Mention Paul Ricard, and it triggers precise imagery. The seventies, endless straight, long lens camera, short depth of field. That Marlboro logo is there, living in the subconscious and always the shimmering mirage. The light is magical. Tiny specks emerge in the far distance, snake right, then left, breaking the tow. They burst through the mirage to emerge big, bold in full kaleidoscopic glory. Fantastic.
Before last week I hadn't been to Ricard since 1992, which had been another test. The circuit has not hosted the French Grand Prix since 1990, when Alain Prost won in front of his own fans.
But here, just 36 hours after the flag fell in Barcelona, F1 was on parade. Ricard, these days, is owned by Bernie Ecclestone. If you didn't know, you might guess. The place is immaculate.
You collect an electronic pass as you register at reception, and it controls access to all key areas. It's the same for the test team members who faced a busy four-days in the south of France. Forget to hand in your pass as you leave, and your team is billed 300 euros - probably more than the Easyjet fare to get there in the first place...