After a dominant victory for Sebastian Vettel in Montreal, achieving his 50th win in Formula One career in the process, becoming just the fourth driver in Formula One history after Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Alain Prost to achieve this feat, and a disappointing fifth-place finish for Hamilton at the Canadian Grand Prix, Round Eight of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship takes place at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet in France for the first French Grand Prix since 2008, but the first one at the Circuit Paul Ricard since 1990, with only a point separating the two main championship contenders.
Vettel (121 points) leads the world championship for Ferrari by a single point over Hamilton (120 points) heading into the French Grand Prix. Vettel has been good without being dominant in 2018 with his victory in Canada being his third of the season (the most of any driver), but his first since the second race of the season in Bahrain, while Hamilton has been trying to find consistent form for Mercedes with perhaps his two best performances of the season so far being in Australia, where a win was taken away from him due to the circumstances of the virtual safety car back in the opening race of the season, and in Spain, where he won by a dominant 20.593 seconds over his teammate Valtteri Bottas to claim his second victory of the season in a Mercedes one-two in backing up the surprising victory he had in Azerbaijan.
However, beyond Vettel and Hamilton, the battle in the championship is starting to heat up beautifully for third in championship between Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, and perhaps Max Verstappen.
Bottas (86 points) has regained third in the championship after an impressive second-place finish in Montreal, making it four-straight podiums for the Finnish driver in Canada, while Ricciardo (84 points) slips to fourth for Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer after finishing fourth.
He is ahead of Vettel’s teammate Räikkönen (68 points) in the championship after finishing a disappointing sixth, but is still ahead of Ricciardo’s teammate Verstappen (50 points) in the standing, despite the Dutch driver having his cleanest, and best weekend of the season so far, finishing third from third on the grid after topping all of the practice sessions.
In terms of the battle towards the back-end of the top 10 in the championship, Fernando Alonso and Nico Hülkenberg are both locked on 32 points in seventh and eighth in the championship for McLaren-Renault, and Renault respectively, with Alonso ahead of Hülkenberg in the championship due to a fifth-place finish in Australia, compared to two sixth-place finishes for Hülkenberg.
Alonso will be coming into the French Grand Prix on a high after winning the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota Gazoo Racing alongside Sébastien Buemi (Scuderia Toro Rosso driver 2009-2011), and Kazuki Nakajima (Williams driver 2007-2009), completing the second leg of the Triple Crown (Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500) he is attempting to achieve after winning the Monaco Grand Prix twice (2006 and 2007), which has been a huge subject in regards to his future in Formula One, as well as the competitiveness of his McLaren.
Only time will tell in terms of what he does next.
Completing the top 10 in the championship is Hülkenberg’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. (24 points), and Haas-Ferrari driver Kevin Magnussen (19 points).
As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Mercedes (206 points), with a new power-unit coming in time for this weekend, leads by 17 points over Ferrari (189 points), with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (134 points) in a comfortable third in the championship. Behind them, Renault (56 points) have pulled away from McLaren-Renault (40 points) in the battle for fourth after a double-points finish for the French constructor in Canada, with Force India-Mercedes (28 points) sitting in sixth position ahead of a battle for seventh in the championship between Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (19 points) and Haas-Ferrari (19 points), while Sauber-Ferrari (12 points), and the hapless Williams-Mercedes (four points) complete the standings.
So, who will win the first French Grand Prix since 2008?
Looking at the Circuit Paul Ricard, the layout of the circuit suits Mercedes and Ferrari a little better on paper compared to Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, but I am not willing to pick a definitive winner given how tight this season has been, but I think it will either be Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, or Kimi Räikkönen lifting the winner’s trophy come Sunday.