2019 French Grand Prix Review: They Did Their Best

French motorsport fans had already enjoyed the 24 Hours of Le Mans last week, and now their attention turned to the Formula 1 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard. The 5.8km blue and red maze of a circuit is known for its Mistral Straight, named after the famous winds which caused some trouble over the weekend.

Conditions in qualifying proved to be tough, but Mercedes prevailed and locked out the front row of the grid again, with Lewis Hamilton on pole and Valtteri Bottas behind him. Charles Leclerc was the fastest of the Ferrari drivers in P3, as Sebastian Vettel had a horrible Q3 that saw him qualify only seventh. Verstappen started from fourth place and Gasly from ninth. Who split them then? Well, in a big surprise it was both McLaren drivers of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr., who claimed fifth and sixth place on the grid.

The start of the race saw Hamilton immediately create a gap to his teammate and Leclerc behind. Lando Norris lost fifth place to Sainz, who set about putting pressure on Verstappen. The Dutchman easily recovered though, pulled away from Sainz even as he complained about a ‘lag’ in power on the exit of some corners.

Thanks to the 2019 aerodynamic regulations, most drivers had trouble following the car in front of them, leading to big gaps being created. A few DRS overtakes took place going into the Mistral chicane, but no more than that.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The biggest battles of the race took place in the midfield, where Haas was really struggling and got overtaken by both Toro Rossos.

Verstappen pitted from fourth on lap twenty-one and emerged in fifth place behind Vettel. Leclerc went into the pits on the next lap for the hard tyres as well, coming back out in fourth place. Bottas switched to the hard tyres onlap twenty-four. and re-joined in third behind Vettel, who was yet to stop, and in front of Leclerc.

Race leader Hamilton responded by pitting the next lap, re-joining safe and sound in first place. Vettel was behind him, locked up and told his team he needed to box, which he duly did. Like those around him, he opted for the hard tyres in an attempt to make it to the end of the race. After all pit stops, the situation in the top five was unchanged.

Meanwhile Hamilton took the time to try out the ‘Time Trial’ mode of the new F1 2019 game, putting up fastest lap times on the board lap after lap. and extending his lead to twelve seconds.

LAT Images

With less than half of the race to go, trouble struck Norris and Grosjean. Norris was told by the McLaren team to not use DRS and that his car would soon become unstable, whilst Grosjean, in his home race, had to retire the car with just six laps to go.

A very short Virtual Safety Car was brought out near the end of the race, after Alex Albon hit a bollard that was then left stranded in the middle of the track.

With just two laps to go, Vettel came in for another pit stop to go for the extra point for the fastest lap, whilst his Leclerc chased Bottas for second place. Was this what Ferrari meant by Plan F?

On the last lap he got in DRS range of the Mercedes, but it didn’t matter. The top three in qualifying ended up as the race result. Vettel’s bid for the extra point paid off as he pipped Hamilton’s time by 0.02 seconds.

The Driver of the Day award went to no other than Lando Norris, who carried on racing with hydraulic problems to end up in tenth place.

F1 returns to Austria next weekend in the first double-header of the season. Last year saw Max Verstappen take the biggest trophy, whilst drama for Mercedes showed us that their engines are not invincible. Will this year’s race see the same drama, or are Mercedes really unbeatable now?

 

[Featured image – LAT Images]

TrackGuide: Paul Ricard Circuit

Location: Le Castellet, Marseille

Built: 1969

Track length: 3.63 miles

Last F1 race: 1990

Most Successful Driver: Alain Prost (4 x Wins – 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990)

Paul Ricard was a famous pastis, and often saw sport as an effective tool in marketing. He was the first commercial sponsor of the Tour de France. He decided to invest into a track and saw it as a huge gap in the market. This track was built in 1969 and first used in 1970. Formula 1 had a contract from 1971, it was used on and off until 1990 generally sharing with Dijon.

Paul Ricard sadly passed away in 1997 and some of his assets were sold on. In 1999 Excelis, owned by former chief executive of Formula 1 Bernie Ecclestone brought the track.

The track had serious investment placed into it, as it hadn’t been used frequently. It was developed into one of the most advanced test tracks in the world. It was recently used for Formula 2 and their pre-season testing programme. The most recent use for Formula 1 though was for wet tyre testing in May. Pirelli manually drenched the track to get knowledge on a new wet tyre they were researching.

France Gp tyre and circuit layout courtesy of Pirelli

The majority of track when first opened was the Mistral Straight, it was 1.1miles long. Elio de Angelis in 1986 testing had a horrific crash which resulted sadly in his death. The track was not at fault, it was a failure on the car, but the straight was shortened to make it safer to prevent such high speeds. They ran on a shorter track for the Grand Prix for the remaining 5 years, 1986 to 1990.

The track has been modified further for 2018, Mistral Straight’s length is what it was prior to de Angelis’ death but they have placed a chicane in the middle of it. This is to keep it safe with speeds down as well as with slipstreaming and DRS to create a further overtaking opportunity.

The track is great for the F1 fans due to the high speeds and its flowing nature. Great for the paddock too as there are three French drivers on the grid, Gasly, Grosjean and Ocon.

Looking at the circuit it should suit Mercedes better especially if the new engine is ready. With having a slight advantage on the straights expect to see Force India and Williams closer in the midfield battle.

F1 2018: French Grand Prix Returns After 10-Year Absence

The French Grand Prix returns to Paul Ricard this week, ten years after the last race in the country was held. Spare a thought for all the teams, who will no doubt be bracing themselves for the prospect of Formula One’s first ever triple-header, with the French, Austrian and British Grand Prix all taking place over the coming weekends.

Last time out in Canada was something of a shock to the system for many. Past form would have suggested Mercedes were set to dominate the weekend, but that was not the case at all. It may not have been the most exciting race in the world – it was really so very, very far from that – but Sebastian Vettel was sublime all weekend and he cruised to victory from pole position, followed home by Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen. With Lewis Hamilton in P5, it means that Sebastian Vettel is now in the lead of the championship, by just one point.

Ferrari won the last French Grand Prix – which was held at Magny Cours in 2008 and was won by Felipe Massa – and Kimi Raikkonen is one of only two drivers on the current grid, the other being Fernando Alonso, who have won the Grand Prix before. The power unit upgrades Ferrari introduced for Canada proved fruitful, and with Paul Ricard’s long straights you can expect the team to go very well again this weekend.

Mercedes, meanwhile, are set to finally introduce the power unit upgrades that were originally meant to be brought in for Canada, but were ultimately delayed because of quality control issues. There is no getting away from the fact that they were very underwhelming in Canada, and will definitely be grateful for the upgrades in France given the nature of the track.

Max Verstappen finished P3 in Canada – the first race this season that he has put in a weekend without incident – continuing Red Bull’s tradition in the hybrid era of performing better there than otherwise might be expected of them. With Daniel Ricciardo also finishing in the top five, and both drivers happy with the upgrades introduced, there is no apparent reason to suggest that Red Bull won’t be able to replicate that sort of performance in France.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon’s first win in a single-seater was actually at Paul Ricard, and he believes that he is potentially on for a good result this weekend. “On paper, the track should suit us,” he said, “with a long straight and some slow corners where we can use our car’s mechanical grip really well. It’s a track which will be new for everyone and we’re usually good at finding a set-up quickly, so I’m not too worried.”

Renault are currently enjoying their best start to a season since they returned to F1 as a works team in 2016, and they head into their home race having been bolstered by the power unit upgrade they brought in Canada. They are a respectable P4 in the WCC, 16 points ahead of McLaren. If both Renault and McLaren perform in France as they did in Canada, expect that gap to grow considerably.

Last time out at the Canadian Grand Prix, Haas introduced a new front wing and floor plus a revised bargeboard, and they are optimistic that these will suit the layout of the Paul Ricard track after two consecutive races of not getting either car into the points. This will actually be Romain Grosjean’s first home race in F1 – his rookie year was in 2009, a year after the last French Grand Prix took place – so expect him to be especially keen for a good result.

Both Toro Rosso drivers are similarly optimistic about what they might be able to achieve in the race. Pierre Gasly, for whom this is also a first home race in F1, has either won or at least gotten on to the podium every time he has raced at Paul Ricard, and Brendon Hartley, who crashed out of the last race in Canada along with Lance Stroll after contact between the pair, has said: “Paul Ricard is a circuit I know well, although not in a Formula 1 car. We did a lot of testing there with WEC in the LMP1 car and I won the LMP2 category in 2013. It was always a popular track for endurance testing and I’m also pretty handy round there in the night-time, although that’s not going to come into play in a Formula 1 car!”

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada
Sunday 10 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren, and Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, on the grid.
Image courtesy of  Andy Hone/McLaren ref: Digital Image _ONZ4265

Speaking of the World Endurance Championship, there is no doubt that the majority of the off-track spotlight will be on McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, fresh from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside his #8 Toyota co-drivers Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakijima. However, it may be a case of coming back to reality with a bump for Alonso, as well as for team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne. They struggled around Canada – Vandoorne finished two laps down in P16 and Alonso retired – and with Paul Ricard’s long straights it may unfortunately be more of the same for the Woking-based outfit.

Charles Leclerc is on a very impressive run of performances at the moment. In Canada he finished ahead of Gasly, both Haas cars, the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergey Sirotkin and even Sergio Perez in the Force India, and managed to hold off Fernando Alonso in several wheel-to-wheel duels before the Spaniard retired from the race.

Williams’ Lance Stroll is a lot more muted about the track than some of his rivals. “I know [it] from when I drove in Formula 3. I had a good time there and won a race, but I have to be honest because I can’t say I like it,” he said in Williams’ race preview. “It is just run offs everywhere and I am not a big fan.” As mentioned, he crashed out of the Canadian Grand Prix on the first lap – that just about sums up the luck he and the Williams team have been having this year – but maybe don’t expect the French Grand Prix to be the best place for a turn in fortunes.

Featured Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool