The battle at the top of the drivers’ championship is almost perfectly balanced as F1 returns, after a long absence, to a country with a rich history in the sport at this weekend’s French Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 10:10am ET).
The first ever Grand Prix was held in France in 1906 and it had an uninterrupted position on the Formula One calendar between 1956 and 2008, when financial issues brought the race at Magny-Cours to an end. A decade later, it returns at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet.
The circuit last hosted a Grand Prix in 199o, and has more recently been utilized as a test track, distinguished by its extensive blue and red run-off areas and its variety of potential layouts. The one that will be used this weekend features a good mix of straights, technical turns and a few sweeping, medium-speed corners. Some on the grid have raced at the circuit in the lower formulae, but it will new to everyone in a Formula One car.
That introduces an interesting element of potential surprise at a key juncture in the season. Sebastian Vettel’s victory in Canada two weeks ago saw the Ferrari driver move a point ahead of Lewis Hamilton at the head of the drivers’ championship. Hamilton only came home fifth for Mercedes, behind the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo in fourth and Max Verstappen in third, and his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who finished second for the fourth time this year.
The leadership has swung back and forth between Hamilton and Vettel throughout the opening seven races of the year, and they look likely to be involved a season-long scrap for the championship. Ferrari do, though, seem to have a car that is easier to set up in various environments and that might just be enough to give them the edge this weekend at a race for which the teams don’t have any historical data of use to fall back on.
Bottas has admitted that he considers Ferrari to be the favorites to secure victory. Kimi Raikkonen, who came home sixth in Montreal, is one of only two drivers on the current grid to have won the French Grand Prix (Fernando Alonso is the other), but it is Vettel who can be fancied to extend his lead at the top of the championship by topping the podium on Sunday.
The final points paying positions in Canada were occupied by the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz, the Force India of Esteban Ocon and the Sauber of Charles LeClerc.
It was Renault’s second consecutive double points finish and a result that saw them pull 16 points clear of McLaren in the battle for fourth in the constructors’ championship. They are one of only three teams to have scored at every race so far this season and will hope that they can maintain that kind of consistency for the rest of the campaign.
They certainly look well placed to enjoy a strong race this weekend at their first home Grand Prix in 10 years. Their drivers have spoken of that providing additional motivation to perform well, and the whole team will be determined to do just that. They have a solid chance of extending their run of double points finishes to three on Sunday.
There is also a decent French presence amongst the drivers this year, with Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean all hoping to show well this weekend.
Grosjean has endured a pretty disastrous season to date. Three retirements and four finishes outside the top 10 mean that he is one of only two drivers in the field not to have scored a point so far. He consequently has a lot of ground to make up on his Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen, who has finished on the points on three occasions.
Grosjean showed good pace in Canada, recovering from last on the grid to finish 12th, and Haas are confident that their car should be well-suited to the Circuit Paul Ricard. They always perform better on higher-speed tracks and are looking at this weekend’s race and the Grand Prix in Austria and Great Britain that follow it as opportunities to score some good points.
Grosjean needs a strong result to get his campaign back on track, and the conditions look right for him to achieve one on home soil on Sunday.
Our Preview’s F1 French Grand Prix Picks & Betting Predictions Verdict
Taking a look at the odds from the top United States’ sports betting websites, our suggested picks are: