had campaigned so hard against bans on testing…

Adding to my excitement was the fact that the event marks the first ‘new’ grand prix under Liberty Media’s ownership of Formula 1’s commercial rights – okay, it’s a return rather than new venue, but given the last grand prix at Le Castellet was staged almost 20 years ago and the last French Grand Prix held (at Magny-Cours) in 2008, it counts as “new – and I was keen to see how it would be handled.

True, Liberty had not inked the deal – that occurred under Ecclestone – but the race provides the company’s first opportunity to strut its stuff. Telling is that, even before the first race under the deal, the promoter pushed for reduced hosting fees and a sharing of commercial risks, which I suspect will become the common theme this year. Still, Liberty only have themselves to blame, having offered Miami such a deal.

Finally, having missed the Canadian Grand Prix in favour of attending the FIA Sport Conference in Miami, I was experiencing F1 withdrawal, and needed to get back into the fray. A lot has happened since Monaco, and I wished to get up to speed first hand, particularly on the Red Bull-Honda deal.

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1pm

Long queue for cars followed by long queue in cars
Long queue for cars followed by long queue in cars
Those were the ‘ups’. Now for the ‘downs’.

My flight was delayed by an hour after some clown failed to board, and his baggage had to be off-loaded. How (and why) this (increasingly) happens is beyond me, and I wish the authorities fined anybody guilty of such an offence – it is offensive to all passengers, who lose huge chunks of time.

The delay meant we missed our traffic control slots, so landed in Marseilles almost an hour late. The next issue: Avis/Budget car rental, despite two years’ notice that a major event was planned, failed to realise bookings had ramped up massively, so it took two hours to get to a desk for a five-minute transaction. My allocated car was so filthy I had them mark it up to cover against getting charged upon return.

The FIA laid on a tour of the track
The FIA laid on a tour of the track
Finally, the 45-mile journey from airport to circuit, which should take less than an hour, lasted over double that due to road works and unacceptable traffic jams near the circuit – on Thursday! During interviews in January I variously alluded to Paul Ricard’s (infamous) traffic issues, but was assured that plans were in place. Clearly not.

I mention this not to whinge but to warn fans planning to make the journey: allow plenty of time at the airport, at the car rental desks, en route to the circuit and at the circuit. Indeed, if you haven’t yet booked and are hoping to wing it, I strongly suggest you reconsider.

5pm

Once at the circuit, it was great to see my colleagues and catch up. As a bonus, the FIA arranged for us to be given a tour of the circuit by the F1 Experiences truck used for the Drivers’ Parade, and what a fine initiative it turned out to be, for it enabled us to view the circuit properly, at relatively slow speed. However, just how the drivers will prevent dizziness from the maze of blue lines is beyond me…

Finally, at 8pm I headed for my digs, a cheerful cottage in Le Beausset, situated around 10 miles from the circuit. That journey, conducted well after business hours, took half an hour. After pizza and sorbet in the village square on a warm Southern France summer’s evening, the hassles of my day gradually receded.

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2018 French Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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23 comments on “Paul Ricard’s nightmare traffic hasn’t improved”

  1. Traffic is frightful at the moment, not reached Le Beausset from Toulon. Whatever the circuit organisers have done to mitigate traffic has still resulted in long queues on Friday morning.

    Quick look on google maps and it is tailbacks all the way!

    1. having road works going on right now doesn’t really point to whatever they intended to do working, does it!

      1. @bascb – I used to think that doing road work right at the time of a major event was the specialty of only my municipality’s civic department. Then I grew up.

      2. @bascb Indeed it doesn’t! Be lucky to make FP1 it seems, but at least now we know to set off at the crack of dawn for the next couple of days!

        1. That is one of the things i loved best at Hockenheim – the large campingsites right next to the track making camping and just waling over to the track super easy. I think that works for the likes of Spa and Austria as well.

          1. @bascb No chance of my wife ever camping! Otherwise it would make a lot of sense.

          2. So is there really just the one secondary (looking) road leading past the track here? If so why in the name of don’t they make an air-conditioned shuttle from both sides, with guarded parking at both ends, mandatory for everyone who’s not F1 person, media, special needs, or living there? I just don’t get it.

          3. ha, yeah, that was the reason we were in a Hotel for last year’s Austrian GP as well @ju88sy! The camping was for Germany the year before :-)

    2. Michael Turner
      22nd June 2018, 10:36

      Traffic is absolutely abysmal on D8N. We left Marseille 2 hous ago. 11.30 now and still 13km from the track. We have been stationary for nearly 30 minutes.

  2. Welcome back at the track Dieter! Looking forward to more of the excellent coverage over the next days!

    1. @bascb +1 to this, lots of juicy stuff for Dieter to pursue, Hondas in Red Bulls, Freddos and Ricciardos in McLarens, etc.

  3. That was quiet a nice read, despite your (or because of?) travel woes. I just hope the race isn’t anywhere as processionary as your commute to the circuit.

  4. PrincesseBoulet
    22nd June 2018, 9:51

    This sounds like the rantings of a french man – complaining about queues, huffing in the plane for some other’s misfortune, I would assume voceriferating while stuck in bumper to bumper usual city traffic.
    Great adaptation to France! welcome back you most boring of all races…

    (all the above is meant ot be amusing, not a dig at the author, but people sure do complain in this country)

  5. @dieterrencken So who is the Promoter, is the Excelis company still involved? In a way I hope they are, just to enjoy the irony of an Ecclestone company now seeking to reduce the hosting fee!

    1. No, the promoter is a GIP (public interest group) consisting of various statutory and private concerns who founded it for the purpose of staging the GP at the circuit. The GIP rents the circuit from Exceslis, and stages the race. So Ecclestone has nothing to do with the hosting fee, although he did negotiate it when in the FOM hot chair at the time.

      1. Aha, thank you.

  6. Anyone thats surprised about this?

    Whatabout the Avis cars are they all sold out or what?

    1. No – we got cars, eventually. Just not enough staff to handle the number of rentals.

  7. Having left Toulon at 09:30 still 4km away from the circuit at 15:42, incredible screwup by the circuit organisers. Why have they sold so many car park tickets? Today is Friday, typically a quiet day to attend a GP and the traffic has resulted in a wasted.

    We have already put in a request for compensation. The circuit organisers have a lot of questions to answer about how they could screwup so badly for thousands of fans, will be missing FP2.

    1. Ed McDonough
      22nd June 2018, 16:40

      Left base 10.30 only 20 Kms away. Gave up at 3 pm with 8 Kms still to go. The FIA/ Var press release said ‘some problems between 10 and 1’…a blatant lie…absolute total inefficiency. Have a plan for tomorrow but want Compensation for today. Worse than old Silverstone ever was.
      Ed McDonough

  8. I left later this morning thinking all the early traffic would be gone …. So at 10.40 am I drove 4 kms of the 17 to the circuit and came to a dead halt for well over half and hour before returning to my hospitality……so at 3.45 I returned to see what was what and again after 5 kms came to a dead halt in St Anne Evanos and at the round about 6-8 Police standing looking / trying to direct traffic ….. And talking to 1 of them it had been like this ALL day and is a Big Big Problem for the Police……so having spent a small fortune getting to this GP you can’t get into the GP ……on Thursday I drove up there and the staff had no idea where people were to park …… Yeah we know there are crowds but the organisation of this event is non existent ……considerable compensation is required by everyone ….. The locals are landlocked in their own towns as well ……

  9. Always complaining, no bread? eat cake. Bad traffic ? use your helicopter. Marie Antoinette Ecclestone.

    1. PS: And they thought the 2 1/2 hour drive from Paris to Magny-Cours was bad !

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