Motorsport

French Grand Prix is back on track

2018-06-24 06:48
lewis hamilton
Lewis Hamilton (AP)

Cape Town - A 1.8km Mistral straight, a chicane to break it up, two hairpins to aid overtaking and a few more straights and kinks - the Paul Ricard circuit has all the ingredients for a good race, which is something Formula One needs after back-to-back boring grands prix.

LIVE: 2018 French GP

Both Monaco and Canada failed to produce the excitement the sport needs, but there are hopes that France's return to the calendar will add something special. Alas, it hasn't in the past.

France last appeared on the calender in 2008, as dwindling spectator numbers and rising costs meant Magny-Cours was booted off the calendar.

A decade later, France is back, but this time at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet. It last hosted a Grand Prix in 1990, but that was on the short track. The race will be on the longer 5.8km layout that was last used in 1985.

That year, Nelson Piquet won the Grand Prix ahead of Keke Rosberg and Alain Prost, while Ayrton Senna was one of 10 drivers who failed to finish. The Brazilian legend's Lotus-Renault suffered a blown engine and he crashed on his own oil.

Such has been the length of Paul Ricard's absence from the calendar that none of today's crop of drivers has contested a Formula One race at the circuit.

In fact, only half the field - Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Romain Grosjean, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Hülkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Brendon Hartley and Sergio Pérez - were even born before the last race.

On the surface of it, the track, distinguished by its long Mistral straight, should play to the strengths of Mercedes and its V6 engine. But should is by no means will, at least not this year.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff summed it up by saying there was "not really a pattern" to this year's form book.

"Before, on some tracks, we were dominant, and on others we struggled, but somehow the margins have become so tight this year," he said.

Those margins saw Max Verstappen top all three practice sessions in Canada, only for Vettel to take pole position and the win. Bottas salvaged some pride for Mercedes as he was second to Verstappen's P3 on the Sunday. Hamilton, a six-time Canadian Grand Prix winner, was nowhere, in fifth place.

Ferrari, who now lead the drivers' championship by a single point with Vettel, will be hoping that continues in France.

However, the introduction of Mercedes' B-spec engine - a race later than everyone else's - could see momentum once again swing in the team's favour.

But while the battle should, at least on paper, be between Vettel and Hamilton, Bottas is an outside favourite. The Finn has shown this season that he has pace and, at times, is the better of the Mercedes drivers, while Red Bull are benefiting from Renault's added oomph.

Pirelli's ultrasoft, supersoft and soft compounds will be in play, which could influence the race, as Paul Ricard's deeper run-off areas are known for being extremely abrasive, so drivers may pay the price for mistakes with extreme tyre wear.

Read more on:    mercedes  |  french gp  |  lewis hamilton  |  f1
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