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PREVIEW: 2021 French Grand Prix – Circuit Paul Ricard

5 Mins read
Credit: LAT Images

For the third race in a row, we journey to race that wasn’t part of the 2020 Formula 1 calendar.

The French Grand Prix was one of the many casualties of the Coronavirus pandemic. Even with the season getting a later start, the Circuit Paul Ricard still wasn’t a possibility.

The race is also the first of the first triple-header of the season. After the trip to Le Castellet, the F1 circus will head to Austria for two back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring.

Lewis Hamilton has won both times since it’s re-introduction to the F1 calendar in 2018.

What happened at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

Sergio Pérez took his first win in a Red Bull Racing car at an eventful Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc had claimed his second pole position in a row but found it difficult to keep the position, with Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Pérez overtaking him in the first couple of laps.

The first dramatic moment happened during a routine pit-stop for Hamilton, who was running out in front. His pit-stop was delayed due to having to wait an additional two-second as Pierre Gasly was passing in the pit lap. By the time both Verstappen and Pérez had pitted, they managed to jump Hamilton, leaving him down in fourth with yet to pit Sebastian Vettel in front.

On Lap 30, the safety car was brought out due to a failure to Lance Stroll’s left-rear tyre. The Canadian had started on the hard tyre and was yet to pit. The cars were behind the safety car for six laps and resumed racing on Lap 36.

The race had calmed down. Pérez was doing a great job defending Hamilton in second place and Verstappen was cruising out in front. It all came tumbling down when Verstappen also became victim to tyre failure on Lap 46, sending his car into the wall. Luckily, Verstappen was able to walk away from the incident, but eyebrows were raised at the reliably of the Pirelli tyre.

While the incident was being cleaned up, drivers were ordered to drive through the pit lap. A communication error between Nicholas Latifi and his Williams Racing team meant he stayed out and accrued a post-race thirty-second time penalty.

On Lap 48, race control ultimately deemed the race needed to be red flagged. This decision was made due to the shortness of the race left, just three laps, and Race Director Michael Masi wanted to give the driver a few laps to race instead of having the dying stages being behind a safety car.

After a delay of just over half an hour, the race was restarted as a standing start, meaning it would be a two-lap shoot-out to the finish line. Pérez was positioned in pole position with Hamilton just behind him.

Pérez was slow off the start, meaning Hamilton was able to get ahead but disaster came for the Brit when he accidently turned off his brakes and went flying off into the runoff area at Turn 1. Hamilton was able to re-join the track but crossed the line last.

Pérez cruised to glory and was joined by Vettel in second, who was also voted Driver of the Day for his storming race, and Gasly in third.

What happened at the 2019 French Grand Prix?

Hamilton took victory at the 2019 French Grand Prix, crossing the line just over eighteen seconds before his Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who came in second. The podium was rounded off with Leclerc coming in third.

The win was Mercedes eighth successive win in 2019 and the sixth one-two for the team in the season. The race itself wasn’t full of action but there were still a few mishaps.

Daniel Ricciardo crossed the line in seventh, but his last lap antics saw him receive two five-second time penalties. Lando Norris came into hydraulic issues on the last lap and as Ricciardo went to overtake him, he went deep at Turn eight and forced Norris off the track. 

This allowed Räikkönen to pass but Ricciardo battled back and overtook him on the straight. However, he was given one five-second penalty for failing to re-join the track safely and a second for overtaking Räikkönen off track on the straight.

Romain Grosjean was the only retirement, retiring on Lap 44 at his home race.

The Circuit

Drivers will race around the 5.842km track for a total of 53 laps, making race distance a grand total of 309.69km.

The circuit has fifteen corners in total, one of the lowest amounts on the F1 calendar.

Track record is held by Vettel. He set a time of 1:32.740 back in 2019.

Credit: Pirelli Media

Sectors, Corners and DRS Zones

Sector 1 consists of the first five corners, starting with “S” de la Verrerie and ending at Virage du Camp. 

Sector 2 starts at Turn 6, Virage de la Sainte-Beaume, before taking drivers along the Mistral straight. The final corner, Turn 9, is the Chicane Nord. 

The final six corners are all in Sector 3, starting with Signes and ending at Virage du Pont, the final corner. 

There are two DRS zones at Paul Ricard. The first is nestled in-between Turn’s 7 and 8, with the detection zone just before Turn 7. The second is along the start/finish straight, with the detection zone being just before driver’s head into Turn 14.

Tyre Strategy

Pirelli have chosen the mid-range tyres for the French Grand Prix. The compounds are the C2 as the white-striped hard, C3 as the yellow-striped medium and C4 as the red-striped soft.

Pirelli also predict the race to be a one-stopper, as was the winning strategy in 2019. Going from medium to the hard was the most popular choice.

What should we look out for this year?

Mercedes will be wanting to bounce back after having two less-than-satisfactory races at Monaco and Baku. Across both the races, they only walked away with six points, a big contrast to Red Bull, who accumulated sixty-two points across the races and now have a twenty-six-point lead over Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship.

The battle for third between Scuderia Ferrari and McLaren F1 Team is now even tighter. Ferrari leapfrogged McLaren after Baku and now just two points sit between the teams.

Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda got their first double-points finish of the season at the last race, that will surely give them the push to attempt to chase down McLaren, especially after Gasly’s podium in Baku.

With Räikkönen scoring a point at Baku, it is now just the Williams Racing and Uralkali Haas F1 Team drivers that are yet to score a point. 

What’s the schedule?

Friday 18 June

10:30 BST / 11:30 Local Time – Free Practice 1
14:00 BST / 15:00 Local Time – Free Practice 2

Saturday 19 June

11:00 BST / 12:00 Local Time – Free Practice 3
14:00 BST / 15:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 20 June

14:00 BST / 15:00 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 2021 French Grand Prix. You can watch all the coverage live on Sky F1 and see highlights on Channel 4.

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