Romain Grosjean, Haas, Baku City Circuit, 2018

Who will be France’s top F1 driver? Six French GP talking points

2018 French Grand Prix

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As Formula 1 revives the French Grand Prix for the first time in a decade, which local driver is likely to pull off the best result?

Here’s five talking points for this weekend’s race.

Who will be the top home driver?

When France disappeared from the F1 calendar 10 years ago, French involvement in the sport was at something of a low ebb.

Renault had gone from back-to-back championships to slinking out of the sport in disgrace following the outrage of ‘Crashgate’. That exit – save for the continuation of their engine programme – seemed to have taken Romain Grosjean’s fledgling career with it.

Today the sport is enjoying a resurgence in France. The country has the largest contingent of drivers in the championship, irrespective of whether Charles Leclerc’s Monegasque heritage is fudged to consider him an honorary Frenchman. He, along with fellow GP2/F2 champion Pierre Gasly and F3 champion Esteban Ocon, are all young and talented enough for the French GP promoters to feel confident there will be local drivers to cheer on for years to come.

But the more experienced Grosjean should be best-placed to deliver this year. Haas were well clear of the midfield at the Circuit de Catalunya, and should expect to be comfortably ‘best of the rest’ again this weekend.

Has Red Bull made the right decision?

There was bad news for Renault ahead of its home race as it has been dropped by its most successful customer team of recent years. Red Bull’s decision to partner with Honda for its 2019 F1 assault and beyond is fascinating for a number of reasons.

Has it done the right thing by dropping a race-winning package for an engine manufacturer which hasn’t reached the podium in over three years? And was McLaren’s decision to give up on Honda 12 months ago too hasty?

Is the Mistral chicane a worthy addition?

Formula 1 stopped using the full length of the screamingly fast Mistral straight after 1985. The turbo-powered cars of the time were taking little time to blat down it anyway, but the shortening of the circuit came in response to the horrific testing crashing which claimed the life of Elio de Angelis.

While the championship is returning to the long configuration of the track this year, there are a couple of tweaks. Although the high-speed Verrerie S-bend where De Angelis crashed still exists, a tighter version of the corner is being used for F1.

And nor will the cars tackle the mighty Mistral in all its uninterrupted glory. Instead a chicane is being used to trim the length of the track and spare drivers a high-speed arrival at the quick Signes right-hander.

The jury’s out on whether this configuration will promote good racing. The evidence from other series is not encouraging. What is clear is the chicane will diminish the spectacle of Signes.

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Track limits

Start, Formula Renault,. Eurocup, Paul Ricard, 2018
Paul Ricard’s distinctive run-offs weren’t designed to discourage track-cutting
Several years after Paul Ricard lost the French Grand Prix the venue was purchased by Bernie Ecclestone and redeveloped as a dedicated testing track. In order to reduce damage to machinery the entire run-off was converted to a sealed surface.

This involved adding a novel coloured run-off, the intention of which was to slow cars moderately (blue areas) or significantly (red areas) depending on whether they left the track. However since racing resumed at the circuit, the usual problems with any asphalt run-off appear to have remained. Whether drivers can be kept from cutting or extending corners to gain an advantage is likely to be an issue.

Will Mercedes regain the initiative?

The days of the all-conquering Mercedes are clearly behind us. On the long straights of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve a Ferrari was the thing to have. Around the slow twists of Monte Carlo it was Red Bull that held sway.

That appears to leave Mercedes holding the middle ground. If the W09 truly offers the best compromise between the two extremes, they should be the team to beat at Paul Ricard. It offers the full range of corners: slow, medium and high-speed, plus a decent-length straight.

It also has a new surface. The track has recently been laid with the same asphalt used at the Circuit de Catalunya. Pirelli will bring its reduced tread rubber, as it used in Spain, where Mercedes scored their only one-two finish of the season so far.


No, not the kind that leaves Sebastian Vettel screaming ‘blue flags’ on the radio. Paul Ricard has always had a reputation for poor access routes for spectators.

In January the race promoters told RaceFans they were working hard to improve access for the 65,000 spectators they hope will be present on race day. Hopefully they’ve got the job done.

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2018 so far

Are you going to the French Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to France for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you.

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the French Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

2018 French Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “Who will be France’s top F1 driver? Six French GP talking points”

  1. I’m really looking forward to this race. Think I’ve said it before here but I believe every year the calendar should have at least one new track.

    The track has recently been laid with the same asphalt used at the Circuit de Catalunya.

    Is that the same company? Or the same composition?

    1. Composition, most likely.

    2. Looking at photos on Twitter I don’t know if that matters, because they’ve had to patch it up at an awful lot of places after the recent Blancpain race there.

  2. Is Mercedes bringing the updated PU this weekend?

    1. They said they would and I haven’t seen anything to contradict that.

      1. Or anything to confirm…

  3. Is there any chance to see some overtakes here?

      1. @jerejj you’re my only hope

        1. @m-bagattini LOL. On paper at least. We shall wait and see how the reality will be, though.

  4. I do love a new or re-visited circuit on the calendar, here is hoping for a great race!
    Top French Driver this weekend: Ocon
    Has Red Bull made the right decision: I think so, they had to change it up to have shot- lets see.
    Mercedes back to form: Most likely, they don’t stay down for too long
    Other questions: I am not sure, but would prefer track limits to be more defined.

    Hope everyone enjoys the racing this weekend!

  5. 65000 spectators? Where are they going to sit? From what I’ve seen there’s little in terms of grandstands.

    It must be quite a bad place to watch the race. The run off areas are huge!

    I worry on how that’s gonna impact watching the race. Having nothing close to the track affects the speed sensation.

    1. No worse than Silverstone from what I can see?

  6. Who will be the top home driver? Ocon.
    Has Red Bull made the right decision? Yes.
    Is the Mistral chicane a worthy addition? Too early to judge. We shall wait and see.
    Will Mercedes regain the initiative? Similar to the one above: Too early to jump to definite conclusions. We shall wait and see.

  7. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    21st June 2018, 14:59

    Top French driver? It should be Grosjean but it’ll probably be Ocon in terms of results and Leclerc in terms of doing well.

    Red Bull-Honda is a good choice. If they make it work and win races surely it’ll mean McLaren were far too hasty to blame their shortcomings on Honda alone. If Red Bull-Honda win a world title with Alonso still in F1… well that reaction will be interesting to hear.

    The French track looks terribly boring, very flat, lots of run-off. Unremarkable. Rather expecting Mercedes to completely dominate it.

    1. @rocketpanda Leclerc is Monegasque, though, not French.

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