Formula 1 After returning to the Le Castellet track in 2018, this weekend’s French Grand Prix will see Paul Ricard take fourth place.
But it could be the last F1 race held in the nation of motorsport as the circuit’s contract to host the race expires at the end of this season.
In what could be Paul Ricard’s fourth and final race, here are the six talking points for the French Grand Prix weekend.
The last French Grand Prix… for now?
Last year saw the most exciting race since Paul Ricard’s return to the program, with Max Verstappen chasing down and beating Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps.
However, the track, which F1 first visited in 1971, has often struggled to produce much in the way of entertainment in its three races since its return to the Formula 1 calendar. Unfortunately, the option of bypassing the troublesome Mistral Chika, which could have improved the scene, was never taken.
With the circuit’s contract to host the French Grand Prix expiring at the end of this season and the competition gaining the right to host more Formula 1 events than ever before, Paul Ricard looks to be on a high. A list of circuits that could make way for other tracks on the calendar.
That means this weekend could be the last French Grand Prix for the foreseeable future. But many of them may not lose if they cut the track program, the loss of racing in the most important motorsport countries in Europe will be felt very much. Especially with two French drivers on the grid for the first time in decades and Francophone championship contender Charles Leclerc from Monaco less than 200km down the road.
F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali recently discussed the idea of moving the French Grand Prix to a new street circuit in Nice, but there is little to suggest this amounts to more than a tactic to put pressure on the Monaco race promoter. If Formula 1 is to lose the race in France, hopefully it won’t be long until a new and more exciting host location is found. But the country’s only F1-class track, Magny-Cours in rural Nevers, hardly fits the liberal media’s target for races in ‘destination towns’.
Woe to Ferrari reliability.
Red Bull was seen as fast but fragile following the opening rounds of the season. Neither Verstappen nor Sergio Perez finished the first race in Bahrain before Verstappen retired from the Australian Grand Prix with fuel system failure, leaving Ferrari the clear leader in the constructors’ championship.
However, in the second quarter of the year, the narrative has completely changed. With four mechanical-related retirements shared equally between Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. since the Spanish Grand Prix, the biggest risk of a breakdown during the races is now Ferrari – the team is powerless as it continues to compete. Beat Red Bull.
Track data: Paul Ricard
Lap length 5.842 km (3.63 mi) Grand Prix distance 309.626 km (192.393 mi) Lap record (race) 1’32.740 (Sebastian Vettel, 2019) Fastest lap (any session) 1’28.319 (Lewis 2019) Qualifying combinationsC2, C3 , C42021 Rate the race 8.23 out of 102021 Max Verstappen Driver of the Week
Paul Rickard will follow the information completely
Leclerc could be considered lucky to win last time out in Austria, ahead of Verstappen in the final 10 laps after driving with a partially stuck throttle. However, Sainz was denied second place after the power unit dramatically ended his pursuit of Verstappen. Little wonder Ferrari are worried about their reliability for the rest of the season.
“It’s really a concern,” team principal Mattia Binotto said after the race in Austria. But the people back in Maranello are working very hard to fix them.
“We will have new bodies and I know how strong they are, how good they are, and I hope it will be resolved as soon as possible.”
But they and their rivals face an extra challenge from the conditions this weekend.
Beat the heat
Arriving at the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s only natural that this weekend’s French Grand Prix is a hot race. But with the current heat wave across Europe, the impact of extreme heat has been felt in the sporting world.
Last Sunday, professional cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, approved climate protocols for the 15th stage of the Tour de France, held not far from the Le Castel circuit in the south of the country. Early forecasts predict temperatures in the low thirties Celsius – by no means extreme by F1 standards – but with the potential to put extra strain on man and machine over three days of track action.
If those predictions prove correct, this will easily make this weekend the hottest French Grand Prix since Formula 1 returned to the circuit in 2018. What does tire temperature mean on a track surface that can exceed 60C? Some cars have more challenges with overheating their tires and others with getting their tires up to the right temperature.
Mercedes’ best road of the season?
Mercedes’ reliability has been one of the team’s few bright spots this year, and this weekend’s race promises to be one of the toughest yet for the young world champions. They are enjoying the best of a three-race season at the British Grand Prix, which even saw George Russell retire on the first lap.
Introduced with the W13 at the Spanish Grand Prix at the end of May, the major upgrades focused on improving the car’s mid-to-high speed cornering performance and seemed to work well. But while two back-to-back races on the street circuit proved challenging for Mercedes, Russell still managed to secure a podium finish in third place. Since then, Hamilton has reached the podium in all three races.
Heading to Paul Ricard’s ultra-smooth testing facility – which Formula 1 must have hosted a grand prix for years ago – Mercedes knew this would be a circuit where their car’s weaknesses would be least affected. This year they have had trouble getting heat into their tires, but the punishing conditions should help with that.
As the fastest circuits of the season have an average lap speed and a few really slow corners, expect Paul Ricard to make the most of the circuit and hopefully be closer to Red Bull than he was in Austria. , with Hamilton and Russell seemingly among their rivals in qualifying before both crashed out after various mistakes.
But while single-lap pace seems to have improved in recent laps with the Mercedes, race pace is another matter. There is still work to be done if Mercedes are to make enough strides to start fighting for race wins.
Can Haas continue the streak?
With Kevin Magnussen turning from seventh on the grid to fifth, the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix was the best start to Haas’ 2022 campaign that the team can really hope for. But after picking up few points over the next three rounds, Haas suffered through a difficult five-race futility race, dropping one point behind Aston Martin to ninth in the championship.
Then came Silverstone and the British Grand Prix. A huge achievement for Mick Schumacher, the team’s second-year driver finally scored his first career points in Formula 1 in eighth place, behind Verstappen, following a particularly strong defense from the world championship. Magnussen took tenth to complete the team’s first double points since the 2019 German Grand Prix.
Then the following weekend in Austria, the team did better. A strong qualifying session on Friday saw Magnussen and Schumacher secure sixth and seventh on the sprint race grid, seventh and ninth in Sunday’s grand race. In the race, Schumacher drove the best race of his career to finish sixth, while Magnussen was eighth despite a lack of fire from the early stages.
After two doubles in a row, morale at Haas is higher than it’s been all season. And with a significant improvement package coming at next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the team will be looking to continue their points finish before both Magnussen and Schumacher benefit from a hopefully improved car for the next race.
Path limitation problems
The new zero-tolerance approach to monitoring the limits in Formula 1, introduced at the start of the 2022 season with the arrival of two new race directors, had a major impact on the Austrian Grand Prix weekend. A total of 90 track violations were committed over the weekend’s three race sessions, with four drivers breaking the course limit one too many times during the race.
Track restrictions have been a generous problem at the Red Bull Ring since the venue was rebuilt by Hermann Tilke 25 years ago. It’s another track where Paul Ricard will practice a change where staying within the circuit’s boundaries is largely optional. There is not a blade of grass or a blade of gravel at a distance of 5.8 kilometers.
With nothing but asphalt around the circuit, the challenge to run as close to the white lines as possible to maximize exit speed is as high as anywhere on the calendar. Also, due to the unique nature of Paul Ricard, drivers are forced to follow direct instructions on how to join the circuit, be it turn two, turn four or a chicane on the long Mysterious Straight.
The rules on track restrictions will not only affect drivers’ laps, but will also affect close racing conditions. When Alexander Albon received a penalty at the Austrian Grand Prix for forcing Lando Norris out of the circuit, sparking debate over whether other drivers should have received similar penalties in recent laps, more penalties could and certainly will be handed down this weekend. Arguments.
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