Baptism of fire for France GP venue Paul Ricard

Jun.23 (GMM) Paul Ricard is having a baptism of fire as the first French grand prix venue in a decade.

A big crowd descended on the Slavica Ecclestone-owned circuit on Friday, but many got stuck in huge traffic jams and missed the start of practice.

One said she was stuck in exactly the same place in traffic for two hours.

“After a while, we moved forward only because others in front of us were turning around,” she told L’Equipe.

“This is the last time I will come to Le Castellet!”

Another said: “I don’t know if I would risk coming back tomorrow (Saturday).”

Force India sporting boss Otmar Szafnauer also had problems, saying it took two hours for him to travel the 15 kilometres to the circuit.

“That’s just ridiculous,” he scolded.

“I had an appointment with a guest who flew to France especially, but he was stuck in a traffic jam for so long that he had to go back to the airport.

“For me it’s not a big issue as it’s my job, but if I was a fan and I needed two hours to travel seven kilometres, I would think twice about coming back,” Szafnauer added.

Even the F1 drivers were not immune to the chaos. Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean were riding motorcycles to the circuit on Friday and were told by police to go back.

“We wanted to go on but they wouldn’t let us,” Grosjean revealed. “I explained that we are drivers and without drivers there is no show. They told us ‘We don’t care’.

“It’s a shame and a bit surprising,” he added.

Another issue at Paul Ricard is the actual circuit, with many drivers struggling to make out the correct corners due to the 180 possible test layouts.

Sebastian Vettel, who at one point almost turned in for the wrong corner in Friday practice, admitted: “I’ve never had so much trouble getting used to a track.”

Circuit designer Hermann Tilke explained: “Actually, this was designed as a test track, not for racing.

“That’s why there are so many run-off zones. We didn’t want cars to be damaged every time there is an accident.”

But Carlos Sainz concluded: “There is an element of risk that is missing.”

The asphalt is also patchy with different levels of grip.

“It’s a slightly strange feeling as you go from a section with normal grip to a section with high grip. We need to be careful about that,” said Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg.

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