Pau, the Euroformula meets with a legend

Pau, the Euroformula meets with a legend

15.05.2019: The big event is around the corner: it will be the Euroformula Open, this year, having the honour to be the main category in the programme of the Grand Prix de Pau, one of the oldest and most glorious in motorsports’ history, in what is the 78th edition o

The big event is around the corner: it will be the Euroformula Open, this year, having the honour to be the main category in the programme of the Grand Prix de Pau, one of the oldest and most glorious in motorsports’ history, in what is the 78th edition of the event. Together with Monaco and Macau, the 2,760 km-long Circuit de Pau forms a triptych of legendary urban tracks that have managed to survive into the modern era of formula racing. And its story is worth telling…

The town of Pau, nested in the Atlantic Pyrenees, in-between the coast and the Spanish border, has a rich history that traces back to the Gallo-Roman times. It built its fortunes in the 19th century, as one of the first mountain hotspots, attracting wealthy tourists from Northern Europe. The belle-époque architecture that characterizes the city testifies of that period of splendor.

It was back then that racing got associated with the town, as one of the very first road races for cars, the Pau-Bayonne-Pau, was held as early as 1899. The first edition of the Grand-Prix de Pau, on an urban track in the city, dates back to 1930 (it was won by Philippe Etancelin in a Bugatti, and the race was the GP de France of that year) and pre-war GP racing became a fixture in 1933 up until 1939 and the beginning of World War II. Tazio Nuvolari, Jean-Pierre Wimille or Hermann Lang were among the winners in those epic years.

The GP resumed in 1947, alternating F.A, F.1 and F.2 machinery, with the roll of honour getting enriched with names of the like of Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Jean Behra or Maurice Trintignant. 1964 marked the beginning of a twenty-year period where modern F.2 found in Pau its own Monaco.

Over those two decades, Jim Clark completed its poker of Pau wins, with Jochen Rindt (3 times), Jack Brabham (twice) or Jackie Stewart (once) among other also imposing themselves in the streets around the Parc Beaumont, not to forget some top representatives of the French golden generation of those years: François Cevert, Jacques Lafitte, Patrick Depailler and René Arnoux. Quite naturally, F.3000 took the baton of F.2 up to 1998 and a second consecutive win by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Since then, the Grand Prix de Pau has been mainly held with Formula 3 (with a parenthesis between 2007-09 where touring cars of the WTCC headlined the event.

F3's story in the French mountains

Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi were all grand prix winners before reaching Formula 1, having triumphed in the French town of Pau while racing in Formula 3. The single-seater category's affinity with Pau started in 1964, with a round of the French F3 championship taking place there from its creation in 1964 all the way through to 1973, with a one-year break in ‘72. It then returned to the calendar in 1984, and stayed there until ‘98.

Throughout this time the Grand Prix de Pau title had been awarded to Formula 2 and International Formula 3000 races, and it wasn’t until 1999 that F3 had its time in the limelight. At the time there was no continental championship for F3 cars, with European F3 having ended in 1984, but a special European Cup event was revived to coincide with F3’s grand prix status a Pau.

It ran in this format until 2003, with it still appearing on the French F3 calendar in 2000 and ‘02, before a merger between the French and German championships led to it becoming a round of the F3 Euro Series for three years.

The final year of that tenure was dominated by a certain Lewis Hamilton, beating a field that featured fellow future F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel and Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi. In 2006 Pau returned to being part of a national championship, making a surprise switch to become a British F3 round. It was still a French-led event though, with the cameoing Romain Grosjean following Benoît Tréluyer (‘99), Jonathan Cochet (‘00) and Nicolas Lapierre (‘04) as local winners of the grand prix in its F3 form.

That was the end of F3 at Pau until 2011, when a new International Trophy series was created combining the Pau and Macau grand prixs, the Masters of F3 event at Zandvoort, a Euro Series and British round apiece, as well as a cancelled revival of the Korea Super Prix.

Marco Wittmann won on Pau’s F3 return, which prompted BMW to sign him up, but the famous grand prix really burst back into the public consciousness a year later when a young Raffaele Marciello took victory. The Ferrari-backed teenager looked unstoppable on his first street circuit appearance, and after a gap year for F3, the event grew in stature up to our days.

F3 legend and street circuit expert Felix Rosenqvist was the next winner, followed by current Sauber F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, Alessio Lorandi, Maximilian Gunther and Ralf Aron. Reigning Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jr was signed up to enter the 2016 edition before he was barred for “contravening the spirit” of the event. In total, 12 of the 20 drivers in F1 this year entered the Pau GP on their way up the single-seater ladder, including race-winners Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Robert Kubica.

A all-new field of drivers will line up to contest this year’s grand prix, which will be part of the Euroformula Open championship for the first time.

Alfredo Filippone, historic photo by ASAC Basco-Béarnais


15.05.2019 / MaP

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