Can Leclerc disrupt Mercedes’ bid for another one-two?

2019 French Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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In Canada Charles Leclerc was six-tenths of a second off pole position and very unhappy with his performance. In France he is again six-tenths off pole but is pleased with the step forward he’s made.

That tells you everything you need to know about Ferrari’s expectations heading into the French Grand Prix at a track which was likely to suit Mercedes much better. While Vettel took pole in Canada, Leclerc is their leading driver on the grid this weekend, but the red cars couldn’t tough their silver rivals.

This has set up a similar grid to last year. Hamilton leads another Mercedes one-two followed by a single Ferrari – Leclerc instead of Vettel this time – with the second SF90 pushed off the second row.

Twelve months ago Vettel, from third on the grid, started very well but was effectively pinned in place by the Mercedes pair and bumped into Valtteri Bottas, earning himself a penalty. Leclerc could find himself in the same predicament, particularly as the long run to turn one will give the Ferrari chance to stretch its legs.

However even if he can get ahead of one or – the dream scenario for Ferrari – both of the Mercedes, he will face a challenge to stay there. “Their race pace on Friday was very, very, very strong,” Leclerc pointed out after qualifying. “I think a good start will be very important and then we’ll see what happens. Obviously if we’re in front at the start it will be easier – but it’s not going to be easy.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2019
Hamilton is seeking his sixth win of the season
Losing pole position to Hamilton in Q3 was a major blow for Bottas, who had looked the quicker of the two until the pole position shoot-out. He badly needs to finish in front of Hamilton to stem the loss of points in the championship chase.

Having qualified only seventh on the grid, Vettel’s chances of finishing higher than fourth seem slim. Ahead of him he has the two McLaren drivers, who will no doubt want to get stuck into Max Verstappen ahead of them but will also be keen to do as Renault did in Canada, and successfully keep the other Red Bull behind them.

Their cause will be aided by the fact Pierre Gasly, following another underwhelming qualifying performance, will be one of two drivers starting the race on the soft compound tyres. The other is his former Prema GP2 team mate Antonio Giovinazzi.

There’s little reason to expect the remaining drivers will deviate from the preferred single-stop medium/hard tyre approach; the soft tyre has been too fragile in the hot conditions seen so far at the track, and Sunday is expected to be hotter still. While the prospects of anyone taking the fight to Mercedes seem remote, Leclerc has a chance and for one should not have to worry about the close proximity to his team mate, whom Ferrari have seldom passed up a chance to favour so far this year.

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’30.6091’29.520 (-1.089)1’28.319 (-1.201)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’30.5501’29.437 (-1.113)1’28.605 (-0.832)
3Charles LeclercFerrari1’30.6471’29.699 (-0.948)1’28.965 (-0.734)
4Max VerstappenRed Bull1’31.3271’30.099 (-1.228)1’29.409 (-0.690)
5Lando NorrisMcLaren1’30.9891’30.019 (-0.970)1’29.418 (-0.601)
6Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren1’31.0731’30.319 (-0.754)1’29.522 (-0.797)
7Sebastian VettelFerrari1’31.0751’29.506 (-1.569)1’29.799 (+0.293)
8Daniel RicciardoRenault1’30.9541’30.369 (-0.585)1’29.918 (-0.451)
9Pierre GaslyRed Bull1’31.1521’30.421 (-0.731)1’30.184 (-0.237)
10Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’31.1801’30.408 (-0.772)1’33.420 (+3.012)
11Alexander AlbonToro Rosso1’31.4451’30.461 (-0.984)
12Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’30.9721’30.533 (-0.439)
13Nico HulkenbergRenault1’30.8651’30.544 (-0.321)
14Sergio PerezRacing Point1’30.9641’30.738 (-0.226)
15Kevin MagnussenHaas1’31.1661’31.440 (+0.274)
16Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’31.564
17Romain GrosjeanHaas1’31.626
18Lance StrollRacing Point1’31.726
19George RussellWilliams1’32.789
20Robert KubicaWilliams1’33.205

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton21.951 (1)27.300 (1)39.005 (1)
Valtteri Bottas22.046 (2)27.493 (4)39.066 (2)
Charles Leclerc22.184 (3)27.434 (3)39.215 (3)
Max Verstappen22.279 (5)27.652 (9)39.455 (5)
Lando Norris22.369 (6)27.631 (7)39.407 (4)
Carlos Sainz Jnr22.254 (4)27.648 (8)39.611 (6)
Sebastian Vettel22.370 (7)27.388 (2)39.675 (7)
Daniel Ricciardo22.514 (8)27.630 (6)39.725 (9)
Pierre Gasly22.523 (9)27.880 (13)39.685 (8)
Antonio Giovinazzi22.667 (13)27.745 (10)39.996 (13)
Alexander Albon22.570 (10)27.863 (12)39.857 (11)
Kimi Raikkonen22.651 (12)27.754 (11)39.940 (12)
Nico Hulkenberg22.610 (11)27.583 (5)40.128 (15)
Sergio Perez22.815 (16)28.038 (15)39.808 (10)
Kevin Magnussen22.791 (14)27.921 (14)40.105 (14)
Daniil Kvyat22.929 (17)28.196 (18)40.439 (17)
Romain Grosjean22.804 (15)28.183 (17)40.562 (18)
Lance Stroll23.164 (18)28.150 (16)40.412 (16)
George Russell23.220 (19)28.491 (19)41.078 (20)
Robert Kubica23.566 (20)28.649 (20)40.990 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault342.5 (212.8)
2Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari341.8 (212.4)-0.7
3Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari341.2 (212.0)-1.3
4Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari340.3 (211.5)-2.2
5Alexander AlbonToro RossoHonda340.2 (211.4)-2.3
6Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari339.8 (211.1)-2.7
7Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes339.7 (211.1)-2.8
8Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault339.5 (211.0)-3.0
9Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes338.6 (210.4)-3.9
10Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari337.1 (209.5)-5.4
11Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes336.9 (209.3)-5.6
12Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault336.6 (209.2)-5.9
13Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes335.9 (208.7)-6.6
14Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault335.4 (208.4)-7.1
15Max VerstappenRed BullHonda333.9 (207.5)-8.6
16Robert KubicaWilliamsMercedes333.3 (207.1)-9.2
17George RussellWilliamsMercedes331.5 (206.0)-11.0
18Pierre GaslyRed BullHonda331.4 (205.9)-11.1
19Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari330.3 (205.2)-12.2
20Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda329.4 (204.7)-13.1

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Drivers’ remaining tyres

DriverTeamHardMediumSoft
NewUsedNewUsedNewUsed
Lewis HamiltonMercedes101103
Valtteri BottasMercedes101103
Sebastian VettelFerrari100212
Charles LeclercFerrari100212
Max VerstappenRed Bull101103
Pierre GaslyRed Bull100104
Daniel RiccairdoRenault100104
Nico HulkenbergRenault100123
Kevin MagnussenHaas101014
Romain GrosjeanHaas101032
Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren100203
Lando NorrisMcLaren100104
Sergio PerezRacing Point101014
Lance StrollRacing Point101032
Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo100114
Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo101004
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso101023
Alexander AlbonToro Rosso101014
George RussellWilliams102013
Robert KubicaWilliams102013

Over to you

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

2019 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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13 comments on “Can Leclerc disrupt Mercedes’ bid for another one-two?”

  1. Long run to turn 1 could be messy. Lec would be trying to get 1 Mercedes at the start and Vettel out of position.
    Gasly has been a disappointment so far especially when he looked so promising last year.

    1. I think we can now safely say that last year’s Toro Rosso was a pretty good car. That car didn’t deserve to be only 9th in the championship. Even with two Gaslys they would have been very close to McLaren for sixth, and with two top drivers they would have defeated the other midfield teams quite easily I reckon.

  2. OK so it’s going to be hot, but is it likely to be windy? That could be a real factor in the race on this track where the cars are really on the limit in a lot of corners. Bottas looked deflated after qualifying, but whoever leads after the first corner has a real race advantage, we could be in for the first bit of real friction between the Mercedes drivers. What really intirgues me, though, is Verstappen, Leclerc and the two McLarens, should be a good race between them. Also, safety car, definitely.

  3. WOWEE ! When was the last time a Renault engine headed the speed-trap, I’m thinking maybe the 1.5L turbo era ?
    Consequentially there has to be a downforce deficit so DanRic must be hustling and glad there is so much runoff.

    1. @hohum In the race in Monza in 2016 maybe in 2014 as well.

      1. @jerejj, really, silly me, I was forgetting Team Renault, thinking only of RBR. I guess in their situation low drag was, and apparently still is, the low budget way to go.

  4. How have the Ferrari-drivers managed to save one entirely fresh set of the softest compound for the race, unliker the rest of the other Q3-runners?

    1. @jerejj Because nobody expects to use soft during the race? Mercedes even expended a set doing a run on softs (not going across the finish line) at the end of Q2.

      1. @f1osaurus That isn’t what I meant, though. I thought they had used all of their soft-sets in qualifying so that like the rest of the Q3-runners, they’d only have softs left as ‘used’ for the race. You are the 2nd person who’s misinterpreted my wording, LOL.

        1. @jerejj Not sure this is about misinterpreting words.

          They only go out twice in Q3. Mercedes did a third run on softs in Q2. So Merc used 3 and Ferrari 2?

  5. Last year Hamilton and Bottas worked together amazingly to box in Vettel on the much faster tyres. It frustrated Vettel so much that it didn’t end well for Bottas, but still they would have both been behind Vettel otherwise.

    I wonder/doubt if they will collaborate like that still tough. Bottas and Hamilton will probably be more interested in going into turn 1 in front of the other Mercedes. This could end up in a “two dogs fighting over a bone” routine that the Ferrari drivers showed in Monza last year. Ending up giving the win to Hamilton instead of scoring a 1-2 themselves.

  6. It’s time Lewis and Valtteri clash in the first corner and open up the race for the rest. Bottas looked frustrated after q3 and his chances are dwindling fast.
    So he had to take some corrective measures. His contract still is not signed, so he had to show he had balls to oppose Lewis.

    1. That’s such a lame comment. What would that even do? The race would have been just as boring.

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