By Tom Dodd
- Formula 1 returns to France for first time in ten years this weekend, with the race at Paul Ricard for first time since 1990.
- Sebastian Vettel leads drivers’ standings by one point from Lewis Hamilton after winning last time out in Canada
- Race is first of three in three weeks – Formula 1’s first ever triple header
LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – Ooh La La as the Grand Prix returns to France, but the championship race is heating up as we gear for three sensational weeks.
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Can Raikkonen back up Vettel?
There’s no doubt that the three top teams of Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes were closely matched in Canada, but unfortunately for the Prancing Horse, their cars were at the front and back of that six car train come the chequered flag.
While Sebastian Vettel was on a Sunday afternoon drive, Kimi Raikkonen was, not for the first time this season, struggling off the pace. Two very capable drivers, with the same machinery underneath them, who were simply poles apart two weeks ago.
With the title race looking like it might go down to the wire, the number twos could become pivotal in denying points to a championship rival. Kimi currently sits 18 points behind Valtteri Bottas in the standings. It’s time to step up.
Can Mercedes bounce back?
Third in Monaco and fifth in Canada, Lewis Hamilton has struggled somewhat ever since taking the championship lead with wins in Baku and Barcelona.
The result has been the loss of his of his position at the top of the standings and while it may only be a point deficit to Vettel, the performances in the last two races would have been a worry to the team, who were also lucky to hold on to Bottas’ second place in Canada owing to a mechanical problem towards the end of the race.
It’s far from time to panic, but they’ll want to get back on top as quickly as possible.
Ten years after the last race in France, Formula 1 returns to slightly unfamiliar, but not totally new surroundings. Paul Ricard, in Le Castellet, makes its long-awaited comeback to the calendar for the first time since 1990, replacing Magny Cours after several attempts to revive one of the oldest Grand Prix’s in the sport.
The jury is out on whether the new circuit will be a hit, with some fearing a lack of overtaking opportunities despite the long back straight. After two quiet races for action in Monte Carlo and Montreal, Formula 1 could do with a thriller in the South of France.
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How tired – or motivated – will Alonso be?
Off the back of his first ever win at the Le Mans 24 hours, Fernando Alonso now enters the most hectic schedule in Formula 1 history – three races in three weeks.
After a promising start to the season with the Renault power unit, the Spaniard has suffered with reliability once more in the last two races and after tasting success last week, the two-time champion might well be considering his future in the sport once more.
It’s no secret Alonso wants to complete racing’s triple crown (of which he now only needs the Indy 500) and speculation is rife he is planning a move stateside permanently next season. Could France signal the beginning of the end?
Can Verstappen kick on?
Warned for his driving style and errors in Monaco by Red Bull, Max Verstappen bounced back impressively in Canada, topping the time sheets in practice before a controlled drive to third in the race around tricky and tight layout at the Gilles Villeneuve circuit.
What the team will now want is a consistent use of his raw talent and speed, to extract the best from the car for the rest of the season and look to close the gap to team mate Daniel Ricciardo in the standings.
No one on the grid could dare doubt Max’s potential as a Grand Prix winner and racer, but he needs to make sure Canada – and not Monaco before – becomes the benchmark.
Qualifying for the French Grand Prix takes place on Saturday, June 23 at 1455 BST, with the race starting at 1510 BST on Sunday.
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