With engines and reliability dominating paddock talk, Niki Lauda could be forgiven his wry smile when asked to contemplate Paul Ricard and engines...
Back in 1975, Niki won his fourth race of the year at this track en route to his first World Championship with Ferrari. A year later, he came back to the south of France with five wins from the first seven races in defence of his title in that iconic '76 season chronicled in the film 'Rush.'
Arch-rival James Hunt beat him to the pole - but evocative long lens TV shots of the day showed Niki weaving down the Mistral Straight (then without a chicane!) in the shimmering heat haze to break the tow with the whole snaking field following in his wheel tracks. Having left Hunt in his wake by the best part of a second per lap, he suffered an engine failure after just eight laps. Hunt won.
Of course, as the year went on, later came Niki's fiery life-threatening accident at Nürburgring and his heroic return to the cockpit just 60 days later. He then retired his Ferrari after a single lap in the season finale at Fuji.
The race was run in appalling wet, foggy conditions and Niki, despite operations on eyelids burned in the accident, was unable to blink away tears, adding to his visibility problems. Hunt's four points for a third-place finish (9-6-4-3-2-1 was the scoring system of the day) was enough to overhaul Niki by a single point.
"When Ferrari said to me I cost myself the title by stopping in Japan, I said: 'No. Your crankshaft broke in Ricard and cost me nine points. So was it me, or was it you?"