The first race of the upcoming triple header is starting this weekend at the French Grand Prix. It’s been an exciting season full of upsets, but will they continue this weekend?
In France, Mercedes may have the advantage once again given that Paul Ricard is a more traditional track than Monaco or Baku. Mercedes struggled in both street races but failed to achieve a podium due to mistakes. In Monaco, Valtteri Bottas was on track to win a podium but due to a disastrous pitstop, he was unable to finish the race. Meanwhile, Hamilton couldn’t get past Pierre Gasly and remained in P7.
In Baku, the roles were reversed, Hamilton was on track for a podium, maybe even a win, but an error with his ‘magic brake’ switch caused him to finish out of the points. Bottas meanwhile, couldn’t seem to get ahead in the slightest at Baku. Both drivers struggled like they never had before and now it is a question of whether it is Mercedes’ own performance causing these issues or the conditions of the street tracks?
Mercedes have been very dominant at Paul Ricard in the past. Hamilton managed pole position and a win in both 2018 and 2019. This should be comforting and what’s more, is that Red Bull have not performed that well in France. The actual runner up in France in 2019 was Ferrari. Ferrari may be as consistent, maybe even more consistent in France than Red Bull which could cause some surprises this weekend.
The Red Bull car seems to be more consistent than the Mercedes car this year. I think that the French GP will be close amongst the front runners. Again, they might have to rely on each other’s mistakes to come out on top. Mercedes will perform better on the more open track, but Red Bull have some momentum going into the race that will certainly help them. This is especially true now that Sergio Perez has gotten comfortable in the car, allowing Red Bull to apply more pressure to the Silver Arrows. No longer is Max Verstappen having to take both Mercedes on his own.
Ferrari have seriously been upping their game, especially these last two races. It may be possible that this performance was due to the street track conditions but their past performances in France should give them some added confidence going into the weekend. If both drivers can pull off solid qualifying performances like they have been, a podium is not off the table. In 2019, Charles Leclerc did manage to get ahead of Max Verstappen for a comfortable P3. Carlos Sainz has also never finished out of the points in France. Ferrari may not win the race, but a strong performance from them is likely.
McLaren maybe haven’t got it so easy. In 2018, both cars finished out of the points. In 2019, it was an improvement; Lando Norris managed a P9 and Carlos Sainz finished P6. Solid results but not fantastic. But this year, McLaren are having a great year, especially Norris. The car is a competitor this year and McLaren will likely be able to take the fight to Ferrari. Or at least, Lando Norris will be able to take the Ferrari’s but he will have to work for it as he might have to face both cars on his own.
Daniel Ricciardo unfortunately hasn’t come to terms with his car yet and it has been taking a while to do so. Whether or not he can do it France doesn’t seem likely. In 2019, Ricciardo finished P11 at France during his first year with Renault. That race, Ricciardo was also adjusting to a new car resulting in a poor performance and I don’t see any reason as to why this time will be any different. I believe that Ricciardo will improve at McLaren, I just don’t think it will be in France.
Will Alpha Tauri be able to repeat their stellar performance in Baku? I don’t think so. The 2019 French Grand Prix was not a good time for the team with both drivers finishing out of the points. Pierre Gasly, then driving for Red Bull, finished in P10, shockingly bad for a front running team like Red Bull. In 2018, Gasly didn’t finish his race. It seems both Alpha Tauri’s car and their best driver are not historically competitive in France. It’s hard to say what Yuki Tsunoda can do in France but given his improved performance in Baku, he may be learning from his stay at Alpha Tauri HQ that will translate to future performances.
Alpine may be in a solid position. Fernando Alonso showed signs of improvement in the new car at Baku but when he raced in France in 2018, he didn’t finish. His teammate, Esteban Ocon has been more consistent but has struggled to get higher in the points this season and he hasn’t raced in France yet. I see no reason as to why they should improve so much this race but stranger things have happened and it’s possible with Alonso’s newfound comfort that they may improve in France.
Aston Martin had a brilliant race in Baku and Sebastian Vettel has performed well in France before. In 2019, he managed a P5 with Ferrari, still behind his former teammate, Charles Leclerc. However, he has been consistent, in 2018, he also managed a P5. Given his performance at Baku, it isn’t crazy to think he might be able to manage a P5 again, but he faces fierce competition from the two Ferrari’s and Lando Norris. The same cannot be said for Lance Stroll who has never finished in the points at France. To be fair to Stroll, he has improved greatly since 2019 and managed a solid race in Baku until the mysterious tyre accident left him out of commission.
You know who might surprise us in France? Kimi Raikkonen. When he was driving with Ferrari in 2018, he managed P3. When he was in an Alfa Romeo in 2019, he managed a P7. That’s a high position for a car that isn’t considered very competitive. Raikkonen knows Paul Ricard. Antonio Giovinazzi has only raced in France once and he finished a poor P16. Alfa Romeo may surprise us but it’s likely to be a one driver affair but which driver? Raikkonen has been performing slightly below Giovinazzi so it’s possible that Gio will be the driver to watch out of the pair but I’d still put my money on Raikkonen.
Haas and Williams will likely stay out at the back. No surprises here. The Haas’ are just trying to train their rookie drivers this year in the hopes of a better performance next year. Williams are unlikely to perform well either as last time George Russell raced at France in 2019, he came in P19 and his performance this year hasn’t been stellar. He’s a good driver but he is in a Williams. Latifi has yet to race in France but he hasn’t impressed much this season either.