The French Grand Prix takes place at Circuit Paul Ricard this weekend. Circumstances saw the French Grand Prix disappear from the Formula One calendar between 2008 and 2018, but the race returned last season. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won on that occasion, beating Max Verstappen by seven seconds.
Hamilton extended his lead atop the Drivers’ Championship a fortnight ago with a controversial victory in Montreal. The Briton was behind Vettel on the track, but Vettel was handed a five-second penalty that saw him demoted to second. The decision opened up a discussion about the officiating of Formula One and unsurprisingly angered Vettel, who made no secret of his feelings after the race.
Hamilton is 29 points ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, having won five of the first seven races. Vettel is a mammoth 62 points behind his long-time rival and is already entering ‘must-win’ territory if he is to push Hamilton for the championship. Vettel is out at +240 to win the title.
Coming into the French Grand Prix, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has once again talked up Ferrari’s chances. Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has been less optimistic, however, saying the circuit “isn’t favourable for their package.”
The 3.63-mile, 15-turn track has similarities to the last Grand Prix in Montreal. There are plenty of long straights (including the 1.1-mile Mistral straight), heavy breaking zones and a mix of corner speeds. Vettel was more positive than his team principal, believing the minor upgrades to downforce will help the Ferraris compete with Mercedes this weekend.
Under pressure to bounce back from disappointment in Canada and still holding an advantage on the straights, Vettel will get plenty of backing at +400 to win on Sunday.
Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc achieved his first podium since Bahrain and second of the season at Montreal. For all his raw pace and unquestionable talent, Leclerc - through misfortune, strategic decisions and errors - has only finished ahead of Vettel once this season. He’s not a good bet to win the race as a result, but if the Ferrari performs as well as it did in Canada, the youngster is a solid price at +500 to get the fastest lap.
Hamilton has been ultra-consistent this season. Bottas challenged his teammate in the opening weeks, but Hamilton has had the edge of late. The five-time world champion is -110 to make it four race wins in a row this weekend.
Honda are bringing an upgraded engine to the French Grand Prix for Red Bull and Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat will incur a grid penalty for the change, while his teammate Alexander Albon will hold off using the new engine to avoid both Toro Rosso cars being given penalties at the same race. Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly will both receive the upgrade, though it is not expected to pull them up to the level of Ferrari and Mercedes.
Pirelli have selected the middle of their tyre range for this weekend. All four Ferrari and Mercedes drivers have brought the same selection of tyres, opting for nine sets of the softs. Verstappen has gone for four sets of the medium tyre, which could give the Dutchman greater flexibility with his Sunday strategy. He’s +1600 to win the race.
Daniel Ricciardo, who finished fourth at Circuit Paul Ricard for Red Bull last season, is bringing two sets of the hard tyre and only one of the medium compound, which could suggest he’s aiming for a longer run in the race. The 29-year-old Australian was sixth in Canada a fortnight ago, building on a ninth place in Monaco. He’s +225 to make it consecutive top six finishes.
By Sam Cox