PREVIEW: 2019 Formula 1 French Grand Prix – Circuit Paul Ricard

by Sudha Sundararaj

The eighth round of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship will take place this weekend at the Circuit Paul Ricard near Marseille, France. The French Grand Prix returned to the Formula 1 calendar last year after a decade-long hiatus.

The inaugural French Grand Prix took place in 1950 at Reims-Gueux circuit as part of the first Formula 1 World Championship. Juan Manuel Fangio won the first Grand Prix for Alfa Romeo.

The first race at the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet was held in 1971. The inaugural race at this circuit was won by Jackie Stewart for Tyrrell-Ford.

The race was held every other year at this circuit as it alternated with first the Charade circuit and then the Dijon-Prenois circuit. The race was held for a six-year stretch (1985-1990) at the Paul Ricard circuit before moving to the Magny-Cours circuit.

The next eighteen races were held at Magny-Cours (1991-2008) before the race went off the Formula 1 calendar until 2018. Lewis Hamilton won the French Grand Prix on its return to the calendar last year.

What happened at the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton scored his fifth win of the season at the 2019 Canadian Grand Prix. The Mercedes AMG Motorsport team maintained its perfect record with seven wins in the first seven races of this season.

Sebastian Vettel crossed the finish line first. But a controversial five-second penalty imposed by the stewards for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner on lap 48 demoted Vettel to second-place.

Hamilton inherited the win even as a heated debate about the controversial decision by the stewards erupted. The Ferrari team has decided to ask the FIA to review the penalty imposed on Vettel.

The Ferrari team made a comeback at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve after struggling to compete with the Silver Arrows since the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Ferrari SF90 was well-suited for this power circuit with long straights.

Vettel took pole position ahead of Hamilton. Charles Leclerc and a resurgent Daniel Ricciardo started on the second row. Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas were on the third row. Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat lined up behind them.

Vettel made a good start to lead Hamilton, Leclerc, Ricciardo, and Gasly into Turn 1. Vettel maintained his lead in the first stint, but Hamilton stayed in close proximity. After the first pitstop, Hamilton cut the gap to Vettel and a battle royal unfolded for the race lead.

Under pressure from Hamilton who was within DRS-range lap after lap, Vettel made a mistake with twenty-two laps to go. At Turn 4, Vettel ran wide over the grass and rejoined the track in front of Hamilton.

The stewards deemed that Vettel rejoined the track in an unsafe manner and he had forced Hamilton off the circuit in the bargain. The five-second penalty was handed out with thirteen laps to go and Vettel could not pull the required gap to Hamilton in the remaining laps.

The German was infuriated by the penalty that denied him the win and did not hesitate to display his displeasure against the decision after the race.

Leclerc joined Hamilton and Vettel on a rather tense and awkward podium. Bottas and Verstappen started out of position and recovered to finish in fourth and fifth position respectively.

Ricciardo and Hulkenberg finished in sixth and seventh position for a double-points finish for Renault. Gasly, Lance Stroll, and Kvyat completed the top 10 positions and scored valuable points. Bottas took the extra point for fastest lap to add to his points tally.

What happened at the 2018 French Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton clinched an impressive win at the 2018 French Grand Prix. Hamilton with his sixty-fifth career win took over the top spot in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton started from pole position. Team-mate Bottas joined him on the first row. Vettel and Verstappen started on the second row. Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen lined up on the third row. Sainz, Leclerc, Magnussen and Romain Grosjean lined up at the front of the grid.

Hamilton made a good start with Vettel picking up the slipstream behind him. As Bottas drew alongside Vettel, Vettel locked up and tagged Bottas and lost his front wing. Bottas suffered a rear puncture. There was more carnage at the back as Gasly and Esteban Ocon were involved in a race-ending collision.

The Safety Car came out and Bottas and Vettel limped back to the pits. Both drivers joined the race at the back of the grid on the soft tyres. Vettel was given a five-second penalty for the first lap incident. Vettel and Bottas had to script a recovery drive to get back in the points.  

Hamilton kept Verstappen at bay to clinch the win. Raikkonen completed the podium places. Ricciardo finished fourth and Vettel finished in fifth position. Magnussen, Bottas, Sainz, Hulkenberg, and Leclerc rounded off the top 10 positions.

The Circuit

The 5.842 kilometers circuit built on a flat plateau has fifteen corners without many elevation changes. The track has large run-off areas in stark contrast to the narrow street circuits in the previous two races at Monaco and Canada.

It is a circuit that demands good aerodynamic balance because of the mix of high, medium and slow speed corners. The long Mistral straight also demands good straight line speed. High G-forces of upto 5G is experienced by the drivers on this track with good overtaking opportunities.

Credit: Pirelli Media

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 5) starts with a left-hander at Turn 1 followed by a right-hander at Turn 2. The tight Turns 3 and 4 leads to the final right-hander at Turn 5.

Sector 2 (Turn 6 to Turn 9) consists of the long right-hander at Turn 6 and the kink at Turn 7 leading to the long 1.8 km Mistral straight. The chicanes at Turns 8 and 9 punctuates the middle of this straight and offers good overtaking opportunities.

Sector 3 (Turn 10 to Turn 15) starts with the high-speed right-hander at Turn 10 (Signes). This is followed by the shoe-horn double apex corner at Turn 11 (Beausset bend) leading to a couple of tight corners. The final tight right-hander at Turn 15 leads to the start-finish straight.

There are two DRS zones with the first DRS detection point before Turn 7 and the second detection point before Turn 14.  First DRS Activation Zone is after Turn 7 on the first part of the Mistral straight and the second DRS Activation Zone is after Turn 15 (Start-Finish Straight).

Tyre Strategy

The white-striped hard tyres (C2), the yellow-striped medium tyres (C3) and the red-striped soft tyres (C4) nominated for this race is in the middle of the range of Pirelli tyres. This was the same compounds of tyres nominated for the races in Australia, China, and Azerbaijan.

The drivers have chosen eight or more sets of the soft compound tyres (C4) in the thirteen sets allocated to them.  The Mercedes, Ferrari drivers and Gasly have chosen nine sets of the soft compound tyres. Verstappen has chosen eight sets of the soft compound tyres.

It was a one pit stop race for most of the drivers influenced by the early Safety Car last year. Part of the circuit has been resurfaced with new asphalt and the smooth surface will cause low tyre degradation.

The high temperatures expected for the race this year might lead to thermal degradation.

Credit: Pirelli Media

What should we look out for this year?

Mercedes has won all the seven races this season. Hamilton triumphed last year and will start as the favourite this year. The good aerodynamic performance of the Mercedes W10 is well-suited for this circuit.

Ferrari made a comeback at the previous race with Vettel taking pole position. The controversial penalty ultimately denied Vettel victory. The Ferrari SF90 with its strong straight line speed should perform well at the Paul Ricard circuit.  

Verstappen finished second at this race last year. The Dutchman who has made a strong start to the season will again be a strong contender for a podium position. All eyes will be on the French drivers, Gasly and Grosjean, at their home race.

Renault had a mini-resurgence with a strong double-points finish in Canada. The French team will be looking to make another step forward at their home Grand Prix.

Hamilton (162 points) is now leading team-mate Bottas by twenty-nine  points in the drivers’ championship. Vettel (100 points) is in third position in the championship.  Verstappen (88 points) and Leclerc (72 points) round off the top 5 positions in the drivers’ championship.

Mercedes (295 points) has extended the lead in the constructors’ championship to 123 points over Ferrari (172 points). Red Bull Racing (124 points) led by Verstappen sits in a strong third position. McLaren (30 points) and Renault (28 points) complete the top 5 positions in the constructors’ championship.

Ferrari will hope that their improved performance in Canada will be cemented at the French Grand Prix and they can close the gap further to their arch-rival Mercedes. Red Bull Racing also will be in the mix with their in-season development paying dividends.

The controversy at the Canadian Grand Prix spiced up the Hamilton-Vettel rivalry. An exciting French Grand Prix could help reignite the title fights again.

What’s the schedule?

Friday 21 June

09:00 GMT / 11:00 Local Time – Free Practice One
13:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 22 June

10:00 GMT / 12:00 Local Time – Free Practice Three
13:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 23 June

13:10 GMT / 15:10 Local Time – Race

How can I keep up with the action?

Follow all the action at the Checkered Flag with our extensive coverage, quotes and analysis of every session of the French Grand Prix.

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