Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2019

Will track tweaks produce a livelier race at Paul Ricard? Five French GP talking points

2021 French Grand Prix

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Changes to the track surface at Paul Ricard may aid overtaking at a circuit where Formula 1 cars find it difficult to pass.

But an 11th-hour date change for the French Grand Prix means one of the show’s stars won’t be there: Romain Grosjean’s planned public run in a Mercedes Formula 1 car won’t go ahead as he’s racing in the USA, though his private run will happen at the track later this year.

Will new asphalt change the racing?

A total of 73 overtakes in the 106 laps raced since it returned to the F1 calendar in 2018 may not sound too bad for Paul Ricard, but the French circuit quickly built a reputation for boring grand prix racing that it decided it needed to shake off for 2021.

During the period where it was holding no racing last year, it called on Studio Dromo – who renovated Silverstone and Zandvoort – to get to work on the circuit. Over 70% of the 5.8-kilometre track was worked on to “the maximum” with changed cambers and crests not only improving drainage but also posing more of a challenge to drivers and therefore hopefully leading to more battling on track.

Paul Ricard reprofiling and resurfacing, 2021
Feature: Paul Ricard reprofiles corners in bid to improve racing
However the resurfacing of the track also means it’s going to be smoother than the last two times F1 raced there, and a more consistent asphalt without bumps tends to lead to fewer mistakes and therefore less overtaking. And then if those who are at the front in qualifying also lead the way on race pace, as it was the last two times, then the action may all come down to who pits when.

Mercedes back on a normal track, and back on form?

Two fairly anomalous performances by Mercedes have coincided with the paddock heading to two rather anomalous tracks in Monaco and Baku, and it would be expected that returning to a more conventional circuit in Paul Ricard will lead to a return to form.

Lewis Hamilton won the French GP in 2018 and 2019, and in the latter year nobody could get near Mercedes’ pace in qualifying. Hamilton took his second victory at the circuit by 18 seconds and Ferrari was the only team that had neither of its drivers lapped by the winner.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2019
Hamilton has won both races at Paul Ricard since F1’s return
High winds down the Mistral straight could punish low-rake cars such as Mercedes’ as they change direction, but nearly three months of development has now made the W12 more stable, if not faster. The circuit has a mix of high and low-speed corners of the sort F1 cars are designed for and developed on, and Mercedes’ form at the first races showed it has the car to beat on conventional layouts.

However it’s not just been the lap times that have held Mercedes back recently, with repeated pit stop bungles and strategy decisions in qualifying and the races that have worked out to their disadvantage. So changing scenery may make no difference at all.

Alonso’s “new championship”

Fernando Alonso’s F1 return does currently have him ahead of Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon in the championship standings, but it’s Ocon who has scored on more occasions and outqualified Alonso four times already.

He sees Paul Ricard as the start of “a new championship” for him in his return, due to the unfamiliarity of much of the first six rounds.

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“In a way the start of the season is not the best possible calendar for a new-coming driver,” he said.

“I had Imola, I had Portimao, two circuits that I was not racing for years, or never like in Portimao. And the guys, they were racing four months ago in last year’s championship. And then two street circuits: Baku and Monaco.

“So the first six races of the championship, four they were extremely challenging to get used to. So from France, a new championship hopefully, just for me. On the experience side, I hope we can get something that I feel a little bit better the balance of the car, and more feedback than what I feel now.”

F1’s first 2021 triple-header begins

Paul Ricard, 2018
This weekend is the first of four ‘triple-headers’
Paul Ricard kicked off F1’s first ever attempt at running races for three weekends in a row back in 2018, and the logistical nightmare of that was overshadowed by fans’ logistical nightmares as there were queues lasting hours that resulted in some fans abandoning hopes of seeing F1 cars and others abandoning their vehicles and trekking to the circuit.

Teams were getting back to hotels from the circuit after midnight on qualifying and race day, so a long start to what was going to be a long few weeks was not appreciated at all. After making their final escape on Sunday night, many then headed over 1,100 kilometres north-east to the Red Bull Ring deep in the Styrian Alps. Following that weekend, another 1,650km on the road for those who were going straight to Silverstone and even more for the Italian teams making a detour to their factories.

It was dubbed a race between races, described in gruelling detail here, and was an experiment not repeated for 2019. However the pandemic-hit 2020 season had to make use of compressing the schedule, with back-to-back-to-back runs being the format for the first nine rounds of the year although there was at least far less travelling than even a spaced out F1 schedule would have.

Liberty Media’s decision to expand the F1 calendar to a record number of grands prix this year means more triple-headers though, with Paul Ricard once again being the starting point. It will take a toll on F1 personnel, and harder worked people are more likely to make mistakes. But can anyone afford to take it a little bit easy or drive more carefully to preserve energy and parts for the weeks ahead? Not really in F1.

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The return of track limits

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Paul Ricard, 2019
Report: Perez ‘got a penalty for following the rules’
Track limits dominated the discourse in press conferences through the opening few races of the season, rivalling the Mercedes versus Red Bull battle up front and the struggles of drivers changing teams further down the grid, but once the paddock headed to street circuits it practically became a non-issue.

And now they’re off to the circuit perhaps more renowned for track limits violations than any other.

Daniel Ricciardo was dropped from seventh to 11th in the 2019 French GP following two track limits related penalties applied post-race, with the extensive run-off all around the track jokingly said by some to be more attractive than the racing going on.

The smoother, grippier surface of the circuit this year should mean less wild moments of drivers losing grip – even with the downforce-sapping 2021 rule changes – but if the speeds are higher in the corners than they were two years then teams will definitely be pushing the limits of the track and going beyond them. It’s a scenario Pirelli are hoping won’t happen, and that was even before Baku.

F1’s tyre troubles continue

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2021
Pirelli is expected to shed light on Baku tyre failures
The two high-speed tyre failures which occured during the last race at Azerbaijan raised many uncomfortable questions for Formula 1. Chief among which were, when so many changes were made to the cars and tyres in the off-season to prevent a repeat of last year’s failures, why are they still happening?

F1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli is due to present its findings ahead of this weekend’s race. A curious detail of the latest failures is that they occured at a track which is not particularly punishing on tyres. Paul Ricard is a more demanding layout, and Pirelli has brought three compounds from the middle of its range – the C2, C3 and C4 – for this weekend’s race.

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Author information

Elliot Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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38 comments on “Will track tweaks produce a livelier race at Paul Ricard? Five French GP talking points”

  1. One of the worst aspects of Paul Ricard is the complete lack of Jeopardy. At Monaco we get very little overtaking, but almost every corner promises race ending disaster if you get it wrong. At Paul Ricard you could go 50m wide and not even get a broken fingernail.

    And it looks so full. No hills or any kind of redeeming physics feature.

    Ugh!

    1. I think the best thing that can be said about the Grand Prix this weekend is that its only another week to Austria!!
      So they say they have adjusted some of the cambers at Paul Ricard to make it more challenging for the drivers……. hopefully they will have gone in the direction of the new Zandvoort, rather than turn 14 at Yas Marina. ‘Off’ camber corners do absolutely nothing for racing, in fact they are ‘anti’-racing. Until they get rid of the mistral chicane this track will never provide decent racing for these current cars

      1. G (@unklegsif)
        15th June 2021, 9:21

        Until they get rid of the mistral chicane this track will never provide decent racing for these current cars

        mmmmmm?
        Fans jumping up and down at Pirelli, accusing them of providing naff tyres that didnt stand up to the rigours of the long straight at Baku

        Fans want the Mistral chicane removed to make for better racing

        G

        1. Gavin Campbell
          15th June 2021, 9:56

          But thats surey because the Baku “Straight” isn’t actually that Straight. Sure its easy flat out but these cars pull such G’s that the engergy gonig through the tyres is pretty immense.

          I agree with the OP, no jepordy at all. No sausage kerbs, no astro, no grass and heaven forbid a gravel trap. Lets be honest even though we couldn’t (someone at the BBC tried it a few years ago i think), we all reckon we could get a F1 car round Paul Ricard. Maybe not troubling the time of a drunken Nikita Mazepin but we could have a go.

      2. Until they get rid of the mistral chicane this track will never provide decent racing for these current cars

        The problem is that the Mistral has have the chicane or the circuit won’t be Grade 1. While there is no ‘official’ rule (such as 2km max straight length for *any* FIA grade), the FIA generally don’t certify circuits with straights longer than 1.5km (Fuji’s pit straight) as Grade 1. Without the chicane, the Mistral would be 1.8km. As Gavin points out, the Baku ‘straight’ isn’t straight for it’s entirety, which is how it gets around it.

        1. Never heard of that rule, neither in the last few months, nor when Paul Ricard was added to the calendar and wild speculation about the potential layout was on.

          1. @zomtec It appears to be one of those unwritten rules that is never officially mentioned anywhere, but is enforced or ‘suggested’ at anyway. It may be a complete myth, but as there doesn’t appear to be a circuit with a Grade 1 licence and a straight longer than the Fuji main straight, it seems like it is enforced de facto anyway.

        2. @randommallard
          Baku’s S/F straight past the earlier kinks is about as long as Fuji’s S/F straight, although 2+ km from the very beginning, while Mistral at its full is 1.8 km.
          Anyway, the true reason for not running w/o chicane is the surrounding grandstands. Eric Boullier’s justification is that otherwise, people on those stands would only see fast fly-by cars, so understandable. I wish for at least a shorter chicane alternative instead. A compromise of giving spectators enough time to see cars, but also making that section more driveable.

  2. The worst post for me in this track is this painting outside of track. I simply cannot watch the cars from outside and i stay in the onboard of the drivers for the whole race.
    It simply makes my head heart.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      15th June 2021, 9:07

      I actually called it the ugliest racing track in the world in a YT comment. A French fan wasn’t happy with me but I still stand by my comment

    2. Gavin Campbell
      15th June 2021, 9:59

      It makes your head heart?? Yikes stick with those on-boards!!

    3. @bluechris, I don’t have an issue with Paul Ricard’s runoff area painting, LOL.

  3. Will track tweaks produce a livelier race at Paul Ricard?

    No.

  4. Can they at least color the actual turn in a different color compared to other combinations of the same turn present on the circuit? Especially turns 1 and 6? I just re-watched the highlights of 2018 and 2019 and couldn’t even tell who went on the run off and who was on the actual track!

  5. I’m not sure about racing, but perhaps faster lap times despite the 10% DF cut, although in comparison to last season, not 2019. What I hope, though, is that F1 would use a shorter Mistral chicane version (immediately another 90 right), as well as, slighter T1-T2 alternative, but at least the former.
    I expect Mercedes back at form.
    Alonso, perhaps.
    The first 2021 triple, yes, but Brazil will definitely get cancelled as are Japan and Australia likely, possibly even Mexico and Abu Dhabi, so the race schedule can still change quite a lot.
    I’m already prepared for certain corner exits as possible targets, but Thursday, we’ll find out.
    I’m not worried about tyres for now.

    1. I meant the ‘slightest’ T1-T2 alternative.

  6. Can the FIA do the only sensible thing with track limits just once, please?
    Enforce the white line everywhere, all the time, and penalise for breaches. It really is that simple.

    Of course they can’t do it.

    I’m sure we are all looking forward to another round of debate and discussion about perhaps the most basic issue that doesn’t need to be – and really shouldn’t be – an issue in any professional sport.
    I find it unlikely, but one day F1 may realise why no other sport has such a problem with boundaries. They’ve had long enough and been told enough times how to fix it, but instead they keep further complicating it…
    Crazy.

    1. @S Curbing is a better reference than a white line because it’s more noticeable from the cockpits.

      1. @Jerejj I agree, especially when the runoff is trying to increase the number of hospital admissions for people with headaches

      2. @jerejj I think we’ve been here before….
        The drivers are free to use the kerbs with the two outside wheels, but not with all 4. I can promise you that they have absolutely no trouble knowing when they have 2 wheels up on kerbs.

        Let’s not pretend that these drivers aren’t capable of driving very accurately at speed. And if they are having troubles, then the best thing they can do is slow down – that’s how race driving generally works.
        That’s all part of the challenge, and equally part of what separates these guys from the idiots who think they can drive like Senna or Schumacher on the street.

        Anyway, the sporting regulations specifically state that the kerbs are outside of the track, which is defined by white lines.
        Only after Article 27.3 is changed should the kerbs be included for all 4 wheels. Until then, the white line it is.

        Reply moderated
        1. @jerejj I think we’ve been here before….
          The drivers are free to use the kerbs with the two outside wheels, but not with all 4. I can promise you that they have absolutely no trouble knowing when they have 2 wheels up on kerbs.

          Let’s not pretend that these drivers aren’t capable of driving very accurately at speed. And if they are having troubles, then the best thing they can do is slow down – that’s how race driving generally works.
          That’s all part of the challenge, and equally part of what separates these guys from the ‘people’ (got the filter) who think they can drive like Senna or Schumacher on the street.

          Anyway, the sporting regulations specifically state that the kerbs are outside of the track, which is defined by white lines.
          Only after Article 27.3 is changed should the kerbs be included for all 4 wheels. Until then, the white line it is.

    2. that’s why it needs proper, prenalising limits : so that everyone can see & feel that there actually was the limit;
      a white line won’t be superclear, unless you drill wires into it and measure the pressure.
      But this would not show the crowd the actual fault.

      A “PHEEEP” won’t be as cool as a cloud of dust & sand or a car wobbling through grass & gravel.
      The whole idea to bulldoze the whole place was entirely crap from A to Z.
      And it even does not improve safety, in case of tyre / suspension / brake failure — or when a car slithering upside-down — or in wet conditions … AAARRRGGGHHH

    3. Exactly this – go over the white line you out – simple – measured with pressure plates, gps -whatever etc. 1’s power cut to engine straight away. Done.

  7. Paul Ricard has become trash now.

  8. Business to resume ‘as usual’ from this race on? Lets see Mercedes pace on this circuit really nobody knows why its on the calendar. Why not skip France and dont replace Canada so we can have a decent nr of races in a year instead of stretching it.

    1. Because Canada chose to cancel the race because of covid restrictions

    2. Everybody knows why this track is on the calendar. Because it is Ecclestone’s track and he gave himself a 10 year contract to organize the French GP on his track.
      One of his last actions as the boss of F1.

      Reply moderated
  9. Sweepstake on how many track limits “clarifications” there are over the course of the weekend?

  10. The lines make my eyes bleed!

    But – they also make for some awesome photographs of the cars framed with wavy lines, there are always some very “poster worthy” photos from the weekend on this site. Maybe I’ll update my Lando Norris desktop background on Monday.

    NOTE: Note to @keithcollantine – the “…in pictures” visual feature after each session are awesome. The trackside photography is incredible, I love looking through the hi-res photos of the cars in action. If you @dieterrencken / @hazelsouthwell ever find yourself with no motor racing stories (doubtful, I know), feel free to write a feature on the official photography side of things. I think it would be fascinating to read about the technical aspects, favourite moments photographed, regrets at moments not captured, etc. There must be some fascinating anecdotes, and it could be interesting to appreciate the a Grand Prix weekend from the perspective of the photographers at trackside. They’re often closest to the action but we rarely hear about them.

  11. Put sprinklers in the painted sections that are for other layouts. Dont flood the place just a bit of moisture, we know how a tyre goes over a painted line. That should sort track limits. If a driver messes up so be it have a spin at worst there’s nothing to hit in this carpark

    Reply moderated
  12. I can’t remember any of the previous races at this track. Even the first lap carnage from 2018. I had to watch a highlight video to find that out. Not exactly sure what it is. But the track produces races that are completely forgettable.

    1. From what I recall 2018 was the better race, probably mercedes > ferrari > red bull in the race, but as you’ll have seen mercedes started in formation, leaving like no space for vettel to lunge, so I think bottas had the more compromising damage and lost more time and they both recovered across the race, bottas never changed in the sense he’s not very good at overtaking and vettel recovered a bit more places in the end, was ahead of ricciardo and had to let him go since he had much fresher tyres, I remember verstappen being 7 sec behind hamilton, relatively little, but he might’ve been managing the pace, and given vettel was “out” since the start ferrari might’ve been even closer to merc that race.

      And indeed, doesn’t seem to produce good races, you probably need rain for that there.

      1. 2018 was the highest Paul Ricard has got…but probably not better than Magny Cours’ 2008

  13. It needs proper, penalising limits : so that everyone can see & feel that there actually was the limit;
    a white line won’t be superclear, unless you drill wires into it and measure the pressure.
    But this would not show the crowd the actual fault.

    A “PHEEEP” won’t be as cool as a cloud of dust & sand or a car wobbling through grass & gravel.
    The whole idea to bulldoze the whole place was entirely crap from A to Z.
    And it even does not improve safety, in case of tyre / suspension / brake failure — or when a car slithering upside-down — or in wet conditions … AAARRRGGGHHH

    1. with a sand bed at Raidillon, maybe Anthoine Hubert’s car would not have bounced back on the track …

  14. What ca be said about the modern Paul Ricard circuit…. It’s a car park circuit that makes Caesar’s Palace a good venue…

  15. Soumil Arora
    17th June 2021, 6:09

    Great article! That was a fun read!

  16. The article doesn’t answer its own question. Will changed cambers, crests, and a resurfaced track make for a livelier race at Paul Ricard? Probably not.

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