Race Weekend Central

F1 Slipstream Saturday: The Return of the French Grand Prix

This weekend marks a return of Formula 1 to France, the most popular tourist destination in the world.  The series took a 10-year break from racing in the country after financial troubles scuttled the event in 2008.  Prior to the eventʻs departure from the schedule, the race had been held at Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours from 1991 onward.  

That means that the two active winners of the French GP, Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen, bring no real former knowledge of the race, as to re-start the event, F1 will be racing at Circuit Paul Ricard. That means that everyone is working from fresh notebooks and that those teams with the most resources are likely to shine.

The results are, of course, the main focus, but what this event really portends and confirms is whether or not Europeans fans who have clamored that the sport needs to return to its roots will be willing to show the support needed to keep races in Europe.  As the Italian, German, and French GPs have all incurred financial woes and F1 moved races elsewhere to milk new markets, those fans who are near or who have access to what might be considered historical tracks or events, need to back their words.

So far, the support for the French GP has been excellent but it will be the second or third year that really shows what the interest level is like and whether or not the race can be sustained.  

Odds & Sods

Daniel Ricciardo is playing a daft game.  It is likely that he realizes that remaining with Red Bull is the best move for his career and that while he may have a thing for Ferrari that they have not reciprocated.  In fact, word from Ferrari is that theyʻve stated that they canʻt afford to have both Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo.  Take that as you will.  

It is also probably likely that Red Bull knows that the best place for Ricciardo to race is to remain with Red Bull.  Unless the seat at Mercedes occupied by Valtteri Bottas opens up, thereʻs none better on the grid.

None of these elements has prevented Ricciardo from attempting to leverage potential interest from other teams.  Ricciardo has now thrown out names like Renault and McLaren as possible organizations for which to race. With Lando Norris waiting off stage at McLaren, Renault is the only option that may make sense – and surprisingly, that may be a good fit.  With Red Bull dropping Renault as their engine supplier, the French outfit will have only themselves and the engines of McLaren to be concerned about and there is a good chance that they will be better able to focus on improving their team. While Renault has yet to stand out on the grid, this year is only their second in their return to the sport and the only way they can really trend is up.  

– Word leaked this week that Charles LeClerc has been tabbed to be the successor to Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.  The current Sauber and first-year F1 driver has performed above expectations, out qualifying and outracing his teammate, Marcus Ericsson over the course of this season.  As LeClerc is a Ferrari development driver and Sauber uses their engines, such a move is not quite a surprise.

The trickle-down effect, however, could be interesting.  Ericsson has long held a tenuous position with the Swedish-based organization and they may see this situation as a means to start anew, bringing in two new drivers for their seats.  While Raikkonen may be available, the real goal should be to remain young. Such an idea might be wonderful but it is more likely that Ferrari will have a hand in determining who will be there.  Silly season seems is developing drama.

– This race marks the first in what everyone in the sport is calling a Triple Header.  The name seems a bit of a misnomer but for F1, the situation is a unique one as the series will race for a surprising three weekends in a row – the French GP, then the Austrian and British GPs.  

While American racing fans may scoff at the notion of the tripleheader, noting that NASCAR races on consecutive weekends all the time, the personnel and equipment that is featured in F1

– Dʻoh.  Though the raceʻs return to the schedule has been eagerly anticipated, the organizers failed to recognize something else that is a pretty big deal: the World Cup.  The original time had to be moved back an hour, which comes as something a bit unfortunate for the teams, as having the race pushed back means that breaking down their equipment is pushed back.  

Usually, such a change would not be a significant issue but as the first race in the tripleheader, time is precious.  

Mercedes looks to be back to form for this race as the Silver Arrows swept the front row.  All the Mercedes-powered cars will be using new engines this weekend and while that development may not have helped all six of those drivers, the factory works team seems to have things figured out and Hamilton will be the favorite when the lights out, especially after taking P1.  

The Race

One of the oldest races in the world, having begun in 1906.  There have been 86 runnings of the French GP at a total of 16 sites, which is a rather high number but illustrates the fluctuations in the longevity of the event.  The 100th year anniversary, in 2008, marked the end of the GP until this running. Racing at Circuit Paul Ricard is visually interesting as the track features unique black, blue, and red striped run-off areas.  These areas were constructed in lieu of gravel traps and feature higher abrasion the farther a car slips off the track. The track features a long Mistral Straight at just over one mile in length and the whole of it, having been built on a plateau is rather flat.  Many teams test at the track because of the numerous configurations that it has, and some drivers have raced on it in other series. While Raikkonen and Alonso have French GP wins neither won at CPR.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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David Edwards

One of the beautiful things about F1 is that there is always something interesting going on. A far cry from a series where the only news of interest is that the Acme Racing Team and it star driver Biff B. has a one race sponsorship from Clem’s Restaurant and Car Wash.

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