2019 French Grand Prix: The Rookie Report

by Sudha Sundararaj

At the French Grand Prix, the eighth race of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, Lando Norris had an impressive outing and was the only rookie driver to score points. Norris was also voted “Driver Of The Day” for good measure.

The other three rookie drivers fell away during the race and finished at the back of the field. The performance graph of these drivers has dipped in recent races as their teams have struggled.

LANDO NORRIS (MCLAREN F1 TEAM)

QUALIFYING: FIFTH, RACE: NINTH

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Lando Norris qualified in fifth position at the Circuit Paul Ricard. The young British driver finished in the top 10 in every free practice session at the French Grand Prix. Norris made it count when it mattered with a career-best fifth position in qualification.

Norris started in front of his team-mate Carlos Sainz on the third row. Norris made a good start but Sainz managed to move ahead of him on the outside.

Both McLaren drivers had to yield a position to Sebastian Vettel in a much faster car as he started behind them in seventh position. Norris held on to seventh position in his first stint on medium compound tyres.

McLaren’s good long run pace during the free practice sessions was borne out by the good race pace of both the McLaren drivers. After a good first stint of eighteen laps, Norris pitted for the hard compound tyres.

Norris made his way back to the front and was back in a strong seventh position, right behind his team-mate Sainz. McLaren was on course to decisively win the midfield battle when trouble struck with twenty laps to go.

A hydraulic issue led to Norris’s car having issues with the DRS, the brakes, and power steering. The young rookie driver dealt well with the problems, but soon fell into the clutches of the chasing pack of Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, and Nico Hulkenberg.

On the final lap, Ricciardo made a dodgy overtake move on Norris. Ricciardo rejoined the track in an unsafe manner and pushed Norris off the track. In the ensuing melee, Räikkönen and Hulkeberg also passed Norris.

This dropped Norris three places to tenth position. It looked like the young Brit had to be content with one point and the “Driver of the Day” accolade.

The stewards hit Ricciardo with a double penalty for his adventurous moves on the last lap which dropped him to eleventh position. Norris was promoted to ninth position and he secured two precious points.

This halted the three-race streak where Norris had not scored points. Team-mate Carlos Sainz finished in sixth position as McLaren had an impressive weekend at Le Castellet.

“I had a good start, same as the guys ahead of me. Being on the inside, I got boxed in and Carlos managed to go around the outside, which was something I couldn’t have done from my starting position on the inside,” said Norris.  

The rest of the race was good, I had good pace and was just managing the gap to Carlos to protect my tyres for later in the race.

“A hydraulic issue, around 20 laps from the finish, cost me a lot of time and made the car really hard to drive. The steering wheel went really heavy and I lost the power steering,

“It was really tough, I did my best not to lose places but it was too much of an issue to hang on as I had lost so much pace. Still, one point, considering everything, is a good result as it could have been much worse.

Great job by the team all weekend and everyone back at the factory to give us both such a quick car.”

https://twitter.com/F1/status/1142842910825750528

Norris is now in twelfth position in the drivers’ championship with fourteen points.

ALEXANDER ALBON (SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO)

QUALIFYING: ELEVENTH, RACE: FIFTEEN

Credit: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Alexander Albon qualified in eleventh position at the French Grand Prix. On a weekend when the Scuderia Toro Rosso team struggled for pace, Albon got the best possible result in qualification.

Team-mate Daniil Kvyat was sent to the back of the grid due to penalties for taking on new elements to his Power Unit (PU). A bad start by Albon saw him make a mistake at Turn 2 on the first lap that saw him lose five positions.

After a long first stint of twenty-five laps on the medium compound tyres, Albon pitted for the hard compound tyres. In the second stint, Albon progressed to fourteenth position before he got into an exciting duel with team-mate Kvyat in the final laps.

Kvyat overtook Albon and the two Toro Rosso drivers finished outside the points after a disappointing weekend. Albon’s fifteenth position was his second race without any points.

“Unfortunately, our race was compromised from lap one as I went wide into Turn 2 and got boxed out. I didn’t realise how much grip there was on the outside and I lost a few positions,” said Albon.

“We were quicker than the cars in front but struggled to get past them as everyone was in the DRS train, so I spent most of the race behind another car. We lacked a bit of pace today, so we need to understand why and where we can improve.

“It was good fun battling with Dany, however, fighting for positions outside of the points is not where either of us wants to be.”

https://twitter.com/F1/status/1143114554131570688

Albon sits in fifteenth position in the drivers’ championship with seven points.

ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI (ALFA ROMEO RACING)

QUALIFYING: TENTH, RACE: SIXTEENTH

Antonio Giovinazzi - Formula 1 - 2019 Canadian GP
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Antonio Giovinazzi is still looking for that first elusive point of his Formula 1 career. The Alfa Romeo Racing team has lacked pace and struggled in the last three races.

Giovinazzi qualified in an impressive tenth position. For the second race in a row, Giovinazzi outqualified his team-mate Räikkönen for good measure. The Italian driver along with Pierre Gasly was the only two drivers among the top 10 drivers on the grid who started on the soft compound tyres.

Giovinazzi’s race was compromised as he had a very short first stint of only seven laps on the fragile soft compound tyres. After a second stint on the hard compound tyres, Giovinazzi had to pit again for a set of medium compound tyres.

The extra pit stop cost Giovinazzi dear and he could only finish in sixteenth position. His team-mate Räikkönen with one pit stop less and a well-crafted race finished in seventh position.

“It was disappointing to finish out of the points, but we were up against it when starting on the soft tyres,” said Giovinazzi.

“It was the price to pay for a good performance on Saturday, but it effectively compromised my race before the start. We pitted early as the softs didn’t last, but in the end we had to make another stop in order to finish the race.

“I can still take some positives from a strong qualifying, and of course it was important for the team to get back into the points.

“I would have loved to celebrate Alfa Romeo’s birthday with a better result, but we showed to be competitive and hopefully we can carry this form to the next races.”

Giovinazzi sits in eighteenth position at the bottom of the drivers’ championship with no points, just ahead of the two Williams drivers.

GEORGE RUSSELL (WILLIAMS RACING)

QUALIFYING: NINETEENTH (Started TWENTIETH), RACE: NINETEENTH

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

George Russell, as has become the norm, outqualified his team-mate Robert Kubica again. But penalties imposed for new power unit elements dropped him to dead last on the grid.

He started on the medium compound tyres and overtook Kvyat on the first lap. After a long first stint of twenty-four laps, Russell pitted for the hard compound tyres.

But Russell was forced to pit for a second time for a change of front wing. The Briton had earlier suffered damage when he went off track in a bid to overtake Kubica on the outside. Russell hit a polystyrene board and the damage he suffered worsened in the closing laps.

The second pit stop resulted in Russell finishing dead last and behind his team-mate Kubica.

“With my first attempt to overtake Robert around the outside, I ran wide and hit the polystyrene board. We thought that wasn’t too much of an issue but then we found that damage to the front wing worsened,” said Russell.

“For safety reasons we decided on the change. The pace seems strong, but it was an expected day. We need to be patient, learn as much as we can and then hopefully in a number of races time start the battle. Overall, not satisfied, not disappointed just normal.

Russell sits in nineteenth position at the bottom of the drivers’ championship, just ahead of Kubica.

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