It’s a welcome return to the French Grand Prix as the first of three consecutive race weekends takes place at the Circuit Paul Ricard on Sunday. Here are your reasons to watch all of the action this weekend!
Formula One’s return to France
Formula One returns to France for the first time since 2008 and to the Paul Ricard track for the first time since 1990. Plenty has changed since then, and only four of the drivers on this year’s grid competed in the last French Grand Prix, which was held at Magny Cours a decade ago. Kimi Raikkonen finished runner-up to his Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa in that race, Fernando Alonso picked up a solitary point for Renault in eighth, Lewis Hamilton finished a lowly tenth in his first championship-winning year, while Sebastian Vettel came home in twelfth for Toro Rosso.
The past three races have been increasingly sub-par, so there is a certain amount of pressure on the French Grand Prix to deliver. Worryingly, some of the drivers aren’t impressed by what the revamped circuit has to offer.
After testing with Mercedes here in 2017, Lewis Hamilton commented that he thought the return of the French Grand Prix is taking place at the “wrong track”, adding that “it’s not as great as Magny-Cours”. So will the 87th running of the French Grand Prix deliver the showstopper we’re all craving?
Three drivers in their first home event
Three drivers will experience their first home race this weekend. Romain Grosjean, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly will all line-up on the grid on their local territory for the first time on Sunday. Grosjean missed out on racing at Magny Cours in F1, as it was taken off the calendar for 2009. In his only French GP2 weekend in 2008, Grosjean retired from both the Feature Race and the Sprint Race. He’ll be hoping for better luck this weekend, and he needs it too, having not scored any points so far this season.
Perhaps surprisingly, of the three French drivers, it is Pierre Gasly who has taken the most championship points so far in 2018.
French drivers have done well here in the past – Alain Prost has three poles and four wins, the most of any driver. Jacques Laffite and Rene Arnoux also each took a pole here, while Arnoux’s 1982 win, when added to Prost’s four wins, means that French drivers have taken over a third of the victories in races held at this track.
Renault will also contest in their first home race since 2008. The team have won the French Grand Prix on five occasions, including wins at the Paul Ricard track in 1982 and 1983. Their divorce from Red Bull is likely to be the main talking point surrounding their weekend, as Red Bull has announced a new two-year partnership with Honda from next season.
Both Christian Horner and Cyril Abiteboul will appear in Friday’s Press Conference, along with McLaren’s Eric Boullier, so there may be some interesting chatter there…
A return to normality for Fernando?
Following his victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend, it’s a return to normality for Fernando Alonso this weekend as he gets back behind the wheel of an F1 car.
Undoubtedly, there’ll be plenty of questions to the Spaniard about his victory and its effect on his future in Formula One. Alonso has already hinted he may be switching to a full-time IndyCar role next year, so his approach to the topic when asked this weekend could be very insightful.
Whatever the conversation is off-track, Alonso is unlikely to enjoy two victories on French soil in two weekends.
Which way will the title battle swing?
It was advantage Ferrari last time out in Canada, while Mercedes struggled. This track is expected to suit Mercedes’ package though. It’ll be the first time the team have ever competed at this track and they’ll be bringing their delayed, upgraded engine with them.
Valtteri Bottas has been cautious in the run-up to the race, saying that his team “are definitely not the favourites”, though new engines in both cars will certainly help their cause.
Just one point separates Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the top of the standings, while Mercedes lead the way in the Constructors’ Championship by seventeen points. Will Mercedes’ new engines give them enough of a boost in performance to maintain their lead over Ferrari and for Hamilton to re-take the lead in the Drivers’ Championship?
The start of a triple-header
‘Momentum’ is a word which is mentioned a lot in F1, and it’s such momentum which could make or break a driver’s or team’s year over the next 21 days. For the first time in Formula One history, we have three rounds of the championship over the next three consecutive weekends. With a maximum of 75 points on offer to the drivers and a maximum of 129 points on offer to the teams, the face of the two championships could change dramatically in the coming weeks.
Compromises will have to be made due to the tight travel schedule – the teams won’t be taking their usual European motorhomes to the next round in Austria due to time constraints – and the number of hours worked by those in the teams will be unprecedented.
This batch of triple headers could have a knock-on effect on future years’ calendar sizes if the three-week schedule is attainable. Will everyone be able to cope with the high levels of performance expected for all three weekends?
The 2018 French Grand Prix gets underway at 3:10pm BST on Sunday. In the UK, coverage is exclusively live on Sky Sports F1.