After a week off, the Formula One drivers are back in action for a trio of European races. First off, is a return to France for Sunday’s French Grand Prix (10 a.m. ET/ESPN 2). Here are the top five storylines surrounding Sunday’s race.
Return To Paul Ricard
For the first time in a decade, F1 returns to France. But, the last race in the country wasn’t at this race track. This weekend’s race is at Circuit Paul Ricard which is a very unique course. Built in 1970 and arguably setting the template for modern F1 tracks with its large run-off zones, the track lies in the (usually) sunny south of France between the cities of Toulon and Marseille. The track has been completely resurfaced ahead of the 2018 French Grand Prix, with a smooth and grippy tarmac that will give a similar feel to the asphalt at Barcelona.
The circuit is characterized by several fast, long radius corners. The one that’s got tongues wagging, though, is the Turn 10 right-hander, known as Signes, which the drivers will take flat-out at around 290 km/h. That should mean that they’ll be feeling their necks when they get to the end of Sunday’s 53 scheduled laps.
The track formerly featured a 1.7-kilometre straight known as the ‘Mistral Straight’. But, like the Mulsanne Straight at another famous French track, Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe, a chicane has now been added to slow the cars down.
Another thing designed to decrease the cars’ speed is the Circuit Paul Ricard’s famous ‘Blue Zone’, the blue and red stripes at the side of the track. While running onto these might seem like a light punishment for getting a corner wrong, the tungsten and asphalt mixture is very abrasive, making a trip off the track a tire-punishing experience.
The track that the drivers will race on this weekend is one of 167 different potential layouts of the Paul Ricard circuit.
Inexperience In The Field
10 out of the 20 drivers on the grid weren’t born when the last French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard took place. Only four of the current drivers took part in the last edition of the French Grand Prix, at Magny-Cours, in 2008: Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. That means this weekend’s race will feature a lot of unknowns.
1st Race For Mercedes At The Track
Mercedes-Benz as a company has never played any part in a Paul Ricard-hosted French Grand Prix before. After pulling out of the sport in 1955, and thus missing the first ever race at the circuit in 1971, Mercedes didn’t return to F1 in any capacity until 1993, three years after the last Paul Ricard race.
Will Mercedes’ Engine Upgrade Help?
The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas thought they had an engine upgrade coming in the last race in Montreal. Unfortunately, they had to rough it out for another race. Hamilton, was a non factor all weekend and finished fifth. Bottas, well he was much better and came home runner-up. Now, both have an upgrade to their engine package and should be closer to the Ferrari’s for Sunday’s race. With the track being very technical, this could help them greatly. But, will it?
Potential Opposite Spectrum Pole Winners
If Kimi Raikkonen takes pole position at the Circuit Paul Ricard, it will make him the oldest polesitter since 41-year-old Nigel Mansell claimed P1 on the grid at the 1994 Australian Grand Prix. While Raikkonen has been out-qualified by his Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel in the last six races, he would have been on pole in both China and Azerbaijan if he’d strung his three fastest sectors together.
But, if Max Verstappen wins the pole this weekend, he’ll be both the youngest F1 driver to take one as well as the 99th different polesitter in F1 history. He’s never won a pole yet, but he’s more than capable.