French Grand Prix preview – is it now or never time already for Ferrari?

Following hot on the heels of a highly controversial Canadian Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton inherited victory after rival Sebastian Vettel was slapped with a time penalty for blocking, the Formula One circus travels to the historic Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France.

Hamilton’s victory means he already leads Vettel by 62 points in the drivers’ standings with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas his closest challenger, 29 points behind the Briton.

The drama from the Canadian Grand Prix weekend may not quite be over yet, however, with Ferrari lodging a request to motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, to review the incident once more. The Italian team initially decided not to appeal the five second penalty in the wake of the race but had until Sunday to do so and decided to follow that course of action on Monday.

Whether successful or not, the French Grand Prix weekend is still a critical one for Ferrari and, as such, it has arrived in France with a number of upgrades in an attempt to turn the balance of power in their favour.

“In France we will have a few small evolutions, elements that represent for us a useful step in defining the direction we will take in developing the car,” said principal boss Mattia Binotto in the team’s race preview. “What we will be bringing won’t be the solution to our problems, but the technical feedback we get from these evolutions will be important for the next steps we take.

“Paul Ricard has been a tricky circuit for us last year and we know that this kind of track isn’t particularly favourable for our package. But nothing is impossible so we will be ready to do our best.”

Binotto, and drivers Vettel and Charles Leclerc, will be praying that the upgrades have the desired effect because the characteristics of Paul Ricard again seem to play into the hands of Mercedes, as confirmed by a bullish Toto Wolff.

“We expect another tough fight in France,” said Wolff. “The circuit features some similarities to Montreal and the long straights will present a challenge for us.

“However, unlike Canada, the corner characteristics are spread across a range of speeds, which should play to our advantage. We’re looking forward to the chance to put a few things right again. Part of our strength over the past three months was that the entire team – at the track, in Brackley and in Brixworth – delivered to a very high level and we need to make sure that we achieve the same high standard again for France.”

Another team that could throw a fly in the Ferrari ointment is Red Bull Racing, who will hope that the series of slow-speed technical sections will suit their package. And weather can also play a part in the hills above the French Riviera, the Mistral wind adding another element for drivers to contend with.

“Last year was good for us, we got the strategy spot on and finished second on the podium which was a good Team result,” said Max Verstappen. “It’s not an easy track with very wide open entries to corners which is different to most other tracks we race on. I think in general it’s good to have a Grand Prix in France. It’s a historic track which is well known for its safety, it also attracts lots of fans who love the sport, which is great to see, especially for Pierre.”

Acronis partner team SportPesa Racing Point will also be hopeful of following up an encouraging Canadian Grand Prix weekend with another strong performance in France and adding more points to their haul.

“I’m feeling good heading into this weekend,” commented Lance Stroll in the team’s race preview. “The performance we had in Canada on race day gave us all a boost and I really enjoyed it. I always say it’s Sunday that counts so to come back and score points in my home race after such a tough Saturday felt really special.

“The Paul Ricard circuit is almost the other extreme from Montreal. There are massive run-off areas and it’s a very different experience. That’s not something I enjoy because if you run wide, you can get away with it quite easily. It’s just less of a challenge for the drivers. I remember last year it was really hot and the forecast looks similar this year.

“I visited Paul Ricard when I was racing in Formula 3, but my memories of last year’s F1 race are not great. I had a puncture in the race and it wasn’t my weekend so I hope my luck changes this year.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.