After a controversial weekend in Canada, Formula 1 heads to Le Castellet for the first of two back-to-back weekends of racing. While Ferrari look to continue the promising form they showed in Montreal, Mercedes seek their tenth consecutive win. Here are the talking points ahead of the 2019 French Grand Prix weekend!
Penalty-gate rumbles on
The 2019 Canadian Grand Prix will be remembered as a controversial weekend for Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton took the victory, but Sebastian Vettel crossed the line first. The Ferrari driver was handed a 5-second time penalty for unsafely rejoining the track after an error. Plenty has been said about the penalty, and Ferrari have lodged a request to review the incident in order to remove the two penalty points obtained from Vettel’s license. There’s bound to be plenty of opinions shared on the matter in the days leading up to the race.
We’ve now seen two races in a row where the Grand Prix has been dramatically affected by a 5-second penalty. In the previous round in Monaco, Max Verstappen was handed a five-second penalty for an unsafe release. It made his chasing down of Hamilton for the lead futile and saw him classified fourth. Will we have a penalty-free weekend in France?
Ferrari's “small evolutions”
Despite not taking the win after their penalty, there was some good news for Ferrari in Canada: they were back on the pace. Sebastian Vettel took his first pole since last year’s German Grand Prix and led much of the race. Will that form carry forward this weekend and give the Scuderia another shot at ending Mercedes’ streak of wins?
Ahead of this weekend’s race, Mattia Binotto told Motorsport.com that the team will bring “small evolutions” to the SF90H in a bid to take the fight to Mercedes. He says that, while the evolutions won’t bring immediate results, they may aid the team in figuring out which development route to take.
Mercedes hold a 123-point advantage over Ferrari after eight rounds of the 2019 season. Overturning that will surely be a big task for any team over the remaining rounds.
Mercedes' “wake-up call”
The characteristics of Circuit Paul Ricard should open up an intriguing battle between Ferrari and Mercedes once again this weekend. While the 1.8km Mistral straight will play to Ferrari’s strengths, the winding corners will suit Mercedes’ upper hand in the downforce department.
Despite winning every race this year, Toto Wolff called the Canadian Grand Prix a “wake-up call” for the team. It’s true that the team suffered a number of issues over the weekend, including a fuel system problem which limited Valtteri Bottas’ running in Friday practice and a pre-race hydraulic leak scare on Hamilton’s car.
Last year, Lewis Hamilton won the French Grand Prix, but Bottas finished only seventh after coming together with Sebastian Vettel on the first lap. Should Mercedes win this weekend, it’ll be their tenth consecutive victory, equalling their longest winning streak.
Gasly and Grosjean under pressure
There are two French drivers taking part in their home race this weekend, and both will be hoping to score points on their second appearance at Circuit Paul Ricard, unlike last year.
Red Bull scored a podium finish here last season with Max Verstappen finishing as runner-up, and it’s undoubtedly something that Pierre Gasly would like to repeat in 2019. While team-mate Verstappen has finished in the top five at every race in 2019, Gasly has struggled to be on the pace of the Dutchman. His only top five finish so far this year came in Monaco. With contract talks beginning, now is the time for Gasly to step up – and his home race would be the perfect place to do it. Red Bull’s efforts could also be boosted this weekend by a Honda power unit upgrade.
At Haas, Romain Grosjean currently sits seventeenth in the championship with just two points. That’s two points more than he had at this stage last year. After crashing out in Q3 at the 2018 French Grand Prix, the Frenchman managed to finish only eleventh. While Haas have been generally strong in qualifying this year, their race pace isn’t yet there and their drivers have lost positions more often than not on Sundays. Earlier this week, Team Principal Guenther Steiner said the team’s season cannot get any worse. Grosjean will be looking for a plain-sailing weekend to close the 12-point gap to his team-mate.
Read more about how previous French F1 drivers have fared in their home Grand Prix here.
The first back-to-back races of the year
This weekend’s race at Circuit Paul Ricard is followed next weekend by the Austrian Grand Prix. It’ll be all hands on deck after the race for the teams to make their 1,106km journey to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. You can read more about the logistics behind back-to-back F1 weekends here.
It’s an important time in the championship, with five races over the next seven weekends taking us up to the summer break. With a maximum of 182 points on offer over the next month or so, there’s a lot to play for.