2019 French Grand Prix – Preview

The 2019 Canadian Grand Prix was largely uneventful, but in the end, it proved very controversial with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel given a five-second time penalty by the race stewards for re-joining the track unsafely at Turn Three, and forcing Lewis Hamilton off the track on Lap 48, with Hamilton being forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting the wall, and Vettel, which would have resulted in a massive accident!

This meant that Hamilton claimed his seventh Canadian Grand Prix victory to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, in terms of race wins, at the Canadian Grand Prix, despite Hamilton crossing the line in a close second behind Vettel.

However, Ferrari have requested their right to have the decision reviewed, and is arguably the biggest subplot heading into the 2019 French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet for Round Eight of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Hamilton (162 points) leads the championship for Mercedes by 29 points over his teammate Valtteri Bottas (133 points) after claiming his fifth race victory in the opening seven races of 2019, and it is the ninth-straight race that Hamilton has finished either first or second. And, in the six previous occasions that Hamilton has won five or more races in a season, he has gone onto win the world championship five times.

While for Bottas, you feel that the French Grand Prix has turned into a must win race for him after finishing 51.043 seconds behind his teammate in fourth at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. If Bottas can’t win this weekend, and is beaten by his teammate, you sense that his world championship hopes might start to slip away.

Vettel (100 points) is third in the championship after having the almost perfect weekend, claiming pole position ahead of Hamilton by a margin of 0.206 seconds, and then led 63 of the 70 laps to cross the line first ahead of Hamilton. However, Vettel made a mistake on Lap 48, running wide at Turn Three, missing the corner, and then in the opinion of the race stewards, re-joined the circuit unsafely, and almost causing what would have been a massive accident with Hamilton, with Hamilton having to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

Looking at the incident over and over again, I feel like it was one of those 50/50 incidents where you could argue that Vettel did all he could to re-join the track safely and not have the situation of a potential collision, but you could have also argued the opposite.

I think though what the race stewards (and in large the FIA) are trying to say is that if a similar thing happened involving one or two inexperienced drivers (in terms of Formula One experience), especially if the inexperienced driver had been in Hamilton’s position, it would have almost certainly have resulted in a massive accident, and with safety being absolutely paramount in the sport today, the race stewards really had little choice but to penalise Vettel, much to the disgust of most fans, and most certainly to the anger of former Formula One drivers, most of whom participated in the sport in an era(s) where safety was of lesser consideration than it is today, and no matter how they justify their opinions on this and similar incidents, they cannot remove the fact that they participated in the sport in an era(s) where danger was almost at every turn, and that their opinions are shaped by those experiences, even if it is merely subconscious.

In the end, I don’t think Ferrari’s chances of overturning the penalty are that strong, and will have to regroup after Vettel’s “near perfect” race, and unfortunately in this era of Formula One with a team like Mercedes producing the results they are producing right now, being “near perfect” is just not good enough!

Max Verstappen (88 points) is fourth in the world championship for Red Bull Racing-Honda after finishing fifth in Canada from ninth on the grid, and the last car on the lead lap, and remains ahead of Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc (72 points) in the standings despite Leclerc finishing a close third in Montréal.

Behind the Top Five in the championship, Verstappen’s teammate Pierre Gasly (36 points) is 36 points behind Leclerc, and seemingly a mile away from being in contention for a race win, but remains ahead of McLaren-Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. (18 points), and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo (16 points), who put in a magnificent performance to finish in sixth after qualifying in a remarkable fourth! Ricciardo is now eighth in the standings, ahead of Haas-Ferrari’s Kevin Magnussen (14 points), and Racing Point-BWT Mercedes driver Sergio Pérez (13 points), who is equal on points with Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen (13 points).

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (295 points) still dominate to the tune of a 123-point margin ahead of Ferrari (172 points), with Red Bull Racing-Honda (124 points) in a lonely third. Behind them, McLaren-Renault (30 points) are still in fourth, but Renault (28 points) are right behind them, and are starting to show the form that we were expecting, with Racing Point-BWT Mercedes (19 points), Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (17 points), Haas-Ferrari (16 points), Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (13 points), and sadly Williams-Mercedes (zero points) behind them.

So, who is going to triumph at the 2019 French Grand Prix?

Although I think the characteristics of the Circuit Paul Ricard could potentially suit Ferrari, I still think it will suit the characteristics of the Mercedes even better, and I feel like Lewis Hamilton will make it four wins in a row this weekend!