Formula 1 visits the true home of the Grand Prix this weekend with France making a long-awaited comeback to the Formula 1 World Championship calendar after a 10-year hiatus.
The Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet plays host to the eighth round of the 2018 season, kicking off a succession of back-to-back races over the next three weekends which will be followed by races in Austria and Britain.
|Circuit Paul Ricard|
|Location||Le Castellet, France||Circuit Length||5.842 km / 3.630 mi|
|Opened||1970||First Grand Prix||1971|
|Lap Record||1:39.914 – Keke Rosberg (Williams, 1985)||2017 winner||Not Applicable|
Circuit Paul Ricard hosts the Formula 1 World Championship for the first time since 1990 and it will run on a full-course layout for the first time since 1985 – albeit on a modified configuration.
Built on the windswept plateau above the city of Marseille with finance from the eccentric pastis magnate Paul Ricard (after whom the circuit is named), its innovative facilities made it one of the safest racing tracks of its era and popular among racing teams as a test venue.
It made its Formula 1 World Championship debut in 1971 and for the most part was a mainstay on the calendar until it was permanently replaced by the Magny-Cours circuit in 1991. Under the management of former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, the venue was reconfigured to a test facility and substantially upgraded to allow for a combination of track layouts to be used.
Paul Ricard’s famous 1.8-kilometre long Mistral Straight has been cut in two by a chicane, giving the 5.8-kilometre long circuit three high-speed straights and two DRS zones with which to attempt an overtaking move.
Overall, it presents a broad range of intricacies – heavy braking zones, high- and low-speed corners – that will open up potential set-up and strategic options for the teams.
|Formula 1 Pirelli Grand Prix de France 2018 – Schedule|
|Event Dates||22-24 June 2018||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 12:00-13:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 16:00-17:30||Free Practice Session 3||Sat 13:00-14:00|
|Qualifying||Sat 16:00-17:00||Race (53 laps)||Sun 16:10-18:10|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)
Tyre Compound Selections
Pirelli has allocated its Soft, Supersoft and Ultrasoft compounds for this weekend’s French Grand Prix, and with the Paul Ricard circuit considered to be one of the more abrasive track surfaces on the calendar we could see a broad range of strategies adopted by the teams.
Red Bull Racing has opted for a conservative approach with its allocation of the softest available tyre compound compared to its frontrunning rivals, Mercedes and Ferrari. Given the RB14 is comparatively kinder to its tyres than its works’ competitors, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have just seven sets of the purple-walled Ultrasoft tyres in their respective allocations, with three sets apiece of the Soft and Supersoft rubber.
Conversely, Mercedes and Ferrari have taken different paths with each driver. New championship leader Sebastian Vettel has nine sets of Ultrasofts, three Supersoft sets and just one set of Soft tyres to match the tyre choices of his title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Their respective teammates, Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas, have nine sets of Ultrasoft tyres but two apiece of the Supersoft and Soft rubber.
The struggling Williams team has taken the most aggressive approach of all with ten sets of Ultrasoft tyres for Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.
Below shows the complete grid’s tyre choices for this weekend’s French Grand Prix:
Contribution by Luke McCullough
- This is the 59th running of the French Grand Prix as a World Championship Grand Prix. France is one of the original homes of the Formula 1 World Championship, having staged races between 1950-1954 and 1956-2008. The 1955 race was cancelled in the wake of the Le Mans 24 Hours disaster and then dropped from the calendar after 2008.
- Circuit Paul Ricard will host the French Grand Prix for the fifteenth time. The Le Castellet circuit first hosted the championship in 1971, followed by events in 1973, 1975-6, 1980, and 1982-3 while it alternated hosting duties with Clermont-Ferrand and Dijon. It secured permanent hosting duties from 1985 to 1990 before being replaced by the new Circuit Magny-Cours from 1991.
- Michael Schumacher is the most successful driver in the French Grand Prix’s history with eight wins, all coming at the Circuit Magny-Cours. Scuderia Ferrari is the most successful constructor with 17 victories, with two coming at the Circuit Paul Ricard. McLaren and Williams are the most successful teams at Le Castellet with three victories apiece.
- Alain Prost is the most successful Grand Prix driver at Paul Ricard, with four of the Frenchman’s 51 career victories occurring at the venue. He won the 1983 event for Renault, claimed back-to-back wins in 1988 and 1989 with McLaren before securing a hat-trick in 1990 in Ferrari’s colours.
- This year’s field has two French Grand Prix winner: Fernando Alonso won the 2005 event at Magny-Cours for Renault while Kimi Räikkönen won in 2007 for Ferrari. Both went on to win the Drivers’ Championship titles in those years.
- Qualifying serves as a useful barometer for victory at the Circuit Paul Ricard. In the French Grand Prix’s previous fourteen races, victory has been claimed from pole position eight times. The lowest a race-winner has started from the race is from fifth on the grid, with Ronnie Peterson (1973) and Nelson Piquet (1985) both achieving the feat from the third row of the grid.
The France Form Guide
The championship battle is a tight affair at the top of both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ standings after Sebastian Vettel claimed victory in Canada and returned to the top of the points table by one point over Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes (Spain), Red Bull Racing (Monaco) and Ferrari (Canada) have taken merit-based victories from pole position over the past three Grands Prix and with this being the first Grand Prix at Paul Ricard in almost thirty years Friday’s practice session will be the first true indicator of the grid’s pecking order.
While Vettel and Hamilton are split by just a single point, there is a healthy gap back to the chasing pack, with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas now third in the standings thanks to his second-placed finish in Canada, albeit 35 points off the outright lead.
Behind the top three teams, the midfield should again be a closely fought affair. Renault will be keen to deliver a strong performance at its home Grand Prix but will find itself being given a hard time by rivals Force India, McLaren and Haas – the American team’s VF-18 has been slippery in a straight line and could well find the Circuit Paul Ricard’s layout playing to its car’s strengths.
On the back of an improved showing and three points’ finishes to-date at the hands of Charles Leclerc, the Alfa Romeo Sauber team could also be in the mix and threaten for a top-ten result this weekend as well.
|2018 French Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||20°C – 31°C||Saturday||17°C – 26°C||Sunday||16°C – 26°C|
Images via FIA, LAT, Pirelli Motorsport Media