This coming weekend, Formula 1 is back at the Circuit Paul Ricard for the second time following the reinstatement of the venue to the race calendar last year. This will be the 60th French Grand Prix, an event which has been hosted by the track outside Le Castellet on 15 previous occasions as well as by six other circuits: Magny Cours, Reims, Dijon, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand and Le Mans.
The Mercedes team came away from last year’s contest in France with a victory and a pole position for Lewis Hamilton and the fastest race lap for Valtteri Bottas. For Mercedes, it was only the second Formula 1 victory in France, the first having come in the 1954 season with the triumph of Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel of the W 196 R.
The 5.8-kilometer circuit did not exactly go down well with fans last year, with grandstands a fair distance away from the track, and extensive run-offs that allow mistakes to go almost totally unpunished. It’s safe to say that the track has some way to go to re-establish any respectable reputation in the sport.
Last year did, however, see drama on the first lap. Home heroes Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon crashed into each other, while early contact between Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas saw the pair pit as a result of the damage inflicted and come back up through the field with a couple of smart moves. Lewis Hamilton won the race but, apart from the odd moment, it was a race that generally left a lot to be desired.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Stats
Lap distance: 5.842 km. Total distance: 309.69km (53 laps)
2018 pole: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
2018 winner: Hamilton
Race lap record: One minute 34.225 seconds, Valtteri Bottas (Finland), Mercedes, 2018.
Can Ferrari Rebound?
Following the Canada controversy, which is still not over as Ferrari have officially lodged a right to review of Sebastian Vettel’s penalty, the Prancing Horses will again fancy their chances of springing an upset to the rampant Mercedes party by finally winning a race this year.
A fast circuit with long straights and few slow corners is fairly well suited to the Ferrari car, but Hamilton and Bottas will look to maximize some of the impressively fast corners around the track to continue their stunning start to what has turned out to be a historic season in terms of dominance.
This battle, after an impressive Ferrari showing in Canada, may make for a more interesting spectacle around the Paul Ricard track, but this won’t necessarily change the general consensus of the quality of the track.
A Lap around Paul Ricard
Honda to introduce Spec 3 power unit at French GP
Honda is set to introduce its Spec 3 power unit at this weekend’s French Grand Prix, as it continues on its aggressive development path, with both Red Bull drivers to run the upgraded specification.
Honda accelerated the introduction of its Spec 2 power unit, introduced in Azerbaijan, after a minor quality control issue was detected with its Spec 1 during practice in China.
The marque, which supplies Red Bull and Toro Rosso, is set to deliver Spec 3 for the upcoming event at Paul Ricard, a week before Red Bull’s home event in Austria.
Honda says the main work regarding Spec 3 has focused on the Internal Combustion Engine and turbocharger.
Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly are set to avoid grid penalties but Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat faces a demotion, having already reached his 2019 allocation. His Toro Rosso team-mate Alexander Albon is set to take on Spec 3 at a later event.
Honda’s alliance with Red Bull has enabled the manufacturer to enjoy its strongest results since returning to Formula 1 in 2015, with Verstappen having taken two podium finishes.
The Dutchman also finished runner-up on-the-road in Monaco before a time penalty relegated him outside of the podium positions.
"At the Paul Ricard circuit we will be running an upgraded Spec 3 Power Unit on Max, Pierre and Daniil’s cars," confirmed Honda F1 boss Toyoharu Tanabe.
"The changes to the previous specification are mainly around the ICE and the turbocharger.
"In this instance, our engineers at the Sakura, Japan R&D facility have worked closely with other departments within Honda, specifically the Aero engine development department.
"Their work and ours has many common technical features. For example, our 2018 update to the MGU-H, which dramatically improved its reliability, came as a result of our collaboration with them.
"In producing this Spec 3 PU, we have updated the turbocharger thanks to the knowledge and technology of the Aero engine department in the area of aerodynamic design, working alongside turbocharger manufacturer IHI.
"Our test bench data shows a power increase over the previous version of our PU, however we know that we have not yet matched the figures from the manufacturers currently leading the championship.
"But it’s a step in the right direction and we will continue our development throughout the rest of the season, calling on the resources of the whole company."
Honda is the first of the four engine manufacturers to introduce a third-specification power unit in 2019.
Ferrari and Renault both debuted their respective second-specification components in Spain, while Mercedes’ Phase 2 engine was introduced at the last event in Canada.
Toto Wolff Talks France
|Last year's start|
Canada was something of a wake-up call for us. After a run of very good reliability over the opening six races, we experienced a number of problems over the course of the weekend, almost all of which were of our own making – from the problem with the fuel system on Valtteri's car in FP1 to the hydraulic leak on Lewis' car which we had to fix on the morning before the race. We were fortunate that those reliability issues were exposed when we still had the chance to solve them, but we know that they could have easily ruined our weekend and it is down to the great skill of our mechanics that they didn't.
We expect another tough fight in France next weekend. The circuit features some similarities to Montreal and the long straights will present a challenge for us. However, unlike Canada, the corner characteristics are spread across a range of speeds, which should play to our advantage. We're looking forward to the chance to put a few things right again.
Part of our strength over the past three months was that the entire team – at the track, in Brackley and in Brixworth – delivered to a very high level and we need to make sure that we achieve the same high standard again for France.
Last week, the ten F1 teams met with the FIA and Formula 1. We agreed to postpone the presentation of the 2021 regulations until October, giving us all more time to work on them to achieve our shared goals. Formula One is the undisputed pinnacle of motorsports; every weekend, millions of fans around the globe share our excitement about racing. We want to use the unique opportunity of the 2021 regulations to make the series even more exciting for the fans, to make the racing more competitive and to grow the sport globally. Finding the right compromise between the various stakeholders is not easy, but we're united in our passion for racing and our will to define a set of rules that will see Formula One thrive in the next decade.
Last Year's Results
|2||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||53||+7.090s|
|4||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||53||+34.736s|
|6||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||53||+79.364s|
|10||16||Charles Leclerc||Sauber Ferrari||53||+93.873s|
|11||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|12||2||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren Renault||52||+1 lap|
|13||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||52||+1 lap|
|14||28||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso Honda||52||+1 lap|
|15||35||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Mercedes||52||+1 lap|
|16||14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Renault||50||DNF|
|17||18||Lance Stroll||Williams Mercedes||48||DNF|
|NC||11||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||27||DNF|
|NC||31||Esteban Ocon||Force India Mercedes||0||DNF|
|NC||10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso Honda||0||DNF|