By Neil Leverett
- Round 7 of the Formula 1 season arrives at Circuit Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix
- As you were in Drivers Championship after both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton fail to score points in Baku
- Hamilton seeking third win at Le Castellet since 2018, as F1 begins three-weekend arc
LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – As Formula 1 prepares for three back-to-back weekends, can Lewis Hamilton deny Red Bull a third successive win at the French Grand Prix?
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Red Bull seek third successive win
It may have come in slightly unexpected fashion, but Red Bull got their second Formula 1 win on the bounce they craved in Baku last time out, as a wily Sergio Perez‘ played the long game in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix a fortnight ago.
As the Mexican claimed the first victory for his new team, Perez benefited from both teammate Max Verstappen‘s dramatic, penultimate lap tyre failure, and then from the standing restart, Lewis Hamilton‘s complete wheel lock-up, to take the chequered flag in the Land of Fire.
For Red Bull, from a constructor’s point of view, it’s now three races on the top step of the podium this season, but importantly, after neither Mercedes drivers finished in the top 10, Christian Horner saw his team extend their lead to a relatively gargantuan 26 points.
With the opportunity presented to win three races on the bounce this weekend at Le Castellet, for the first time since 2013 – Red Bull winning nine consecutive races in that particular period – but to do so, they must reverse a trend of never having won the French Grand Prix.
Hamilton eyes personal triple
That, is not a particular worry for Hamilton meanwhile, who has won at Circuit Paul Ricard in the last two races since the French GP returned to the F1 calendar.
Missing out on a trip last season due the pandemic, the Briton, like Verstappen, will be looking to leave behind the missed chances of Azerbaijan on the back burner, as he returns to winning territory, keen on showing his own French vintage, in rose country.
A winner in both 2018 and 2019, the 36-year-old cruised home from pole in both years, and Hamilton will be eager to take that recent record to three.
His task two years on however, is likely to be significantly steeper given Mercedes’ problems of late, but in his favour perhaps, could be a potentially wet race day on Sunday that is currently forecast.
And we all know Hamilton’s scrapping abilities on a slick track.
Pivotal three-weekend arc
As the French GP rolls around, a trip to Gallic country would not be alien as either a follow-up or pre-cursor to a summer F1 back-to-back double, but this year, Le Castellet signals the beginning of the first of two periods of races this term, which take place over three successive weekends.
Following the imposing of travel restrictions by the British government back in May, the Turkish GP was postponed, leaving 2021’s trip to France – originally planned for next weekend – moved forward seven days.
Added to the calendar to take Istanbul’s place, the Styrian GP now sees a second running, after filling the void last season.
It’s knock-on effect however, means that Austria will now host two races in a row – the first of which takes place next weekend for another Spielberg double, with the Austrian GP retained over the weekend of the 2nd and 4th of July.
Entering a stage of the campaign where heat could prove a decisive advantage also, so also could the next three races in themselves.
The start of last season’s condensed and compacted program, saw the opening nine races take place in three-race periods also, but the results tell an interesting tale, which could again prove crucial come December of this term.
In Hamilton’s dominant run last season, six wins from nine were perhaps not a surprise, but winning two out of each three races nevertheless, went a long way to sealing his seventh F1 crown.
Of course, three more races after an opening seven rounds of unpredictable, see-saw and at times frenzied chaos, could, by the time the paddock packs up in Spielberg on July 4, be a mere drop in the F1 ocean.
But this particular French GP feels like it could be approaching a watershed moment, even at this stage of proceedings.
The 2021 French Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet.
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