Formula One looking for redemption

(From L) Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc, Mercedes Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes British driver Lewis Hamilton steer their cars during the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama, on March 31, 2019. Picture: AFP /  Andrej Isakovic
(From L) Ferrari's Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc, Mercedes Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes British driver Lewis Hamilton steer their cars during the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in the desert south of the Bahraini capital Manama, on March 31, 2019. Picture: AFP / Andrej Isakovic
Andrej Isakovic

After the difficulties over the past couple of weeks, Formula One has a chance to redeem itself as it heads back to Europe for the French Grand Prix this afternoon.

Located in the picturesque setting of southern France, the Circuit Paul Ricard sits near the French Riviera and played host to the revived French race last year, and also hosted a raft of grands prix during the 1970s and 1980s.

The track itself is a flowing, 5.842km circuit that winds around 15 corners and the famous Mistral straight.

Since the early 2000s, it was resigned to testing purposes and completely rebuilt with blue and red asphalt run-off stripes and 169 different variations of track layout.

Lewis Hamilton enters the weekend in fine fettle after the race in Canada, where he inherited victory from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel as the German received a controversial five-second penalty in the middle of the battle and was ultimately stripped of his win.

Hamilton now commands a 29-point advantage from his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the championship summit and a 62-point gap to Vettel in third.

They’ve won all seven races so far this year – Hamilton with five and Bottas with two.

Formula One

Hamilton, though, is concerned that Ferrari have managed to up their game and are becoming a real threat.

“It’s not an assumption, you’ve seen in qualifying the three tenths or six tenths, whatever it is, on the straights they’re able to pull up. And in the race, I know that all of a sudden they pick up the pace on the straights. That’s the name of the game,” the 34-year-old said.

“They’ve clearly done a great job with their power unit. It used to be a point where Mercedes was ahead in that area, by a big chunk, and we’ve got work to do there. They are ahead of us at the moment there, so there’s space for us to work in.”

For Ferrari, Canada was another example of the race win slipping away from them. It was their best chance to win since Bahrain, where the young Charles Leclerc was cruelly robbed of his maiden F1 victory when an engine fault curtailed the Monegasque’s efforts.

In Canada, Vettel snatched pole from the Mercedes pair and set himself up nicely to convert that into what would’ve been his first win since Belgium last year.

Nevertheless, the four-time world champion is entirely focused on redemption this weekend.

“We have a one-step harder tyre selection than in Montreal, and it will most likely be another one-stop race,” Vettel said.

“The weather can be unpredictable here, and is often very hot and windy. Last year, our race was compromised by the first lap incident, but I think our car can have the pace to do quite well there.”

Ferrari has brought several upgrades with their car this weekend in their effort to overhaul the dominant Mercedes team.

Just behind them, Red Bull enjoyed an upgraded Honda engine in Canada and will reap the benefits of that again today.

Max Verstappen crossed the line to finish second here last year, so he knows what it takes to master the Paul Ricard track.

“Last year was good for us – we got the strategy spot on to second on the podium, which was a good team result,” the Dutchman said.

“It’s not an easy track with very wide open entries to corners, which is different to most other tracks we race on. We maximised things in Canada and we are working hard to improve all aspects. I feel comfortable in the car so I hope we will be able to challenge the frontrunners more closely in France.”

With Mercedes aiming to take their eighth win of the season and Ferrari desperate to claw something back in these middle stages of the season, expect this afternoon’s race to deliver even more twists and turns in the championship.

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