Our F1 correspondent. Nick van der Meulen, brings us this F1 preview France 2019.
Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France is a circuit that hosted its fair share of French Grands Prix in the 1970s and 80s, before being replaced by Magny Cours in 1991. It remained a popular F1 test venue in winter throughout the 1990s.
The circuit in Nevers kept hosting rights until the French Grand Prix fell away in 2009 – a ghastly thought, seeing the concept of motor racing began in France in 1906. The use of Paul Ricard, in the meantime, had been decaying to the point where it was only used for regional and national races (although the Bol d’Or endurance motorcycle race was held until 1999) before being bought by the very gentleman who ousted the French Grand Prix from the F1 calendar – Bernie Ecclestone.
Today, the circuit has again found popularity with F1 races, European GT events and the like being run with great success. It is a fast circuit with flowing corners and a lot of runoff area and, upon its return to the F1 calendar in 2018, Mercedes have proven to be fast with reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton taking victory. You can see highlights of the 2018 race here.
The French are fiercely patriotic and will be supporting all that is French above all others, therefore, Pierre Gasly, Romain Grosjean (although he is half-Swiss) and RENAULT! In this case, the French have much to hope for: while there isn’t really a chance of a French driver or French manufacturer winning this weekend, the partisan crowd can cheer them on to strong points finishes.
Gasly has a realistic chance of fighting for a top five finish with his Red Bull Honda, while Renault is hoping to capitalise on its strong performance in Canada last time out – bringing a number of upgrades to the party this weekend. Grosjean has been desperately unlucky this season and will be looking to have a fairytale weekend at home.
The show up front will, again, be the battle between the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers, with the talking point remaining THAT Vettel penalty at Montreal (which will, apparently, be reviewed by the stewards again after a formal request from Ferrari to the FIA).
Ferrari will be aiming to improve on its 17 wins at the French GP, the most for a constructor, and try to focus on getting the job done. Let’s hope that Sebastian Vettel will look ahead and not dwell on what happened a fortnight ago.
Mercedes remains the favourite, as ever, and Lewis Hamilton will be pushed hard by teammate Valtteri Bottas, who will aim to improve on his performance at Canada. Always expect Max Verstappen (Red Bull Honda) to be the so-called fly in the ointment. The Dutch youngster has matured a great deal in the last 12 months and has been regularly punching above his weight this season. The time will come when he will be rewarded for his herculean efforts.
The French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard has the potential to deliver an excellent spectacle. Let’s hope the public traffic drama (which they suffered from last year) is averted and that the crowds have something to cheer for.