The eighth round of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship sees the field head to the traditional home of the ‘Grand Prix’ – namely France – where the teams and drivers will do battle at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
|Circuit Paul Ricard|
|Location||Le Castellet, France||Circuit Length||5.842 km / 3.630 mi|
|Opened||1970||First Grand Prix||1971|
|Lap Record||1:34.225 – Valtteri Bottas – 2018||2018 winner||Lewis Hamilton|
The Circuit Paul Ricard returned to host the Formula 1 World Championship last year for the first time since 1990, running on a modified configuration of its traditional full-course layout.
Built on the windswept plateau above the city of Marseilles 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 2019 – Schedule|
|Event Dates||21-23 June 2019||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 11:00-12:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 15:00-16:30||Free Practice Session 3||Sat 12:00-13:00|
|Qualifying||Sat 15:00-16:00||Race (53 laps)||Sun 15:10-17:10|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)
Rewind to 2018
Lewis Hamilton dominated Formula 1’s first French Grand Prix in ten years, reclaiming the Drivers’ Championship lead thanks to a first corner collision between title rival Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The contact – one of three separate collisions in a frantic opening lap – sent both drivers tumbling down the order and paved the way for Hamilton to cruise to victory and move back to the top of the championship standings.
Amid fears that Vettel, starting on the grippier Ultrasoft tyres, would get the jump on the Soft shod Mercedes’ at the start, Hamilton and Bottas both made good starts and boxed the Ferrari driver in on the run to Turn 1.
Vettel would, however, mistime his braking for the left-hander and hit the left-rear of Bottas’ Mercedes. The contact punctured the Finn’s left rear tyre and turned him into a spin, while Vettel’s Ferrari suffered front wing damage that would see both drivers limp to the pits for repairs.
Further behind, France’s three local heroes – Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly – all came to grief in a fraught opening lap. Grosjean and Ocon touched on the run to Turn 1 – leading to a five-second penalty for the former – and later around the lap Gasly collided with Ocon as the midfield pack tried to funnel its way through the Turn 4/5 chicane. Both drivers were out on the spot.
With Hamilton leading from Max Verstappen – who took to the Turn 1 run-off to avoid the Vettel-Bottas clash – and Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr., who swept past the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo through the opening sequence of corners, the field was neutralised behind the Safety Car so Ocon and Gasly’s cars could be retrieved.
The race resumed on Lap 5 and Hamilton quickly set about building a lead over Verstappen. The pair pulled away from Sainz, who fought gamely to keep Ricciardo’s identically powered Red Bull behind.
Ricciardo would soon breeze by Sainz’s Renault in one of many DRS-assisted overtaking moves that occurred during the race on the first part of the Mistral Straight approaching the Turn 7/8 chicane. Despite many drivers’ fears that this race would be a processional affair because of the chicane that punctuated the Mistral Straight, it proved to be very easy as DRS perhaps worked too effectively on this occasion.
Sainz steadily slipped down the order, falling behind the recovering Kimi Räikkönen and then Vettel, who had carved his way back up the order after his first-lap visit to the pits for a new front wing and a change to Soft tyres in the hope he could see out the race until the chequered flag.
Despite being issued with his own five-second penalty for causing the collision with Bottas, Vettel’s strong pace put him in contention for a podium position when Ricciardo and Räikkönen both made their sole pit stops mid-race, but his tyres began to fade over the final twenty laps of the race.
Ricciardo returned to third place when he overtook Vettel with a neat move at the Turn 10-11 right-hand complex, before Räikkönen got ahead of his teammate six laps later.
The Finn then used his superior tyre advantage to close up on Ricciardo and after a number of unsuccessful attacks at Turns 1 and 3, he drafted the Australian on the back straight and made the move stick at the Turn 7/8 chicane.
Vettel pitted a second time to protect the fifth place after Mercedes called Bottas in for his own second pit stop. The pair finished fifth and seventh, sandwiching Haas’ Kevin Magnussen who drove superbly to claim sixth.
Magnussen and Bottas both overtook Sainz in the final laps as the Spaniard slowed with a reported loss of power. He avoided falling out of the points’ paying positions altogether thanks to a late Virtual Safety Car, triggered in the final laps when Lance Stroll retired his Williams with a blown front left tyre.
Sainz was able to hang on to eighth place ahead of his teammate Nico Hülkenberg, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc finished in the points once again after another standout drive to tenth place.
Tyre Compound Selections
Pirelli will bring the same tyre compound mix it offered to the teams at the Australian, Chinese and Azerbaijan Grands Prix: namely the C2 compound as the Hard designation, C3 as the Medium, and C4 as the Soft tyre.
The Circuit Paul Ricard has undergone extensive resurfacing on its corners since last year’s event in a bid to bring a more consistent asphalt specification across the entire lap. The circuit has a very smooth layout that should mean tyre degradation is remains low, however the summer temperatures could create some thermal degradation. A one-stop strategy was favoured at last year’s race and it is expected that this will remain the case in 2019.
Unlike previous races, the top three teams – Mercedes-AMG, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing – have made near-identical tyre allocation choices with the Soft tyre being heavily favoured. Max Verstappen is perhaps a sole exception, with the Dutch driver opting for an extra set of Medium tyres compared to his rivals.
Below shows the complete grid’s tyre choices for this weekend’s French Grand Prix:
- This will be the 60th running of the French Grand Prix as a round of the Formula 1 World Championship. The race made its championship debut as the penultimate round of the inaugural 1950 season and apart from 1955 it had a consistent presence on the calendar until 2008.
- Among the seven circuits to have staged the French Grand Prix, the Circuit Paul Ricard is the second-most visited venue. The Le Castellet venue has hosted 15 Grands Prix to-date, behind only the Circuit Magny-Cours which was visited every year between 1991 to 2008.
- Michael Schumacher’s eight French Grand Prix victories – all achieved at Magny-Cours in 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2006 – makes him the most successful driver in the event’s history and indeed at any Grand Prix worldwide.
- With five Grand Prix victories at the Circuit Paul Ricard (earned in 1981, 1983, 1988, 1989 and 1990), Alain Prost is the most successful Formula 1 driver at this venue. The Frenchman achieved a sixth Grand Prix win on home soil in 1993 at Magny-Cours en route to claiming his fourth and final World Championship title.
- Among the teams’ French Grand Prix records, the most successful is Ferrari which has 17 victories. The Williams team has eight, while McLaren and Renault have five apiece and Mercedes has two.
- Of this year’s drivers, just two – Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Williams’ Robert Kubica – have never raced at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
- While his 300th Grand Prix appearance was marked at the Monaco Grand Prix last month, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen will actually make his 300th Grand Prix start this weekend. The 2007 World Champion will become the fifth driver in history to achieve this feat, joining Rubens Barrichello (323), Fernando Alonso (312), Michael Schumacher (307) and Jenson Button (306) in the ‘300 Club’.
- Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg will make his 164th Grand Prix start this weekend, beating the tally of starts achieved by Thierry Boutsen and Jacques Villeneuve to move to 27th on the all-time list. The German is yet to achieve a podium finish and currently holds the record of the most Grand Prix starts without ever visiting the rostrum.
- Sebastian Vettel will make his 113th Grand Prix start with Ferrari power this weekend, matching the tally of starts he made with Renault power (all with Red Bull Racing between 2009 to 2014 and with whom all four of his Drivers’ Championship titles have been won). Vettel’s races powered by Ferrari engines have been split between Scuderia Toro Rosso (2007-8) and Scuderia Ferrari (2015-present).
The France Form Guide
Defending French Grand Prix winner and 2018 Drivers’ Championship winner Lewis Hamilton heads into this weekend’s event with an extended 29-point lead in the points’ standings. The Mercedes driver claimed victory last time out in Canada thanks to a controversial time penalty handed out to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who claimed the chequered flag but was demoted to second place.
Hamilton’s closest rival in the Drivers’ Championship standings remains his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who will need to end Hamilton’s three-race unbeaten run to claw back the Englishman’s points’ lead.
While Mercedes-AMG is seeking an unprecedented eighth consecutive victory since the start of the season, the Brackley squad will know that Ferrari is a serious threat after the Italian team was genuinely able to match and beat its cars on pace last time out in Montréal. The Circuit Paul Ricard’s Mistral Straights, which combine to 1.8 kilometres in length, could play to the Ferrari cars’ and engines’ strengths.
|2019 French Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||16°C – 28°C||Saturday||16°C – 29°C||Sunday||17°C – 30°C|
Images via FIA, Mercedes AMG F1 Team, Pirelli Motorsport Media