Huge traffic gridlock spoils French Grand Prix return

The first French Grand Prix in a decade produced traffic gridlock on Friday with some frustrated fans and even team members affected after hours spent in long tailbacks on the way to the circuit and missing out on track action.

The bad news is that the delays and jams getting to the circuit are likely to persist throughout the race weekend, if not get worse, as the volume of traffic will increase subsdstantially over the next two days.

Le Castellet, between Marseille and Toulon in the south of France, is hosting a grand prix for the first time since 1990.

Organisers responded by opening all available car parks simultaneously and temporarily doubling the lanes of traffic in the immediate approach to the Circuit Paul Ricard. They said in a statement issued during second practice that the situation was gradually improving.

The jams did not affect drivers, who stay on site at a luxury hotel, while VIP guests are able to fly in by helicopter. The circuit also has its own airport for private jets and charters. The media and team employees meanwhile have a reserved route in.

France’s most recent Formula One race before Sunday’s was at Magny-Cours, in the geographical centre of the country, in 2008.

On a plateau and with traffic funnelling into one approach road, Le Castellet was always famed for jams and organisers had recognised getting the crowds in smoothly would be a big challenge.

They had targeted a crowd of around 65,000-70,000, some 20,000 below the circuit’s maximum capacity.

Force India COO Otmar Szafnauer revealed how the circuit access, or lack thereof, impacted his team, “It took us two hours to go 10 miles.”

“It was ridiculous. We had a guest who was flying in to have a meeting with me and then flying back. He never made it to the meeting. He had to turn around and go back to the airport.”

“He phoned me and said: ‘Sorry, I’ve moved 7km in two and a half hours, my flight is at 5pm. I have to turn back’.”

“For me it is not a big issue if it takes me two hours to go 10 miles, I am going to come here anyway.”

“If I was a fan and on Friday it took me two and a half hours to go seven kilometres I might think twice, and that is the problem. The fans have choice, and they will probably choose events where it doesn’t take two and a half hours to cover seven kilometres,” added Szafnauer.

Drivers also felt the heat, Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean were blocked by police when riding to the circuit on scooters.

Grosjean explained, “We were driving, riding with Vettel and we got stopped by the police and we wanted to go again and the police wouldn’t let us go. I had the pass, I had my T-shirt, I had everything.”

Formula 1 chairman Chase Carey told reporters “it’s great to be popular”.

“We have got a great crowd on Friday and it will grow bigger as the weekend goes. And they will all have fun,” said the moustachioed American.

That seemed at odds with some fans’ experience, with plenty of unhappiness on social media.

“Too late measures… maybe we will go to the beach instead tomorrow,” commented Twitter user Sebastien Hubert.

Above a photograph of stationary cars, he wrote: “Le Castellet, Temple of Speed.”