If you’d fallen into a deep sleep after the end of the 1990 French Grand Prix and just woken up now, you’d be waking to find a very different world since Formula One’s last visit to the Paul Ricard track.
Nicky Haldenby investigates just some of the things which have changed in the world since F1 last visited the circuit.
The last time Formula One visited the Paul Ricard track was the 8th July 1990. When the lights go out on Sunday, that’ll be 27 years, 11 months and 16 days ago. On that day, Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice’ was number one in the U.K. chart, Die Hard 2 was number one at the U.S box office and West Germany won the 1990 World Cup in Rome just a few hours after Alain Prost crossed the line at his home Grand Prix to take the 42nd victory of his F1 career. Funnily enough, the 2018 running of the race will begin an hour later than the other European races this season in order to avoid a clash with the England v Panama game in the 2018 World Cup.
Yes, that’s right, West Germany won the 1990 World Cup. The Berlin Wall had fallen some seven months prior to the 1990 French Grand Prix, but the official reunification of Germany didn’t take place until 3rd October that year.
Talking of politics, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister in the United Kingdom, while George H. W. Bush was the U.S. President – a Conservative and Republican government, just as their counterparts Theresa May and Donald Trump are today.
A week prior to the 1990 French Grand Prix, a young 21-year-old German named Michael Schumacher had taken the runner-up spot in a German Formula Three race at the Norisring circuit in Nuremberg, West Germany. He went on to win that championship before making his Formula One début for Jordan at the following year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, at the top tier of motorsport, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell were the big names. Prost and Senna were the big rivals, with the pair having infamously collided at the final chicane of the Suzuka circuit, deciding the championship in Prost’s favour just nine months prior to the 1990 French Grand Prix.
At the time Senna had only won the title once in his career, but heading into the race at Paul Ricard was leading the championship by eight points. The Brazilian would go on to win the 1990 Drivers’ Title, again in controversial circumstances at the Suzuka circuit three months later. Nigel Mansell was still without a title to his name at the time of the 1990 French Grand Prix – he’d have another two seasons to wait before he finally got his hands on one.
Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost were driving for Ferrari at the 1990 French Grand Prix. In an interesting coincidence, they ended their careers with the same number of titles as current Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have at the moment: Vettel equal to Prost with four, Raikkonen equal to Mansell’s sole title. Vettel could equal Prost’s total number of race victories this weekend.
In Formula One’s political landscape, Jean-Marie Balestre was still the President of the FIA and was also the president of FISA, which was still in existence. FISA was the ‘Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile’, the governing body of motor racing events, which existed until a restructuring of the FIA in 1993.
When looking back at the advancement of Safety in F1, the 1990 French Grand Prix shows how far the sport has come in thirty years. At the time of the last race at the Paul Ricard track, the Safety Car hadn’t properly been introduced to the sport, there was no pit-lane speed limit and the HANS device didn’t exist. In terms of the regulations, pre-qualifying was still a part of the rules, with nineteen teams partaking in the 1990 World Championship. Robert Moreno finished tenth in the championship in 1990 despite failing to qualify for eleven of the sixteen races and also being disqualified from one.
Last time Formula One visited the Paul Ricard track, the man who gave it the name was still alive. Paul Ricard was the creator of an eponymous alcohol brand and went on to build the Paul Ricard track in 1970 as a marketing tool. The industrialist died in 1997, seven years after the last F1 event at his track. After a spell of only motorcycle and national racing, the circuit was bought by Bernie Ecclestone in 2000 and renamed as the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track. It remained as a testing-only circuit until 2009.
Other than the Paul Ricard track, ten circuits featured on the 1990 calendar which are still present today: Interlagos, Monaco, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Silverstone, Hockenheimring, Hungaroring, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Suzuka. Interlagos, Monaco, Silverstone, the Hungaroring and Monza are the only tracks which have been ever-present on the F1 calendar since F1’s last visit to Paul Ricard.
The Phoenix track hosted its final Grand Prix as the opening round of the season in 1991, while Adelaide would remain as the season closer for another five years yet and Imola would see its share of tragedy and elation for a further sixteen years.
Since the 1990 French Grand Prix, many circuits have been and gone from the F1 calendar, including the sport’s eighteen-year tenure in Malaysia. The Catalunya circuit in Spain was still a year away from being built. Meanwhile, the man-made Yas Island which now hosts the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was seventeen years away from breaking ground.
Five of the Formula One teams which are on the grid in 2018 didn’t exist at the time of the 1990 French Grand Prix. Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are the only teams who were present at the Paul Ricard track in 1990, while Renault was supplying engines for Williams but was not a works team, and Mercedes had not yet returned to Formula One since the 1955 Le Mans disaster. It would be a further four years before they returned as engine suppliers.
The Red Bull company was just three years old and fifteen years away from entering the sport, and their now sister team Toro Rosso were racing as Minardi, which had first entered F1 five years previously.
While Michael Schumacher won a race for Team Sauber Mercedes in the World Sportscar Championship in 1990, Peter Sauber’s team wouldn’t make the leap to Formula One for another three years yet. Jordan, the team who exist as Force India now, would make their F1 début seven months after the 1990 French Grand Prix at the 1991 United States Grand Prix. Gene Haas’ racing team wouldn’t enter NASCAR for twelve years yet, and wouldn’t enter Formula One for a further fourteen years.
The last time Formula One visited the Paul Ricard circuit, ten of the twenty drivers on the 2018 grid had not yet been born. The oldest of the drivers at the time of the last F1 race at Paul Ricard was Kimi Raikkonen, who was ten years of age. Fernando Alonso was nine, while Lewis Hamilton was five years old. Sebastian Vettel had just celebrated his third birthday, Nico Hulkenberg was about to celebrate his third birthday and Daniel Ricciardo turned one year old just a week before the 1990 French Grand Prix. Valtteri Bottas was ten months old, Brendon Hartley was about to be eight months old and Sergio Perez was little over five months old.
Meanwhile, Marcus Ericsson’s mother was heavily pregnant, with him being born exactly eight weeks after the race at Paul Ricard. It would be two years before Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne would be born, over four years until Carlos Sainz would be born, over five years until Sergey Sirotkin would be born, over six years until Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly would be born, over seven years until Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc would be born and over eight years until Lance Stroll would be born.
Turns out a lot can happen in 10,213 days. What were you doing in 1990 at the time of F1’s last visit to the Paul Ricard circuit? Let us know on Twitter – @BadgerGP!