Our French F1 Grand Prix Preview is brought to you by guest writer and F1 fundi Justin Johns:
Bonjour! It’s the French Grand Prix and after a 10-year absence, a happy and welcomed return to the home of motorsport. The energy this weekend is a bit different as the talking points have nothing to do with the track, the French team and drivers, or the race itself.
I imagine on race day Renault should receive some decent screen time along with the French drivers, but till the lights go out on Sunday let’s have a look at the off-track action, which is a good distraction from all the negative comments about the circuit.
Be sure to click here for a video of a very memorable Schumacher victory at the French GP.
The direct talking point revolves around which team Daniel Ricciardo will end up with for 2019, which yields indirect talking points on whether Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen will retire.
McLaren has apparently offered Danny Ricc a three-year contract at $20M per annum. If this is true, Fernando is retiring. The Spanish Samurai has not lost his desire to win, but certainly lost any chance to drive for a winning team again. It will be a loss for sure, he is my favorite driver of the modern era, but a driver needs to be great on and off the track, with the latter being Fernando’s weakness.
The other driver to most likely retire will be Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi is driving well, but still cracks under pressure, this has always been his weakness. Spa 2008 is the best example of him cracking and crashing under pressure. His career is littered with these moments and to be fair, a ton of bad luck. He is fearless and those moments still come through but Ferrari should be leading the constructor’s championship this year instead of Mercedes. This will be a point of contention for their driver line up.
Fernando and Kimi are the biggest factors in the driver market as their movements will open transfers for Ricciardo, Sainz, Gasly and Leclerc. Alonso and Raikkonen entered the sport together in 2001 and, I believe, it’s only fitting they exit together. Their long careers are a testament to their talent as well as entering the sport at a young age. They were the first of the real ‘young guns’ in the sport’s modern interpretation.
The law of diminishing returns
The law of diminishing returns will bring the cars closer before the rules shakeup occurs in 2021. I think in 2020, we will have four teams in the mix for the championship; the addition being Renault. The powertrain change for Red Bull Racing will not drop them back in terms of performance, maybe just in reliability. This change will not affect Danny Ricc’s decision either as RBR know what they are doing. It does help that this decision is locked down, but I don’t see how this will affect whether he stays or not.
A driver who can do nothing wrong is Charles Leclerc. He is an amazing talent and Ferrari should put him in the car next year even though it goes against their ethos of having experienced drivers in the car. It will be a first, and it will be fitting if they choose Charles. He has a connection to Jules Bianchi, who was his godfather and mentor, tied into the flair of his driving style which fits into what I imagine a Ferrari driver needs to possess. Ferrari needs to take on other young drivers and bring back that ‘Gilles Villeneuve’ flair.
With all the paddock talk happening, attention needs to be focused on the French drivers. Starting with, Romain Grosjean, who is under the most pressure. A podium is what will save his career this season as I have a sneaky feeling Haas will drop him and Romain is in danger of being labeled a journeyman. I don’t see a race winning team picking him up and he is now in the same boat as Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg. All talented drivers, but not on the radar of any top team.
Esteban Ocon has had a reserved season up until the point he passed Nico Hulkenberg around the outside of Turn 6 in Montreal -what a move! Weirdly not much attention was paid to it but it was spectacular. Esteban, for me, is a complete driver as he checks all the right boxes on and off the track. One more season and Mercedes will pick him up for sure. He will put on a show this weekend.
Last of the French drivers is Pierre Gasly whom I have rated highly from the junior categories. His fourth-place finish in Bahrain and car control (watch his onboard videos) are enough to put him in contention for the Red Bull seat should Ricciardo leave and Sainz stays at Renault. I’m hoping for some great wheel to wheel combat from him this weekend.
Renault has been dumped and are probably a little heartbroken with Cyril Abiteboul vowing to make Red Bull regret their decision. As with most spurned lovers, the drive to triumph again is strong, something we as fans would like to see as Renault will make it a four-horse race for the championship in the coming seasons. If Sainz stays and Fernando retires, it will be a symbolic passing of the baton to Carlos as he will be representing Spain and the hearts of many Fernando fans.
I didn’t want to go into detail about the Paul Ricard circuit as they are enough people complaining about the layout and, in general, just being negative. All I know is, we have not seen a modern Formula 1 race on this circuit before. There are too many unknowns to accurately say if it will be a nice circuit or not until the race is over. I’m also not going to refer to the tyres, as that deserves an article on its own.
Driving with your heart on your sleeve
What I do expect is a lot of drivers trying to put on a show so that they are in contention for some good seats, or simply to keep their seats. The silly season has begun. The off-track energy will play a part in this weekend’s race as drivers are emotional people and some might say have rather large egos. This will yield performances that may not be typical for some of the drivers. Oh yes, Sebastian and Lewis will still be fighting for the championship but will we get our fourth boring race in a row? I certainly hope not but I do expect this race to be more personal in terms of a driver’s emotions in their performance.