Sky F1 followed its coverage of yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix with archive footage from the 1971 F1 season. This was the first year that F1 ran at the just-built Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France.
The first French GP at Ricard came near the end of a season where Jackie Stewart’s dominance in a lesser Tyrrell-Cosworth brought endless complaints from his rivals. Car and engine were stripped by the authorities, but no cheats were found. Stewart was faster: simple as that.
Porsche has just completed almost 4,000 kms of testing at Ricard (a.k.a. Le Castellet) with the 919 Hybrid LMP1 and its 2014 RSRs. Slowest GT car was some twenty seconds off the quickest LMP1 lap: a 1:41.289 set by Brendon Hartley (below). Just like Jackie almost 43 years ago, Hartley is genetically rapid. It’s great to have young speed in the car.
Stuttgart also took the opportunity to homologate the car for the six megajoule class, allowing it to harvest maximum energy per lap into the biggest energy store permitted. Assuming the combined fuel and electricity capacity can power the car around more laps per stint than its rivals, the car will spend less time refuelling at Le Mans, giving a solid pace/range advantage over 24 hours.
Ricard is the perfect place for high speed testing. Built by the eponymous French drinks magnate in the late 1960s, the circuit was sold to Slavica Ecclestone’s Bambino trust in 1999. Bambino then developed the circuit into a high speed test track, using Slavica’s F1-running husband, Bernie, as a consultant.
Bernie’s involvement in the Ricard redevelopment is at the heart of his upcoming bribery case. His (ex-)wife is classed as UK non-domiciled by HMRC, but the taxman sees Bernie as living in London. Bernie argues that a bribe he paid a few years ago was not to lubricate an F1 shares sale, but was instead to prevent false information on Bambino being made available to UK tax authorities, which could have cost him millions – even billions – in back tax.
The case will be heard in Germany from next month. I know Bernie’s methods are not universally admired, but I like his wit and admire his work ethic, not to mention that razor sharp instinct for media. I hope I’m still going strong at 83.