The stars of Formula One are back in action this weekend in France. It will mark the second straight year the series has visited Circuit Paul Ricard as 2018 marked the first time F1 has visited the country since 2008.
Now, it’s time for the eighth race of the season for Sunday’s French Grand Prix (9:05 a.m. ET/ESPN). All the preliminary action is behind us. It’s time to set the winner.
Here are the key storylines for this weekend’s 53 Lap race.
Coverage – 9 a.m. ET
TV – ESPN
Distance – 53 Laps/192.432 Miles
Defending Winner – Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes The Ones To Beat Again?
Last year, Mercedes won the return trip to the 3.630-mile road course when Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line in first place. This year, Hamilton has now won in three straight races including five of the last six. If you throw in Valtteri Bottas’ two wins this season, you get Mercedes being 7-for-7 in 2019.
But, if you go back to last year, Mercedes has won nine straight F1 races and 13 of the last 15. The last time a non Mercedes driver won an F1 event was Oct. 28 for the Mexican Grand Prix.
So far this weekend, they’ve been the best team. They were 1-2 in literally all three practice sessions to go along with starting 1-2 for Sunday’s race as well.
You know this will come up again. Sebastian Vettel’s mistake to go slightly off course but come out ahead of Hamilton in Montreal only to later receive a 5 second penalty was very controversial. Most didn’t agree with it.
Yes, Vettel shouldn’t have gone off course but it’s not like he was reckless in coming back on track. He actually was saving his race car from hitting the wall. Plus, it’s not like it impeded Hamilton that much anyways. Hamilton, wasn’t going to pass Vettel in that corner. What was Vettel supposed to do, stop and let Hamilton by?
So, a driver that crossed the finish line first in Canada wasn’t the winner.
Will we see the stewards get in the way again this weekend?
Can Ferrari’s Rebound
Montreal was the race for Ferrari to come out of this slump. They dominated all weekend and saw Vettel in prime position to win the race, which I guess technically he did. But, to lose in the manner in which they did and to combine that with how this season has gone thus far, how do they rebound this weekend?
Vettel, has two runner-up results in his last two races. He has four podiums in his last five. He’s not finished worse than fifth all year. But, he’s also made some costly mistakes too and is part to blame in this including a seventh place qualifying effort on Saturday. The Germany native was fifth, fourth and fourth respectively in practice prior to that too.
Charles LeClerc has also had his fair share of problems with either himself or his team. The team never told him in Canada about Vettel’s penalty. His engine failed him while leading in Bahrain. The team didn’t send him back about to requalify in Monaco. It’s mistake after mistake after mistake. Still, he’s had a top five finish in all but once race in 2019 and was third in Montreal. This car finished third in this race last year and was third quickest in all three practice sessions as well as qualifying there too.
I’m curious to how Ferrari will respond this weekend.
Red Bull Upgrades
The team is bringing an upgrade to the powerunit this weekend. Last year, Max Verstappen finished runner-up to Hamilton in France. His teammate at the time in Daniel Ricciardo was fourth. This year, Verstappen with Honda power has been solid. He has a top five finish in literally all seven races including two third place runs and four fourth’s. He qualified his No. 33 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing car fourth after being fourth, sixth and fifth respectively in practice.
Pierre Gasly has struggled so far in his Red Bull debut with only one top five effort in seven tries. He came home 20th in this race last year. I don’t know how much I trust this car to finish in the top five. He starts ninth.
Renault Hoping To Perform For Home Fans
The Renault team may be based in England but the engine comes from France, the country of this weekend’s race. That’s why this race has extra special importance to this organization.
With how Montreal went, Renault has some high hopes for this weekend.
Daniel Ricciardo finally got over the hump to finish P6 in his No. 3 Renault. It was his third top 10 of the season including two straight. He starts eighth on Sunday.
Nico Hulkenberg brought his No. 27 Renault home seventh for a double top 10 for the team, their first all year. The top 10 was Hulkenberg’s first since the season opener in Australia back in March.
Now, can they keep it going?
Ricciardo finished fourth last year with Red Bull. But, Red Bull was also with Renault which produced the runner-up for Max Verstappen. Hulkenberg, finished ninth for this team. Carlos Sainz Jr. was eighth in Ricciardo’s car now.
Watch out for this team on Sunday.
Also, watch out for McLaren who drives Renault engines. Carlos Sainz Jr. has three top 10 finishes in his last four starts on the season and finished eighth in this very race last year. He was eighth, seventh and ninth respectively in practice and rolls of eighth in the race on Sunday too. His teammate Lando Norris has been brilliant in qualifying fifth after being seventh, fifth and seventh respectively in practice.
44 Hamilton – Hard to go against him here. He won the pole again, was in the top two of all three practice sessions and is the defending race winner. Also, Hamilton has three straight wins on the season to go along with five in his last six starts. He has nine straight top two efforts dating back to last season and 17 in his last 19 starts overall.
77 Bottas – He gets back on track with a runner-up. Bottas, was in the top two of all three practice sessions and even qualified there too. He has slipped in the last two races but gets his sixth top two effort of the year.
16 Leclerc – He finished third in the last race, was third in all three practice sessions this weekend and even starts third. Why not a third place finish?
33 Verstappen – He was a runner-up last year but slips to fourth on Sunday. Verstappen, was fourth, sixth and fifth respectively in practice this weekend and starts fourth too. He has four fourth place finishes already this season, why not a fifth?
4 Norris – He starts fifth. He was fifth quickest on Friday. He has been so strong this weekend overall, why not?