Following an exhilarating race across the streets of Baku a fortnight in the past, this thrilling Components 1 season continues with the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard. After avenue races in Monaco and Azerbaijan, the place area is at a premium, there definitely isn’t any of the concerns related to these tracks as Paul Ricard stands out if just for its vivid and intensive run-off areas.
Maybe not fairly in the identical league as Magny-Cours which hosted the French Grand Prix between 1991 and 2008, there may be nonetheless hope that this aggressive season can generate extra pleasure at a monitor that struggled to seize the creativeness in 2018 and 2019.
Hamilton v Verstappen title battle
As it’s nonetheless unclear what number of races shall be accomplished due to journey restrictions in nations severely affected by the pandemic, it’s critical for the 2 title contenders that they rating as many factors as attainable within the races that appear more likely to go forward in Europe over the subsequent few months.
It’s comprehensible then that Max Verstappen was left feeling annoyed at not solely dropping out on the utmost 25 factors in Baku however the evaluation from tyre provider Pirelli that the tyre blowouts in Azerbaijan had been “associated to the operating situations of the tyre”.
The Dutchman has responded by saying that Pink Bull “didn’t do something fallacious, so they can not blame us”, however Lewis Hamilton seems to have extra confidence within the tyres being provided, saying “I believe they’ve executed a fantastic job with the tyres this yr, they’re extra strong than earlier than”.
Whether or not this has any psychological impact on the motive force’s strategy to racing on the French Grand Prix stays to be seen, however the FIA has issued new protocols that embrace extra checks on tyre pressures and temperature to allow protected operating and hopefully keep away from a repeat of the high-speed crashes that Lance Stroll and Verstappen suffered final trip.
Anyhow, the momentum going into the French Grand Prix seems to be with Pink Bull after two races the place they’ve out-performed their Mercedes rivals, and issues could be trying even rosier had the Verstappen crash not occurred, given they had been heading in the right direction for a primary 1-2 in practically 5 years.
Their kind on the French Grand Prix in the previous few years has not been as spectacular although, failing to qualify increased than 4th and Verstappen ending second in 2018 their finest race consequence.
In the meantime, two wins from two have been the story for Hamilton, who doesn’t appear to be struggling any unwell results from his lock-up close to the tip of the race in Baku which price him the prospect of scoring factors, saying “I don’t really feel any strain. I really feel fairly relaxed”. All of the discuss within the build-up then means that each drivers have loads of battle left in them. It’s shaping as much as be one other closely-fought race.
Ricciardo kind at McLaren
Whereas new Pink Bull signing Sergio Perez has tailored nicely to new environment, one other former Pink Bull man hasn’t fairly lived as much as the hype at his new group. In 2020, Daniel Ricciardo scored two podiums, two quickest laps and completed fifth within the standings for Renault who themselves solely completed fifth within the constructor’s standings.
Nevertheless as compared this season, the Australian has solely two sixth place finishes to point out for his efforts and struggled in Azerbaijan, compromising his race with a crash in qualifying that introduced out the purple flag.
Much more frustratingly, he’s being out-performed by Lando Norris, a relative rookie when it comes to Ricciardo’s expertise in Components 1, in a task reversal of the 2014 season when he completed forward of reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel within the standings.
The Brit in the meantime is having fun with a stellar season, scoring podiums and prime 5 finishes aplenty. The Portuguese Grand Prix in October final season was the final time he failed to attain factors and has extra factors within the opening six races this yr than he did in the complete 2019 season.
With a Mercedes engine within the automobile once more this season for the primary time since 2014, McLaren was hopeful going into 2021 that they’d be proper on the entrance of the grid once more after the disastrous Honda period and the common previous few years with Renault.
The efficiency of Norris has largely justified this expectation, however an enchancment on final season’s third within the constructors appears unlikely given the resurgence of Pink Bull and Ferrari, and in addition depends upon Ricciardo discovering the type of these Pink Bull days when race victories and audacious overtakes had been the norm.
Residence race for Alpine
It has been a quiet begin to the season for Alpine, the group was previously referred to as Renault however rebranded to advertise Renault’s model of sports activities vehicles. Simply 25 factors collected and a mediocre begin for Fernando Alonso on his return to the game after two years away, solely salvaged by a superb cost on the dramatic restart in Baku that introduced a sixth place end, the very best of the season for the group.
Nevertheless, there shall be little probability of the group going below the radar this weekend with 15,000 followers set to be allowed to attend the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, and with a Frenchman, Esteban Ocon driving for the group.
It has been an excellent week for the 24-year-old who has signed a three-year deal to stick with the group till 2024, and he shall be partnered with Alonso once more subsequent season because the Spaniard is contracted to the group for 2 seasons. It means the hyperlinks with Mercedes, whom he was a reserve driver for in 2019, are over for now a minimum of.
It’s not fairly as clear minimize for his compatriot Pierre Gasly who this week mentioned it was nonetheless too early within the season to inform if he would return to Pink Bull, the place he drove in 2019 earlier than being demoted again to Toro Rosso. Since then he has gained a Grand Prix and added two podiums, together with so impressively in Baku a fortnight in the past and has acquired loads of reward from Alpha Tauri group principal Franz Tost.
Again in 2018, Gasly and Ocon solely lasted a number of corners after a gap lap accident, however there’s little question Gasly will obtain a heat welcome on the French Grand Prix this yr, together with his fame enhanced by his newfound standing as France’s solely race winner within the final 25 years.
Modifications at Williams
Whereas unconfirmed rumours fly across the paddock that George Russell, praised this week by Fernando Alonso, will exchange Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes in 2022, there are some adjustments which are true at Williams.
A minor one is the information that Roy Nissany will exchange Russell within the first observe session on Friday as he did in Spain in Could. In the meantime, a long run change was introduced this week with group principal Simon Roberts leaving to get replaced by chief government officer Jost Capito.
Roberts had solely been in cost since final September when the group was offered to its new homeowners, the Dorilton Group, and it’s hoped that his choice to nominate technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison to supervise engineering can enhance efficiency for a group that, regardless of Russell’s spectacular tempo in qualifying, recurrently finds itself behind the grid.
A solitary level for Robert Kubica in 2019 is nearly as good because it will get for probably the most profitable and well-loved groups within the historical past of Components 1, with three consecutive 10th place finishes within the constructor’s championship.
The times of ending 1-2 on the French Grand Prix as Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher did in 2003 are lengthy gone, however getting each vehicles within the factors which they haven’t executed since 2018 would really feel like a victory if they may handle it this weekend.
Header picture: Morio