Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2018

Hamilton can regain points lead as Mercedes hit the sweet spot

2018 French Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Paul Ricard was expected to closely reflect the Circuit de Catalunya in terms of how competitive the teams would be. And for the most part that was turned out to be the case.

In fact the top three on the grid are the same: Lewis Hamilton edged his team mate to pole position by a slender margin, while Sebastian Vettel is a tenth of a second further behind in his Ferrari. If Kimi Raikkonen hadn’t made a porridge of Q3 for the umpteenth time we’d surely be looking at the same top six as he had for the Spanish Grand Prix.

In Barcelona Sebastian Vettel was unable to keep pace with Mercedes on a one-stop strategy and had to make a second visit to the pits which ruined his race. He is optimistic that won’t recur on Sunday.

“The track’s not easy on tyres but we saw [on Friday] that we had pretty good long runs and no problems with the tyres,” he said.

However the Ferrari pair are at a strategic disadvantage compared to Mercedes and Red Bull in that they will start on the ultra-soft tyres rather than the harder super-softs. “Obviously we also start on a different set so I don’t wish for an extra stop, compared to the others.”

“The pit lane is quite long here” he added, referring to the fact stops will take longer as the speed limit in the pits has been reduced to 60kph.

As usual Vettel has gone from being well off the pace on Friday to fighting for pole position on Saturday. He credited the team’s simulator drivers for their assistance during practice.

“Car-wise, I know we didn’t change too much but for sure the things that we changed, they helped. Not dramatic, this I can tell you – but it was good to have the support from the factory. They were obviously looking into it, trying to get everything out for qualifying, and for the set-up, mainly.

“I think we were relying on the help from the simulator. Antonio Giovinazzi and, yesterday, Daniil Kvyat was here and helping us, so those two, thanks to them as well.”

From his third pole position of the season Hamilton has a clear shot at victory, and regaining the championship lead. But Bottas has been quick this weekend, seems not to have been affected by missing much of second and third practice, and he’s been threatening to win a race all year.

For Vettel, his best hope is that his ultra-soft tyres and Ferrari’s potent power unit will allow him to muscle ahead of at least one Mercedes at the start. Expect a lively beginning to the race as drivers vie for position on an unfamiliar track in the expectation that overtaking will be difficult.

They also have generous expanses of run-off to play with. As was clear from today’s F2 race, drivers can run a long way off-track for a long time and rejoin without losing any positions.

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Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2018
McLaren are having a terrible weekend
Do Red Bull have a chance to take the fight to Mercedes? Daniel Ricciardo suspects they can only think about taking on the Ferraris – or at least one of them.

“With Kimi it should be [possible], I’ve got to keep him behind. With Seb it depends how the ultra-soft is. If the ultra-soft struggles it could put us in a fight with the Ferrari. If not, if Seb stays in front at the start, it’s going to be difficult for us to have his pace with the same tyre towards the end of the race.”

Unusually the Red Bull pair have opted for slightly different downforce levels. Max Verstappen’s lower wing level should work better in a dry race whereas Ricciardo stands to benefit from rain. Dry but cooler conditions are expected for the race – not what Ricciardo wants to hear.

Haas comfortably led the midfield in Spain and would have here but for Romain Grosjean’s crash and Kevin Magnussen being blocked by Kimi Raikkonen. Watch for their cars attacking Carlos Sainz Jnr and the impressive Charles Leclerc for ‘best of the rest’ honours.

However McLaren have slipped backwards to a surprising extent in the three races since Spain to become the second-slowest team on the grid. They believe they know what they are looking for, but whether they can fix it quickly enough to salvage their season is the pressing question. As this is the first of five races within six weeks, the pressure is on to find a solution.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’31.2711’30.645 (-0.626)1’30.029 (-0.616)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’31.7761’31.227 (-0.549)1’30.147 (-1.080)
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1’31.8201’30.751 (-1.069)1’30.400 (-0.351)
4Max VerstappenRed Bull1’31.5311’30.818 (-0.713)1’30.705 (-0.113)
5Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’31.9101’31.538 (-0.372)1’30.895 (-0.643)
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’31.5671’30.772 (-0.795)1’31.057 (+0.285)
7Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’32.3941’32.016 (-0.378)1’32.126 (+0.110)
8Charles LeclercSauber1’32.5381’32.055 (-0.483)1’32.635 (+0.580)
9Kevin MagnussenHaas1’32.1691’31.510 (-0.659)1’32.930 (+1.420)
10Romain GrosjeanHaas1’32.0831’31.472 (-0.611)
11Esteban OconForce India1’32.7861’32.075 (-0.711)
12Nico HulkenbergRenault1’32.9491’32.115 (-0.834)
13Sergio PerezForce India1’32.6921’32.454 (-0.238)
14Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’32.4471’32.460 (+0.013)
15Marcus EricssonSauber1’32.8041’32.820 (+0.016)
16Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’32.976
17Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1’33.025
18Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’33.162
19Sergey SirotkinWilliams1’33.636
20Lance StrollWilliams1’33.729

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton22.225 (1)27.585 (2)39.932 (1)
Valtteri Bottas22.408 (2)27.569 (1)40.028 (2)
Sebastian Vettel22.542 (5)27.770 (5)40.059 (3)
Max Verstappen22.504 (3)27.714 (3)40.296 (6)
Daniel Ricciardo22.534 (4)27.789 (6)40.283 (5)
Kimi Raikkonen22.552 (6)27.736 (4)40.264 (4)
Carlos Sainz Jnr22.840 (9)28.165 (11)40.907 (9)
Charles Leclerc22.841 (10)28.147 (9)41.067 (14)
Kevin Magnussen22.760 (8)28.140 (8)40.610 (7)
Romain Grosjean22.682 (7)28.092 (7)40.698 (8)
Esteban Ocon22.961 (12)28.160 (10)40.954 (11)
Nico Hulkenberg22.966 (13)28.211 (12)40.938 (10)
Sergio Perez23.041 (14)28.317 (14)40.995 (13)
Pierre Gasly22.898 (11)28.449 (17)40.984 (12)
Marcus Ericsson23.193 (16)28.281 (13)41.093 (15)
Fernando Alonso23.227 (18)28.449 (17)41.223 (16)
Brendon Hartley23.162 (15)28.385 (16)41.319 (17)
Stoffel Vandoorne23.406 (19)28.343 (15)41.380 (18)
Sergey Sirotkin23.217 (17)28.466 (19)41.679 (20)
Lance Stroll23.440 (20)28.520 (20)41.593 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes337.5 (209.7)
2Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari334.0 (207.5)-3.5
3Sergey SirotkinWilliamsMercedes332.0 (206.3)-5.5
4Charles LeclercSauberFerrari331.8 (206.2)-5.7
5Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari330.8 (205.5)-6.7
6Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes330.8 (205.5)-6.7
7Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari330.6 (205.4)-6.9
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes330.1 (205.1)-7.4
9Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes330.0 (205.1)-7.5
10Carlos Sainz JnrRenaultRenault329.3 (204.6)-8.2
11Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer328.7 (204.2)-8.8
12Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari328.1 (203.9)-9.4
13Brendon HartleyToro RossoHonda327.9 (203.7)-9.6
14Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer326.8 (203.1)-10.7
15Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault326.7 (203.0)-10.8
16Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes326.5 (202.9)-11.0
17Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari326.5 (202.9)-11.0
18Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda325.8 (202.4)-11.7
19Fernando AlonsoMcLarenRenault323.9 (201.3)-13.6
20Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenRenault321.3 (199.6)-16.2

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Over to you

Is this race Mercedes’ to lose? Will Ferrari or Red Bull be their biggest threat?

Share your views on the French Grand Prix in the comments.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 French Grand Prix

    Browse all 2018 French Grand Prix articles

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    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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    12 comments on “Hamilton can regain points lead as Mercedes hit the sweet spot”

    1. Verstappen will eliminate either Bottas at the start; one of the Ferrari’s will retire due to a loose wheel. Either Hamilton or Ricciardo will win with a unexpected podium finisher in 3rd.

      1. GtisBetter (@)
        24th June 2018, 8:59

        I think all 4-5 in front will take it easy. Verstappen is on the harder tyre and will play the waiting game, to see if the strategy pays off. The danger is from crazy midfield people who charge and take out the top drivers.

        1. If VB is the gloves off WDC challenger that we need to see him be, let’s see him fight for the first corner with LH, ala Nico. Somehow I’m not holding my breath for that, but it would be great to see.

    2. “Is this race Mercedes’ to lose?” Yes. Can’t see anyone getting close to them, unless something really strange happens. It will be interesting to see how long Ferrari can stretch it’s first stint (I’m guessing they want to pit into clear air, meaning they must do quite a few laps on those ulta-softs).

      Not expecting it to be the most exciting of races – usually when previously we have seen plenty of mistakes during practice session the race turns out to be error free. Let’s hope that’s not the case this time.

    3. This track seemed a mess in qualifying. I did not know which part of the track they are at. Ridiculous run-offs but both the pit entry and pit exit are dangerous… I do not know what to hope for in this race. Rain maybe. But in case of rain, we are going to see a train led by the SC…

      1. I did not know which part of the track they are at.

        @f1mre – I found the circuit outline in the bottom-right corner useful to understand where a driver was on the track, when the camera was tracking him. I’m not sure if they’ll continue showing that in the race, but if they do, it will be most useful.

        I was originally very critical of the massive runoffs, but I am now slightly warming up to the abrasive nature of the blue and red stripes. I’d still prefer a circuit that follows contours instead of running between painted lines, but I do like the damage that those stripes can dish out.

        1. To believe that the blue and red stripes are abrasive I would expect drivers to pit immediately after driving through the stripes. That would be a proper, but safe punishment.

    4. It looks like we’re getting some rain today

    5. I’m hearing up to 70% chance of rain for the race due to local thunderstorms.

      Do Red Bull have enough downforce to challenge for the win? The harder tyre should help if it starts dry as they can wait longer to pit in case it rains.

      Should spice it up if it happens, please!

      1. So looking forward to a dry race with no safety cars

        1. Probably!

    6. Is this race Mercedes’ to lose? – Yes, if it’s dry, but if it rains, then it could be anyone’s game.
      Will Ferrari or Red Bull be their biggest threat? – Ferrari.

    Comments are closed.