Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2019

Penalties past and Paul Ricard’s future: five talking points for the 2019 French Grand Prix

2019 French Grand Prix

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As Canada’s result spills on into the French Grand Prix, can under-pressure home racers, manufacturer and organisers make a success of this weekend? It’s the French Grand PrixVettel penalty repercussions

Everyone might be sick to death of it by now, after a solid fortnight of post-Montreal debate and will they/won’t they Ferrari appeals, repeals and requests for review but there’s no getting around the extent to which the last race result hangs over this one.

Expect any driver who hasn’t already weighed in on social media to be grilled on their views and a silver-and-red trail of quotable confetti from the big two. Or perhaps judicious silence pending the review, if Ferrari’s case for new evidence is accepted.

This isn’t the biggest FIA tussle that even a Hamilton vs Vettel title fight has come into (which was surely Baku 2017) and with two-thirds of the season left to go, it certainly isn’t over or even decisive. The question and most of the outrage around the penalty, however, remains about what is fair in close racing in Formula One, during a season where we haven’t been treated to very much of it.

What’s left to talk about, outside the stewards’ meeting for review, is a debate about whether regulations should change in response to the incident or be, as drivers have repeatedly asked for, kept consistent but clarified.

Renault home advantage

Renault had their first double points-scoring finish in Canada, after a troubled start to the season. Strange double engine failures in Bahrain led into a miserable stint of low or no-points finishing for the factory team that seems to have been turned around at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg has said the team is bringing upgrades to Le Castellet, which he told Racefans he is optimistic about when considering the team’s performance so far this year.

Hulkenberg said their pace has been hidden by technical and human errors, with Canada more representative of the French manufacturer’s true potential. There’ll be nowhere the team have brought more executives and sponsors than their home Grand Prix this weekend, looking to capitalise on maintaining that form.

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Future of the French Grand Prix?

France’s return to the Formula One calendar last year was marred with controversy after failures to handle traffic left spectators queueing for hours and personnel unable to leave the circuit.

Organisers said that resolving the traffic issues was a priority – but Ross Brawn said it was a feature of the circuit’s “stunning location.” With Zandvoort joining the F1 calendar next year and some scrutiny over a potential repeat of Paul Ricard’s problems, the smaller circuits maybe not fully prepared for motorsport’s biggest influx, all eyes will remain on the tarmac just outside the French Grand Prix’s race track this Friday.

If attendance is impacted or problems are as severe as last year, when Racefans’ own Dieter Rencken spent two and a half hours driving forty miles outside the circuit, hours after the end of the Grand Prix, then there could be real question marks about this event’s future. At Paul Ricard, at the very least.

Gasly under pressure

Pierre Gasly has bigger problems than whoever’s in charge of Paul Ricard’s traffic operations. The Red Bull junior programme product was a resounding success at Honda-powered Toro Rosso, where he beat teammate and multiple-time WEC world champion Brendon Hartley out of a future in F1.

But he hasn’t had as much luck this season. Or perhaps not found as much speed – beaten on track by both Renaults in Canada, the only-recently-promoted driver is under pressure from potential shown by Kvyat and Albon and Gasly himself had to already refute a replacement rumour about Hulkenberg.

Dr Marko pressurising drivers to find performance is nothing new but with Verstappen delivering all of Honda’s newfound podium success this season, Gasly’s failure to beat Red Bull’s erstwhile power unit supplier last time out won’t be helping his case.

Motorsport can be fickle, though – and a huge result at his home Grand Prix, on Renault’s own turf, could turn his stock around completely.

Budget caps

Although F1 teams unanimously agreed to delay the World Motor Sport Council approval on 2021 regulations, one element that is not up for further revision is a team budget cost cap.

With McLaren already saying that reduced F1 running costs open potential WEC hypercar opportunities, speculation about the higher-budget teams’ plans can start now as the 2020 season will see a ‘soft’ introduction of the rules, where teams will be informed of any breaches to them but not penalised in order to get their accounts in order for 2021.

Next season is a long time away in racing terms – but nothing at all in team structure or long-term planning.

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Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....
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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23 comments on “Penalties past and Paul Ricard’s future: five talking points for the 2019 French Grand Prix”

  1. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    18th June 2019, 13:45

    Totally bemused by Gasly. In the Toro Rosso he looked pretty good with lots of potential but in the Red Bull he’s just looked slow and nervous. I think he could probably have done with more time in Toro Rosso – he’s not looked on the pace of Verstappen or even close really in any of the races so far. Given the drama and fallout around Kvyat’s demotion I can’t see Red Bull doing anything mid-season again but surely he’s on borrowed time unless he improves dramatically and quickly? Ironically Kvyat is looking far stronger a driver, both on pace and racecraft and even Albon who never drove an F1 car before this season looks like a stronger bet.

    1. @rocketpanda remember he is now up against a relatively extremely experienced teammate, no matter how young, whereas it’s a more straightforward comparison against a fellow rookie who is also bedding into the team, maybe.

    2. Personally I’m not that surprised at Gasly’s performance as even mighty Max hasn’t been as strong at some tracks like Monaco as last year. They have admitted they’re lacking something, and certainly have not complained about the Pu. Max is a fantastic anomaly and was always going to be tough to match. I think they know that he is not only exceptional, he is also the more engrained veteran in the team. Without being a fly on the wall to know what exactly is being said internally, I would like to think RBR is taking some blame for not having quite the car as last year (perhaps much to do with this year’s tires) and are being patient with newbie Gasly. So much this year depends on being able to get the tires to work, which imho should never have to be the first and foremost goal. They should just work so these boys can go racing.

      1. @robbie fair comment.

      2. Verstappen had a good weekend in monaco 2019 and a fp3 mistake which ruined his weekend in monaco 2018, he did by all means a better job in 2019, don’t mistake car with driver performance, red bull was decent in monaco 2019 but not as strong as 18.

    3. @rocketpanda, the thing is, when he was at Toro Rosso, the only other reference point that he had was Hartley – somebody who was also a rookie in F1, had not driven a single seater car since 2012 and Hartley’s record in single seater cars before 2012 had been fairly poor.

      Hartley was really an unknown quantity against which to measure Gasly, and in some ways it’s questionable whether he was a great benchmark to use. It felt like he was there because they needed a driver in that seat and perhaps hoped Hartley could help them with developing the Honda power unit, not because Red Bull really wanted him – it’s also debatable whether Red Bull were really focussing that hard on helping Hartley to develop, since it felt like he was nothing more than a stop gap driver they threw in there whilst trying to find somebody else with a superlicence.

      With that in mind, it feels as if the main reason is because expectations were set low for the 2018 Toro Rosso – perhaps because of the expectations that the team would struggle due to the expectation of Honda having a weak power unit – so Gasly could fairly easily surpass expectations that were probably lower than they should have been.

      The other aspect that seemed to gain Gasly a fair amount of credit was his performance in Bahrain, but again I wonder if that was because Toro Rosso were expected to perform badly in 2018 and therefore Gasly could exceed expectations in such a dramatic manner.

      If you exclude that 4th place, which in hindsight really looks like a freak result, most of Gasly’s results were basically on par with what you’d expect most Toro Rosso drivers to have scored – a few points finishes in the lower part of the top 10, with one slightly lucky top 6 finish along the way.

    4. @rocketpanda It also took Ricciardo a while to switch from Red Bull to Renault. Apparently there is something different to that car as compared to other cars.

      Ricciardo managed to change his driving style to compensate a lot quicker though. So yes, it’s on Gasly to get to grips with a new car quicker than he has so far.

      1. @f1osaurus It’s a bit different going from a mid-tier car (Toro Rosso) to a top 3 car (Red Bull) than going the other way.

        1. Like Daniel Ricciardo did to instant effect in 2014?
          Just ask Sebastian Vettel how that first year with a new Red Bull tamate fresh out of a Toro Rosso, went.
          That paints an even worse picture for Gasly, doesn’t it?

  2. What’s left to talk about, outside the stewards’ meeting for review, is a debate about whether regulations should change in response to the incident or be, as drivers have repeatedly asked for, kept consistent but clarified.

    The clarity is the problem, apparently. Everyone knows what the rules are and knows the stewards applied them correctly. What Ferrari etc. clearly want is some judicious ‘fudge’, the kind of lack of clarity that used to exist so stewards could have forgiven Vettel this one for the sake of the race and a non-Mercedes winner. Or appeasing Ferrari.

    1. @david-br I think the problem is that every incident is unique, so I’m not sure consistency and clarity can ever truly be achieved. Let’s consider that some (fans particularly I believe) think that SV should have had to give the spot to LH. I don’t agree but suffice it to say nor did the stewards demand that he do that, and rather left SV/Ferrari with the opportunity to still win the race by maintaining a 5 second gap to LH by the checkered flag. So to me even the stewards did not see SV’s behaviour as severe as some drivers’ behaviour has been in other incidents.

      1. And there, you hit the nail on the proverbial head. At most tracks, Vettel would have lost the position to Hamilton for that kind of mistake– and the same pundits who decried the penalty (I’m looking at you, Brundle) are the same ones who are always moaning that mistakes don’t carry any penalties on modern F1 circuits.

        So the FIA gave Vettel a 5 second penalty. Not a stop-and-go, not a 25 second penalty, but a 5 second penalty.

        In the past, we’ve seen drivers handed a 5 second penalty go on to open up the gap to 5+ seconds, and effectively pay *no* penalty for their mistake. In this case, it meant instead of Hamilton having to pass Vettel, all he had to do was maintain the gap at under 5 seconds– and Vettel had the option (if not the tires) to open up the gap to greater than 5 seconds, and still win.

        This was not robbery, or chicanery (ha!), or even a race-wrecking penalty– it altered the parameters for both drivers by making it slightly easier for Hamilton, and slightly more difficult for Vettel… But not impossible for Vettel, and not a “gimme” for Hamilton.

        If the regulation needs to be changed, fine– but I think the stewards handled the incident as fairly as possible under the circumstances.

        1. +1 Very good points

        2. By the looks of it the solution would’ve been NOT informing anyone of the decision when they took it: vettel had accumulated 3 sec advantage, let them finish the race, 6 sec advantage, then give a 5 sec penalty, that way hamilton wouldn’t have been informed to stay on vettel’s gearbox and we’d have the rightful winner.

        3. Good points.
          I think receiving a penalty was correct. However I’d have preferred the stewards having the option to tell Vettel to let Hamilton have the place. That would be as close as possible to the advantage Vettel got, and also would have allowed him the chance to fight to regain the position and win.

          1. @david-br I cannot agree nor even remotely fathom that what SV did was worthy of handing LH the position and what would have been essentially the outright win in his faster car, and I am so glad the stewards also disagreed with that concept as that would truly have been a sad day and a sham for F1. ‘As close as possible to the advantage SV got?’ Not if you don’t want F1 to look like amateur hour.

        4. @grat I don’t think it is at all accurate to say pundits who decried the penalty are ‘always moaning’ that mistakes don’t carry ‘any’ penalties on modern F1 circuits. Of course they aren’t always moaning and of course mistakes quite often penalize drivers either by the mistake on it’s own allowing trailing car(s) by, or via a stewards’ penalty. I think if anything pundits might ‘moan’ about runoffs in places where there used to be race ending kitty litter, but other than that I think they are generally fine with how things go. As lovers of racing I think they just want to see as much settled on the track as possible, without too much in the way of boardroom decisions unless where obviously necessary. Most often they agree with the penalty given and why it was so.

          ‘At most tracks’ SV would have lost the position? We can’t know that for sure, and this is not most tracks…this was Montreal at that corner on that day at that instance. The next similar incident will have subtle differences at a minimum. And it will also be judged on it’s own based on it’s unique evidence.

    1. + another 1
      What if Vettel had taken himself and Hamilton out of the race? Not all that far off either.
      But what I would really like to hear …. what is Kimi’s take on all of this.?

      1. Buoooaaaaa…..

      2. Other solution, knowing how the stewards are, just cause a collision, 3 place grid penalty in france, leclerc, a non mercedes driver, wins for once.

  3. 6. Will F1 every use the 1A layout at Paul Ricard (and get rid of DRS on the back straight, because it isn’t needed)?

  4. My keen eyes will be on the Red Bulls and Kyvat with their new spec Hondas. Are their goal mere to stay ahead of Renault or to get closer to Mercedes?

    I’ve only read about the engine upgrade. Any news on the chassis side?

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