The Paul Ricard trick behind Capelli's 1990 French GP shock

Formula 1's last visit to Paul Ricard produced an all-time classic giantkilling performance, as Ivan Capelli came within three laps of a shock victory for the tiny Leyton House team

The Paul Ricard trick behind Capelli's 1990 French GP shock

In the end, the race got away from him thanks to fuel and oil pressure dropping in the closing stages. But Capelli still secured a place in the F1 history books for his drive even though he had to settle for second behind Alain Prost's Ferrari.

Just a fortnight after Capelli and team-mate Mauricio Gugelmin failed to qualify in Mexico, the billiard smooth French Grand Prix circuit was the perfect hunting ground for the aero of the GC901 car.

Leyton House, as the historic March team had become by then, had been helped further ahead of Ricard by a diffuser change that made it work better.

Then on the weekend itself Capelli realised that a little trick of his through the famous long Signes corner could pay big dividends.

"This car was only good on the very smooth circuits, which Paul Ricard was, even though the asphalt was abrasive," Capelli told Autosport. "We were very, very competitive in practice and I realised that there was a chance for us to save the tyres.

"To do this, I had to not take Signes corner completely flat because otherwise we would destroy the front left tyre.

"I know doing that gave us a chance to do the race without stopping, whereas everyone else had to stop."

Although Capelli qualified seventh, with Gugelmin three places further back, he was confident that the Signes trick, allied to the way the car was performing on long runs, left him a good chance of a surprise result.

But there were some fraught moments before the start when technical chief Gustav Brunner suddenly started pushing for a change of car set-up.

"Just before the race, there was what I would call a constructive discussion between Gustav and I about the car," added Capelli.

"Gustav came to me and said: 'Listen, the wind has changed a lot, there is a very strong sidewind, and I would like to put more wing on the front, to increase the level of downforce on the flap.'

"I was worried though and said: 'No, the car is so perfect and so well balanced. Don't touch the car because I feel the car is very competitive.'

"But Gustav insisted and we came to a very funny compromise. We put only one degree more flap just on the inside section, on the right of the front wing.

"We left the outside of the front wing the same. So it had an asymmetric set-up and this, in the end, was a very good solution."

In the early stages of the race, as the leaders pulled away, Capelli and Gugelmin knew that if they looked after the tyres opportunities would come later on.

"It was a gamble. We decided not to change tyres and were careful early in the race, so as not to put any extra load on the Goodyears.

"I felt very well in the car and, when the others stopped to change tyres, I found myself in the lead.

"I led the race for 46 laps, so I was pretty convinced I'd win it. Although Prost was close to me, I thought he wouldn't want to take any risks in overtaking me because he had to consider the championship.

"But three laps before the end, when I was going around Signes, I saw the light of one of the oil alarms going off - plus I heard a bit of noise from the engine.

"I had no choice but to back off, and Prost seized his moment and took the lead.

"At that moment I was completely destroyed - because I thought that such a good opportunity would not happen ever again. I was miserable about not winning the race.

"But later, when I found myself on the podium beside Prost who had won the race and Ayrton Senna, who was third, I was quite happy.

"To be up there together with such great drivers and great personalities was something fantastic."

How Newey missed an F1 classic

By Edd Straw

It was the biggest moment of his Formula 1 design career to date, and Adrian Newey missed it.

While Capelli came within three laps of winning the 1990 French GP driving the Leyton House CG901, the car's designer wasn't even in the country having opted to join Williams a matter of days before the trip to Paul Ricard.

"I was watching on television," says Newey, who was still delighted with the performance even though Capelli ultimately did not win.

"It was very satisfying to see that after going through the problems in 1989 and the first part of '90, which were caused by the floor of the Southampton windtunnel that we were using being bowed, that we came up with a solution that worked and saw the car be genuinely competitive."

For Newey, the performance was vital in gaining the confidence of Williams co-owner Patrick Head, as it proved that his aerodynamic concepts could produce a frontrunning car.

"It definitely had an effect on Patrick," reckons Newey. "He was quietly impressed by that.

"That performance, and the speed at the next race at Silverstone, gave Patrick a degree of confidence that I did know roughly what I was doing, so he gave me quite a free hand in the layout of the FW14."

The FW14 of 1991 evolved into the all-conquering FW14B of the following season. Newey's car may not have won in France, but in the long run, that race was central to the success that was to come.

shares
comments
Haas: F1 rivals can't believe our bad luck at start of 2018 season
Previous article

Haas: F1 rivals can't believe our bad luck at start of 2018 season

Next article

McLaren F1 team dismisses ex-boss Whitmarsh's ill-judged criticism

McLaren F1 team dismisses ex-boss Whitmarsh's ill-judged criticism
The five factors behind Sainz winning a British GP he’d twice lost Plus

The five factors behind Sainz winning a British GP he’d twice lost

Formula 1 has a newest race winner, in a grand prix the victor appeared to have lost twice, only to charge back to headline a sensational and dramatic British Grand Prix. From a massive start crash to a late sprint finish, here’s how five factors saw Carlos Sainz take his maiden grand prix win

Why there was no case to answer in Aston’s latest F1 copycat saga Plus

Why there was no case to answer in Aston’s latest F1 copycat saga

The appearance of a revised Aston Martin in Spain caused controversy but PAT SYMONDS explains why the FIA investigation found the Silverstone team had no case to answer

Formula 1
Jul 3, 2022
Why it's Red Bull that really leads a three-way fight so far at Silverstone Plus

Why it's Red Bull that really leads a three-way fight so far at Silverstone

After a slow start to Friday at Silverstone, all the Formula 1 teams had to effectively cram in a day’s worth of practice into one hour. But there was still plenty to learn and while Ferrari topped the times, a three-way battle is brewing ahead of the British Grand Prix

Formula 1
Jul 2, 2022
Why the future is bright for the British GP Plus

Why the future is bright for the British GP

It wasn’t so long ago the situation looked bleak at Silverstone with the future of the British Grand Prix under threat. But a transformation has seen it restored to one of the most important races on the Formula 1 calendar, with bigger and better to come

Formula 1
Jul 1, 2022
Could mixed fortunes for F1's leading Brits turn around at Silverstone? Plus

Could mixed fortunes for F1's leading Brits turn around at Silverstone?

For the first time in many years, none of the local racers starts among the favourites for the British Grand Prix. But George Russell, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris could have reasons for optimism

Formula 1
Jun 30, 2022
Verstappen exclusive: Why F1’s champion isn’t fazed by Silverstone return Plus

Verstappen exclusive: Why F1’s champion isn’t fazed by Silverstone return

Max Verstappen is the world’s number one racing driver… and he’s determined to keep it that way. Speaking exclusively to GP Racing's OLEG KARPOV, the Red Bull driver explains why he’s relishing the 2022 championship battle with Charles Leclerc – and why he’s not worried about returning to Silverstone, the scene of the biggest accident of his career last year

Formula 1
Jun 30, 2022
Why Red Bull’s RB17 hypercar can help its F1 team Plus

Why Red Bull’s RB17 hypercar can help its F1 team

On Tuesday, Red Bull laid out its plans to develop and build a new hypercar - the RB17 - penned by Adrian Newey. As the project itself sates Newey as a creative outlet, it also offers Red Bull's Formula 1 team a number of new and exciting avenues to pursue

Formula 1
Jun 29, 2022
What to expect from Mercedes as F1 returns to Silverstone Plus

What to expect from Mercedes as F1 returns to Silverstone

OPINION: The British Grand Prix is a home event for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, with their Mercedes team based just a few miles away too. But there’s another reason why the Silver Arrows squad is eager to arrive at Silverstone this weekend, which may help it fix its remaining problems with its 2022 Formula 1 challenger

Formula 1
Jun 29, 2022