French Grand Prix – Weekend Preview

Two weeks on from an action-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which we saw plenty of championship drama with a shock podium result for a number of drivers, Formula One sets its sights on the French Grand Prix!

Written by Aiden Hover, edited by Janvi Unni

Playing host to the first round of a surely stressful triple header, the 5.842 km Circuit Paul Ricard is well known for its challenging array of 15 corners consisting of a healthy mix of both tricky technical turns and pedal to the floor high-speed kinks. Just 10 km south of the famous French Riviera, the track has undergone many different configurations since its first Grand Prix in 1971. In its current form, the track can easily be reconfigured to suit any type of racing category as it stands as a testament to the wonder of modern Grand Prix circuits. This year will see the event return to the calendar, following a years absence, as well as 20 of the most talented drivers in the world attempting to surmount Sir Lewis Hamilton’s 2019 pole time of 1:28.319.

As an almost polar opposite to the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the French Grand Prix is steeped in history. Widely considered the ‘World’s Oldest Grand Prix,’ the French Grand Prix has been held 88 times since 1906 across 16 different venues! In 1989, at Paul Ricard, following a chaotic start in which much of the field was eliminated, Frenchman Jean Alesi would perform miracles on his Formula One debut as he climbed from 16th to 9th in 1 lap! He would run as high as 2nd behind Alain Prost to eventually finish 4th behind Nigel Mansell who himself had climbed up to 2nd despite starting from the Pitlane at the race restart. In 2002, at Magny Cours, Kimi Raikkonen would be painfully denied a first win having led for much of the race before a crucial mistake allowed his Ferrari rival of Michael Schumacher through into the lead. Two years later, Rubens Barrichello would take the last step on the podium following a daring move on the last corner of the last lap of the race to move past a napping Jarno Trulli! In 2018, on Paul Ricard’s return to the calendar, championship rivals Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas collided at turn 1 relegating both to the back of the grid as they would now be forced to embark on a painful fight back into the points. 

What can fans expect this weekend? Sergio Perez, fresh from his win in Azerbaijan, will be hoping to continue his momentum into France as he looks to be performing at the top of his game for RedBull. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen will be eager to make up for the missed opportunity in Baku as he was forced to retire from the lead due to no fault of his own. The Dutchman’s main championship rival, Sir Lewis Hamilton, will also be desperate to right the wrongs of Baku as he threw away an almost certain win on the race restart as he locked up into turn 1 due to an incorrect brake bias setting. His teammate Valtteri Bottas, needs to prove his worth as rumours around a possible midseason replacement at Mercedes seem more true than ever. With performances like his at Baku, things need to change quickly and the Finn will be hoping to begin with the French Grand Prix.

Following a debut podium for the Aston Martin team, the team looks strong heading into France. Their star driver Sebastian Vettel also seems confident whilst Lance Stroll will surely take inspiration from his teammate’s recent 2nd place. Alpha Tauri showed strong pace throughout the Baku weekend and were handsomely rewarded with an impressive 3rd place from Pierre Gasly whilst young superstar Yuki Tsunoda would achieve his best finish of 7th. They too will be looking to continue this trend into France for Gasly’s home race.

Ferrari seemed to throw away a good result in Baku as Charles Leclerc quickly fell back from his Pole Position, whilst teammate Carlos Sainz made a costly mistake on cold hard tyres. They looked to have good pace though and will be hoping to continue into France. As too will McLaren who were mostly anonymous all weekend bar Daniel Ricciardo’s Q2 crash and Lando Norris’ last-lap duel with Leclerc and Gasly. However, they still finished well with a good handful of points and so will be looking for more of the same this weekend. 

Both Alpine and Alfa Romeo made the most of a bad situation in Baku as both teams seemed to struggle with pace, however, they both came home with points – thanks in no small part to the experience of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso who came home an impressive 6th and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen who came home 10th. Esteban Ocon, unfortunately, had to retire his Alpine whilst Antonio Gioviniazzi came home an anonymous 11th. By staying out of trouble, these two teams came away from Baku looking pretty and look strong to fight for points yet again in France.

Haas saw their best weekend of the season, beating out both Williams drivers, as well as the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton! However, they were still considerably off the pace all weekend and needed to rely on the misfortune of Hamilton and Russell and Latifi’s penalty to achieve their unusually high positions of 13th for Mick Schumacher and 14th for Nikita Mazepin. Williams was forced to retire George Russell’s car with 3 laps to go, while Nicholas Latifi would be victim to a painful post-race penalty which relegated him to last of the race finishers. It does not look good for either of these teams heading into France as they both lack severe pace, however, we should never doubt the qualifying performance of George Russell!

Be sure not to miss this weekend’s race or the ever-tightening championship battle! With both Hamilton and Verstappen failing to score last time out, the gap at the top is only 4 points whilst Perez has now overtaken Lando Norris to sit 3rd in the standings!

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