F1/Round 8: Preview of 2018 French Grand Prix & Starting Positions

Race starts at 4:10 pm in France/10:10 pm in Malaysia

Following a decade-long absence, the French Grand Prix rejoins the Formula 1 World Championship this year as the eighth round. This is the 59th running of the French GP which was one of the original rounds of the World Championship and has been held from 1950 to 1954 and 1956 to 2008. Over the years, the event has been held at seven circuits around France in different years and this year, it is held at the Circuit Paul Ricard (the last French GP in 2008 was held at Magny-Cours).

This is the fifteenth French GP to be held at the Circuit Paul Ricard. The race was first run there in 1971, returning in 1973, 1975 and 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982 – 3, 1985 – 1990. The events between 1971 and 1985 were held on the original 5.810-km course and the races between 1986 and 1990 on a shortened 3.813-km circuit.

The 48-year old circuit has a runway for private aircraft to use. It has distinctively coloured run-off areas with the blue sections having asphalt and tungsten surfacing instead of gravel traps.

This year’s race will run on a full course layout for the first time since 1985 – albeit a modified version of the circuit formerly used, including a chicane midway along the famous Mistral Straight. With the straight running along a plateau, the Mistral wind is just one of the variables drivers and teams will have to deal with.

The circuit, which was opened in 1970, has a mixed offering across the three sectors – as might be expected from a flexible racing complex designed to include a multitude of circuit configurations. There are 2 high-speed straights and several heavy braking zones but also intricate, technical, low-speed sections, while the famous Signes corner at the end of the Mistral straight will be one of the fastest corners in F1 this year.

Put together, this circuit teases teams with the possibility of going in very different directions on set-up, requiring experimentation with a wide range of downforce levels. The drivers also first needed to learn the track but that usually doesn’t take them very long. The main focus during practice was on refining the lines through the corners. Because so many of the turns at Paul Ricard are interconnected, there’s lots of opportunity to trade time between one and the other. So it’s about finding time in one place but losing a bit somewhere else, and emerging with a quicker time.

The situation in the championships after 7 rounds is intriguing. In the Drivers’ Championship, victory in Canada has returned Sebastian Vettel to the top of the table, a single point ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The pair have pulled out a sizeable gap on the chasing pack, with Valtteri Bottas now 34 points behind team-mate Hamilton.

In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes-AMG, Red Bull and Ferrari Have each taken a performance-based victory from pole position in the last 3 races. The German team retains a slender lead that is 17 points ahead of Ferrari.

[Chips Yap]