Paul Ricard: A maze of a race

French Gp 2018 race start. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Last weekend saw the return of the French Grand Prix, this time at Paul Ricard. Overall the expectations for this race were low, as this is not particularly the best circuit France has. With all of its 167 different layout options, there were enough options to make the track more interesting for racing. Many did think though that this layout was not the best they could have chosen, and that it wouldn’t provide any good racing. How wrong many people were then when this race made up for the previous two races at Monaco and Montreal, which were criticised for being too boring.

First of all, there were many debates even amongst the drivers about the track. One of the problems being discussed was the pit lane. Especially the exit was deemed very dangerous as drivers re-joining the track will get on the racing line of the upcoming drivers. The other problem was the chosen layout, with focus on the chicane on the Mistral straight. This, according to Brendon Hartley and Sergio Perez, would not provide many overtakes and thus asked for it to be removed. They were proven wrong, as this race with all of its 57 overtakes provided the most overtakes of this season yet. For sure it helped that the DRS zone before the chicane was 700 metres long, which helped Vettel and Bottas to regain some positions after their terrible start.

Other drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hülkenberg complained about the confusing blue and red lines. These lines disorientated not only the drivers, but for fans watching it on TV it was very confusing too. The Free Practices on Friday demonstrated that the drivers struggled with the braking points due to the many lines surrounding the circuit. Vettel almost took a turn too early at the Mistral chicane and Hamilton almost drove straight into Vandoorne as he missed his braking point as well. It was not going to be an easy race for the drivers.

For some drivers their weekend even started disappointing after qualifying. With both McLaren drivers in only P16 for Alonso and P18 for Vandoorne, it really was an embarrassing Saturday for the Woking team. This disappointing result in the light of rumours that employees are unhappy doesn’t help their situation at all. Another team that has to feel embarrassed was Williams. They didn’t stand a chance as they qualified in P19 and P20, filling up the last places on the grid. Luckily for them Hartley had to start in last position as he had a 35-place grid penalty, so both drivers moved up a place.

Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France.
Saturday 23 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL33 Renault.
Photo: McLaren
ref: Digital Image SUT_French_Grand_P_1630069

The race however, which started an hour later than normal because of the World Cup, didn’t disappoint at all. The start of the race was very chaotic. Vettel had a better start than Bottas in front of him, but couldn’t get past Lewis who seemingly didn’t have a good start as he held Vettel up. This all resulted in a crash between Vettel and Bottas, as Vettel locked up his brakes and drove into Bottas. Verstappen had to evade them and, as he said himself after the race, took ‘the fast chicane’. Vettel did get a five second penalty from the stewards for the incident. However, for Lewis and many fans alike this penalty was not enough as he still finished higher than Bottas. The crash looked like just a racing incident as Vettel locked up and as a result hit Bottas, which is something that can happen at the start of the race especially with a tight corner like the first at Paul Ricard. It got even worse when it was announced after the race that Sebastian was voted Driver Of The Day, which seems very strange after he caused a collision and many fans thus were surprised.

French GP 2018. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

After the race no other than second placed Max Verstappen took this crash as the opportunity to joke about criticism towards him about his driving style. ‘’I think the next time you see Seb you should ask him to change his style, you know, because honestly it is not acceptable. That’s what they said to me in the beginning of the season so I think they should do the same.’’ Again he got a well-deserved podium, just like he did at Canada. It looks like Max has proven indeed that his driving style is the right one as his teammate Ricciardo didn’t get on the podium. Surely he didn’t have the best start of the season you could get, but now he has gotten himself two podiums in a row. With the home race for Red Bull coming up this weekend it will be his job to achieve this again, this time maybe even a win.

The start crash between Vettel and Bottas did liven up the race though, as they had to fight their way through the field. However, this was not the only crash at the start of the race. Two of the three starting French drivers at their home Grand Prix crashed after just three turns, as Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashed into each other. Neither of them did get a penalty for it though, as the stewards decided that they were both at mistake and it wouldn’t matter anyway as they were both out of the race. In front of the cameras a seemingly very emotional Gasly explained that he hoped for a better result as this home grand prix means a lot to him. It was a disappointing weekend for the French fans, as Grosjean didn’t deliver too with just an eleventh place.

Kimi Räikkönen on the french gp podium. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Overall then this French GP was a good one. It saw the most overtakes of the season yet, delivered some chaos, controversy and drama. There were many doubts about this race as this circuit wouldn’t make for an interesting race, but instead we got one of the more interesting races of the season. Now the question is, after we’ve seen this race, should there be changes made to the track like some drivers suggested? It looks like it isn’t necessary. Will Vettel ruin his chances for the championship on his own again just like last year? Is the new Mercedes engine good enough for Lewis to dominate again? We shall see, as this week we head down to the second GP of the ‘triple header’ in Austria, the Red Bull Ring.

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