#1042 2021 French Grand Prix

2021-08-19 00:00

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#2021, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Sara Miconi,

#1042 2021 French Grand Prix

The seventh round of the 2021 F1 World Championship takes place in France, at the Paul Ricard circuit, located in Le Castellet. The French circuit has


The seventh round of the 2021 F1 World Championship takes place in France, at the Paul Ricard circuit, located in Le Castellet. The French circuit has hosted the Formula 1 Circus since 2018, after the race was previously held at six other tracks, including Magny-Cours, Dijon and the 1967 edition at Le Mans. In 1999, the track was bought by Bernie Ecclestone, completely modernized and then converted into a high-tech center for Formula 1 testing, with no grandstands or retaining nets, but with abrasive runways and an irrigation system to simulate wet and rainy conditions. In June 2012 Ecclestone himself confirmed the return of the French Grand Prix in Le Castellet to the World Championship calendar as of the 2013 season, alternating with the Belgian Grand Prix. Subsequently, the absence of the necessary funds caused the idea to be aborted. Nevertheless, the circuit regularly renews its FIA license to host the Grand Prix. The Paul Ricard is one of the most famous motor racing circuits in the world because of the Courbe de Signes to be driven at full throttle at over 340 km/h, after the very long Mistral straight, and has the particularity of having no less than 247 different configurations as well as blue and red stripes around the edges of the track. Their purpose is to be composed of abrasive material, so they are able to generate a lot of grip in order to slow down cars coming off the track, in order to avoid contact with the barriers. The overall circuit record is 1'28"319, set by Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes during the qualifying for the 2019 French Grand Prix. As for the weather that awaits teams and drivers, there is little chance of downfalls. The Le Castellet circuit could get wet, but not before Sunday evening or night, at which time the teams will already be on their way to Zeltweg, where the Austrian Grand Prix will take place next weekend. Temperatures are not too high. 


The French Grand Prix returns to the Formula 1 World Calendar, in its classic location in June, after being cancelled in the previous season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The race was initially scheduled on 27 June, but on Friday 14th May 2021, due to restrictions imposed by the United Kingdom on travellers from Turkey because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federation announced the postponement of the Turkish Grand Prix, bringing forward the French Grand Prix by a week and including the Styrian Grand Prix in its original date, with the aim of maintaining the record number of 23 seasonal rounds. The Grand Prix represents the third race of the season, after the inaugural one in Bahrain and the fifth race of the championship held in Monaco, where spectators are allowed in the grandstands. The organisers have found a way to accommodate three times the number of people allowed under the current COVID-19 pandemic protocol issued by the French government. The facility offers the possibility to accommodate as many as 15.000 spectators, the highest number allowed so far for fans to attend a Formula 1 Grand Prix in this World Championship. Eric Boullier, former team principal of the Renault and McLaren teams, now in charge of the organisational area of the French Grand Prix, comments on the news regarding the possibility of having the public in the grandstands:


"In France we are currently not allowed to have more than 5,000 spectators per event: this rule will probably be applied until the end of August. However, according to the specific design of our facility, which is very large, we can create three different areas, completely independent of one another. We have received a special permit from the government to accommodate 15.000 spectators - so three times 5.000 - and each area will be completely independent. Each one will have its own access and its own car park. In this way, no one will be able to cross the path of fans from other areas".


Jarno Zaffelli, on the other hand, talks about the modifications made to the circuit by his Dromo Circuit Design, to improve the asphalt for the benefit of overtaking, which has been lacking in previous editions: 


"As was the case at Silverstone, we made a resurfacing respecting the layout of the track, but by working on the asphalt we tried to do as much as possible to give the drivers a little extra weaponry. In general, they will not have to deal with the depressions of the track and will be able to get off the ideal line without any drawbacks".

On Monday, June 7th 2021, the Federation announced that the incident involving the two Haas drivers Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher in the latter stages of the previous Azerbaijan Grand Prix will be investigated. During the last lap, on the main straight, the German driver managed to sprint past the Russian, but blamed his team-mate for almost causing him to crash into the barriers at over 300 km/h in an attempt to prevent him from overtaking. According to race director Michael Masi, the episode has a similar precedent from the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix, where Michael Schumacher tried hard to defend his position on the main straight from Rubens Barrichello. To do so, the German moved very decisively to the right, in the direction of the wall, when the Brazilian had already started his manoeuvre. The episode, by race director Michael Masi's own admission, was not immediately noticed by Race Direction: 


"To be honest, we were obviously watching the lead group so I didn't actually watch the episode directly. I can't comment on it. I'd rather not, not having seen it".


However, the FIA is prepared to take the necessary time before the French Grand Prix to look into the matter. The Australian executive adds that he will take a look at the episode and, if necessary, have a chat with the team and the driver concerned. On Tuesday, June 15th 2021, Ferrari made official the appointment of Benedetto Vigna as the new CEO of the Maranello factory. The role becomes effective on Wednesday, September 1st 2021. Vigna comes from STMicroelectronics (ST), where he is currently responsible for the analogue, MEMS (Micro-electromechanical Systems) and sensors branch. He is also a member of the ST Group Executive Committee. John Elkann, President of Ferrari, said: 


"We are delighted to welcome Benedetto Vigna as our new CEO. His in-depth knowledge of the technologies driving much of the change in our industry, his proven innovation skills, entrepreneurial approach and leadership will further strengthen Ferrari as we write new chapters in our unique story of passion and performance in the exciting era ahead".


An Italian with broad international experience, having worked with some of the world's leading technology companies, the 52-year-old Benedetto Vigna graduated with honours in Physics from the University of Pisa. He joined ST in 1995, founded the company's MEMS business and worked to establish ST's leadership in the motion-activated user interface market. His responsibilities were expanded to include connectivity, imaging and power management solutions. He has also led a number of successful initiatives in new business areas, with a particular focus on the industrial and automotive market segments. Regarding his new role at Ferrari, Benedetto Vigna says: 


"It is an extraordinary honour to join Ferrari as CEO and I do so with enthusiasm for the great opportunities we will be able to seize and with a deep sense of responsibility for the extraordinary achievements and capabilities of the men and women of Ferrari, for all the Company's stakeholders and for those around the world who feel a unique passion for Ferrari".


In his role as CEO, Benedetto Vigna's priority will be to ensure that Ferrari continues to strengthen its leadership as the creator of the world's most beautiful and technologically advanced cars. His extensive knowledge, the result of more than twenty-six years of experience at the heart of the semiconductor industry that is rapidly transforming the automotive sector, will accelerate Ferrari's ability to break new ground in the application of the latest technologies. Three days later, on Friday June 18th 2021, it is announced that Scuderia Ferrari intends to discontinue development of the SF21, focusing on the 2022 season car. The announcement comes from Laurent Mekies, racing director at Scuderia Ferrari:

"From the point of view of the development of the car, we have already made our decision. We are already looking ahead to 2022 and there will be no real update coming to improve the car's weak points. However, we will always be able to work on the problems, seeking a better understanding so that new solutions can be found and applied".


Finally, on Friday June 18th 2021, Scuderia Ferrari announced its partnership with Amazon Web Services. In this regard the Team Principal of Scuderia Ferrari, Mattia Binotto, states:


"Ferrari and AWS represent excellence in their fields and I am delighted to welcome a partner with an exceptional background in innovation and creativity. As an Official Cloud Provider, AWS will enable us to transform our company into a data-driven organisation that uses the power of this technology not only to improve our products but also to connect with the millions of fans we have around the world. We chose AWS because of its relentless focus on innovation, its broad offering of machine learning solutions and its proven track record of supporting global partners. AWS is unrivalled in its portfolio of cloud services, including computer vision and machine learning, and we intend to leverage them to strengthen and speed up our data analysis capability".


Meanwhile, on Wednesday, June 9th 2021, Williams announced that Jost Capito, the team's current managing director, will be the new team principal and take over from Simon Roberts. François-Xavier Demaison, the team's technical director, will now assume responsibility for track operations. Jost Capito, managing director and future team principal of Williams, said: 


"Simon has played a key role in the team's transition over the past twelve months and I would like to thank him for his enormous contribution over these months".


Simon Roberts thanked the team for the opportunity he was given: 


"It was a pleasure to take over the role of team principal after the Williams family's farewell to the team. However, with the transition taking place, I am looking forward to a good challenge and wish everyone in the team all the best for the future".


The German manager is now back in charge of a team's operations after Volkswagen Motorsport's winning epic in the WRC. Capito was in fact at the head of the German team that won eight titles in four years, literally dominating the World Rally Championship with the Polo R WRC and Sébastien Ogier. On Saturday, June 12th 2021, the organisers of the Dutch Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday, September 5th 2021, announced that the Dutch government had approved measures to ease restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the organisers hope to be able to accommodate 105.000 people per day for the entire race weekend. As for the British Grand Prix, on Monday June 14th 2021, the London government decided to postpone the end of all pandemic-related restrictions by four weeks. The public influx restrictions for major sporting events, which were supposed to end on Monday June 21st 2021, will instead extend until Monday July 19th 2021, the day after the race is held. The aim was to accommodate 140.000 people per day, but current limits dictate a maximum of 10.000 people for an outdoor event, or 25 per cent of a venue's capacity, whichever is less. On Wednesday June 16th 2021, the Austrian water treatment company BWT, sponsor of the former Racing Point racing team, now Aston Martin, announced that it will be the title sponsor of the Styrian Grand Prix and the Austrian Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday June 27th and Sunday July 4th 2021, respectively. Lutz Hubner, Head of Marketing of the Austrian company, comments:

"It is an honour for BWT to be part of F1's sustainability initiative and to become the title sponsor of both Austrian Grand Prix. Through our unique and patented water treatment technologies we can contribute to ‘Changing the world, sip by sip’. Plastic waste, disposable bottles and their transport around the world, as well as the associated CO2 emissions, must be drastically reduced. With BWT Bottle Free Zones, we realise this concept now also in cooperation with the F1 community. Joining forces to raise awareness as well as fight for sustainability is a mission BWT and F1 have in common".


Meanwhile, also on Wednesday June 16th 2021, Esteban Ocon renewed his contract with the Alpine team until the 2024 season.


"I am happy to continue with this team after the end of the season, it is a great feeling to secure my future in Alpine. We have improved a lot since I joined the team and I aim to continue this trend in the future. There are big challenges ahead of us, especially with the new regulations in 2022. I am confident that we can achieve our goals by working hard together and continuing the relationship. I often think back to last year's Sakhir Grand Prix with the podium, this memory motivates me to chase other special results like that. I am looking forward to the next chapter but, for now, we are very focused on this season and we take each race as it comes".


Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine, talks about the importance of this renewal and the role the French driver plays for the French car brand:


"We are very proud to keep Esteban in the Alpine family. Since returning to the team in 2020, he has grown in confidence and awareness, consistently delivering good results and helping to develop the car together with the team. Despite his young age, he has a lot of experience in Formula 1 and is growing a lot in maturity and skill behind the wheel. He is an important asset for us now, and also in the future, as we have the challenge of the new regulations ahead of us. We have every confidence in Esteban to help guide the team and the brand to the next milestones and achieve its long-term goals. Esteban is an asset for us beyond Formula 1 as he is deeply involved in the global Alpine project. With his personality and values, Esteban is a perfect ambassador for Alpine. We look forward to continuing the 2021 season with our home Grand Prix in France and doing the best possible job in each remaining race weekend".


The following day, Thursday 17th June 2021, Aston Martin announced the appointment of Luca Furbatto to the role of Engineering Director, a position he will hold before the 2022 season. Furbatto will report directly to Andrew Green, who will occupy the new position of Chief Technical Officer.


"Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team will strengthen its technical team with the appointment of Luca Furbatto as Engineering Director. Luca will report to Andrew Green, who takes up the new position of Chief Technical Officer with immediate effect. Luca's signing is the first in a series of important new hires as the team continues to invest. Adding valuable experience to the current group of engineers, Luca's remit will extend to both track and factory operations to improve work processes and performance. Luca will be at work in the Silverstone factory before the 2022 season".


The French Grand Prix opens a hat-trick of consecutive races. Many do not appreciate the tight schedule, due to the preparation work to be done before each Grand Prix. But, in this regard, Nikita Mazepin is in favour of the races being held at short notice:

"I think it is very important to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, regardless of whether a placing comes from an overtaking or an opportunity that arises. For a team it makes a huge difference and has an impact on the motivation of the team and everyone who works. For us, as drivers, it is very important to capitalise on the chances and make sure we get results if the opportunity comes. And then grinding kilometres is important. With testing banned during the season, I only had the opportunity to test in Formula 1 on the pre-season day and a half in Bahrain. Therefore, every single lap you complete - especially on street circuits - is very important. Obviously, having completed all but the first race was very important for me. It is very important for me to be able to race many Grand Prix. I am one of the few drivers who really enjoys the triplets on the calendar and the 23 races. It's a good thing for me. I am quite physically fit, I can take several races in a row. In particular, this hat-trick starts at Paul Ricard, which is a very special track. It is the exact opposite of our last races in Monte Carlo and Baku. It has huge run-off areas, so it's a track that allows you to look for the limit. I had a good experience there in 2019, in Formula 2".


On the eve of the French Grand Prix, Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen returns to talk about the incident in Baku, when a tyre blowout prevented him from finishing the race:


"I think the Pirelli statement is a bit vague. Talking about the pressures, we did nothing wrong, it was all consistent with the regulations and we followed their directives. We are sure we didn't make any mistakes with the tyre pressures at Baku. In France we never did very well, to tell the truth. However, this season, I think we can be competitive with our car. And if we can't win it means that both teams are competitive on all circuits, which is good. I am not at all happy about not winning in Baku, that is normal. But unfortunately it is part of the sport what happened to me. This weekend the tyre warm-up will be less important. I think Mercedes will be stronger than last weekend". 


Even for Lewis Hamilton the weekend in Baku was not a happy one. The World Champion gives his thoughts on the safety of Pirelli tyres and the race ahead in France:


"This time it is not Pirelli's fault. I was surprised that some rules have been clarified. Now it is important that everything is controlled properly. I would like more control over how the tyres are used. Especially the tyre pressure must be monitored more closely. I think tyre management here in France will play a very important role. The challenge will be to find the right set-up of the car, to be able to extract maximum performance from the car. We need that, also because the last two races have been difficult. We have learned a lot but if we work together nothing is impossible. We come here to France knowing that we have done good races in previous years, but the Red Bulls are very fast this year".


The British driver also talks about the mistake that prevented him from scoring points at the end of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, namely the activation of the Brake Magic function, which changed the braking distribution, shifting all the braking force to the front axle and causing the lock-up that sent him off the road at the first corner.


"We didn’t move the button, we just put a coating on it to make sure it cannot accidentally touch it in the future. This is for the short term, but of course in the future we will look for a more long-term solution. Do I make too many mistakes this year? I don’t count that as a mistake, and I don’t know where I made mistakes this year, but in any case I don’t feel pressure, I feel relaxed. You can’t be perfect all the time".

And adds:


"A mistake is when you go off track by missing the braking point or hitting the wall. It was a kind of unforced error, but these things can happen at any time. Unfortunately for us it was the worst moment, but we learn from these times and move on. The relationship with Verstappen? Well, it’s not like we can see each other very often! We texted before. We spoke after the races, but I think we never had much time to spend together. I think at some point, when things get back to normal, there will be a time when we drivers will meet somewhere. There will be something fun that we will end up doing. I think it's good for the pilots to get together, put the competition aside and have a good time together. At some point, we'll probably all do that".


Mike Elliott, technology director of the Mercedes team, gives his thoughts on the difficulties the Anglo-German team encountered in the previous two races, at the Baku and Monte-Carlo street circuits: 


"We didn't manage to trigger the virtuous circle according to which the more you can push the more you warm up the tyres the more you can push even harder, and on the set-up level we didn't manage to work sufficiently to remedy this problem. On non-city circuits like Baku and Monaco we shouldn't encounter this problem again".


Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas comments on the ongoing rumours regarding his position within the Mercedes team for next season: 


"Every season it's the same story: same questions, same speculation. But that's part of the sport. I think it is still a bit too early to answer in detail. We haven't really discussed anything about the contract with Mercedes yet. Now we are just concentrating on this hat-trick of races, and maybe we will see each other later. But right now there is not much more to say. With Toto Wolff I talk a lot, we also talked recently. I can reiterate that nobody in the team has told me that I will not be confirmed. So these reports are just inventions, mere speculation that is not based on facts. The press is trying to invent stories, just for the clicks. That's how it goes. The trading period does not follow a precise rule. Some years it was earlier, in others it was later. It also depends on how your season and the team's season is going. All I can say is that we just want to focus on the next three races. I haven't allowed myself to think too much about the contract, because it can become a distraction, I know. There will be talks at some point. That's how it is, I just want to win races and get results".


On the eve of the French Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc talks about his expectations for the weekend: 


"The pole at Baku was a big surprise, while in the race we knew exactly what to expect. I expect a return to reality. I also expected this in Baku, and we got a fourth place. So I was wrong in my predictions in the last Grand Prix and I hope to be wrong again, but I think we will unfortunately have to revise our expectations for this weekend. We will struggle a bit more than last weekends, this circuit has a higher average speed. In any case, I don't expect to be out of the points. I think we can aspire to be the fourth, if not the third team, so we will be fighting with McLaren, AlphaTauri, the same teams we are used to fighting against, but with a bigger gap to Mercedes and Red Bull. The Paul Ricard layout has several medium-fast corners. We have to try, step by step, to improve the performance and get the most out of our car. In the medium-fast corners we are still missing something. But in general we are missing something in the overall package. Safety should always be the most important thing in Formula 1. The teams have to respect the regulations. Sometimes they try to play with it, but the teams have to make the cars safe for the drivers. The public? Having it here is exciting. Regardless of whether you have a good or bad performance, it's always nice to have the spectators. We can't hear them, maybe, but we certainly see them from the car and it will be a great feeling to have them back".

Carlos Sainz Jr. also gives his opinion on the safety of Pirelli tyres: 


"There are two different arguments that we need to address: firstly, in my opinion as a driver, a tyre should not explode or fail depending on 2 psi more or less. Secondly, if there are concerns that the tyre might fail below a certain pressure, then teams should never put their drivers at risk just for performance reasons. It is no secret that teams are trying to cool their tyres and protect themselves from overheating. We know the Pirelli overheats and everyone is struggling with rear tyre temperatures. I'm sure every team was doing everything they could to keep the temperatures and pressures as low as possible. If they went below the limits, only those teams can know. We are very good in qualifying at 'turning on' the tyres. We are not so good in the race with overheating. That gives us some clues as to why we were not so good in the race".


Following this series of statements, Pirelli Motorsport Director, Mario Isola, talks about the checks carried out by the Italian company following Max Verstappen's accident in Baku: 


"It's not that the teams have done anything illegal. But it is logical that they are looking for margins to achieve the best possible performance. During the race, they drove with lower tyre pressure than we expected. Before every race there are three parameters we can measure: minimum tyre pressure, maximum tyre temperature and straight-line camber. However, we cannot measure how the teams manage the tyres during the race. This will change, but only next year: the new 18-inch tyres will be introduced and there will be a standard sensor on all cars. This is also controlled by the FIA, so we will be able to monitor everything better. We decided to postpone the meeting until tomorrow, because everyone will be here and it will be easier. After the meeting with the drivers, we can talk about it. The drivers know that they can ask me anything. It will be easier to organise, it was a proposal that came from them, to have just one meeting".


Pirelli, in fact, analysed the tyres that burst during the last race in Baku on the cars of Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen, but found no manufacturing defects, nor were they affected by structural failure. According to the opinion expressed by Pirelli, the cause of the tyre burst was caused by the pressure, which was altered compared to the indications given by the same supplier for the city race. From next year, the introduction of an FIA-managed valve capable of monitoring tyre pressure in real time is expected. But, in the meantime, on Tuesday June 15th, 2021 the Federation announces the arrival of two technical directives where the passage of the tyre treatment regulation will be specified. The failure that affected the tyres fitted on the Dutch driver's Red Bull Racing car in Baku is said to be attributable to the tyre preparation protocols during the weekend, in which the tyres were deflated to gain grip. The data collected by Pirelli and the Federation shows that there was no production or quality defect on any of the tyres. The FIA is therefore introducing the new technical directive, which will allow checks to be carried out on randomly selected sets of tyres, even after they have been fitted. A second directive, valid from this Grand Prix, will tighten up checks on compliance with minimum pressures before the start. If a car fails to meet the minimum values three minutes before the start, it will be forced to start from the pits. In addition, a cold pressure check will be carried out on all tyres used by drivers entering Q3 and tyre temperature measurements in the pits during qualifying and the race. Red Bull meanwhile issued a statement on the matter:


"We have worked closely with Pirelli and the FIA during their investigation into Max's tyre failure on lap 47 of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and we can confirm that no fault has been found with the car. We have always complied with Pirelli's instructions and will continue to follow their instructions. We are thankful that after last weekend's high-speed impacts no drivers were injured".

On the eve of the French Grand Prix, the Federation indicates two areas on the track where drivers will be able to use the Drag Reduction System: the first between Turns 7 and 8, with the detection point located before Turn 7; the second on the pit straight, with the detection point located at Turn 14 (Lac). The Federation announces that at the end of the previous Azerbaijan Grand Prix race, Fernando Alonso's Alpine was drawn from the top ten cars for scrutineering. They were found to be in compliance with the technical regulations. Most of the track was resurfaced, including the pit lane entrance. The barriers separating the pit lane and the pit lane entrance have been extended by about fifteen metres. The Federation also sets three points on the track where drivers are obliged to respect the limits of the latter. The points in question concern Turn 2, Turn 4 and Turn 8. If the drivers do not drive through the bends correctly, they are forced to follow the instructions laid down by the race director to pass to the right or left of the posts positioned in the run-off areas and then to return to the racing line safely. Before the start of the third free practice session, the Federation also sets the corner 6 where the track limits must be respected. Former Formula 1 driver Yannick Dalmas is appointed assistant race marshal. The French driver has already held this function in the past, the last one in the previous edition of the Grand Prix run in 2019. Finally, for this Grand Prix it is the British car manufacturer Aston Martin that will provide the safety car and the medical car. For this Grand Prix, Honda will supply a new power unit to Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri. The Japanese engine manufacturer did not fit a set of new power units in the previous Azerbaijan Grand Prix in order to maximise reliability and thus give the customer teams the opportunity to make use of all available power. In this regard Toyoharu Tanabe, a leading technician in the Honda organisation chart, believes they are perfectly on track with the schedule, unlike Mercedes, who brought forward the power unit change, making it to Baku:


"From our point of view, I would like to know why the other teams used a new power unit in Baku. There are 23 races, so you have to run seven or eight races with one engine. Baku was only the sixth. I don't know why the Mercedes-powered teams have already changed power units".


On Thursday, June 17th 2021, Mercedes announces that it will exchange the chassis of the cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Before the start of Friday's first free practice session on the cars of Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, and Pierre Gasly, the internal combustion engine, turbocharger, MGU-H and MGU-K are replaced. In addition, on the cars of Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez and Pierre Gasly the exhaust system is replaced. On the cars of Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. the electronic control unit is replaced. And, in addition, on Valtteri Bottas' car the energy recovery system is replaced. All drivers in question will not be penalised and therefore will not lose grid positions, as all newly installed components are among those that can be replaced within the maximum number set. On the eve of the French Grand Prix the McLaren team is seeking clarification from the Federation regarding the behaviour of AlphaTauri's Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Japanese driver allegedly neither slowed down nor lifted his foot off the accelerator during the double yellow flags. The matter was discussed with the drivers before the Grand Prix but in the meantime Andreas Seidl, team principal of the McLaren team, said: 


"From our point of view, things were happening there that were clearly not right. All the more so putting it in the context of what we received a penalty for on Saturday. But that's all we can do. We can only report it. If the race director thinks no investigation is necessary because everyone does it - which we strongly disagree with - you need to ask Michael Masi what he is looking for then".


Starting with the French Grand Prix, Honda will change the branding of its engine, adopting the name Honda e:TECHNOLOGY. This name can be found on the liveries of Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri, which use the Japanese Power Units.

"Honda e:TECHNOLOGY is the name given to our concept of highly efficient electrification technology, which aims to lead to a zero-emission society. It is already present in a wide range of products, from motorbikes to automotive and energy products. This technology is also being applied to Honda's F1 power unit components, such as MGU-K and MGU-H, contributing to the challenge to win the championship".


Israeli Roy Nissany will take over from George Russell during Friday's first free practice session. The driver, who comes from the Williams Academy, comments:


"I can't wait to get back in the car on a track that I like a lot like Le Castellet. In particular I am curious to tackle the last sector at the wheel of the FW43B".


While George Russell says he is excited to race at Paul Ricard: 


"I'm looking forward to racing again. Paul Ricard is a very difficult circuit with many different types of corners. Turn 11 (Signes) is one of the most challenging for both driver and car on the entire calendar and it is really nice to tackle it. I am looking forward to three races in a row, the season is really starting to heat up".


Nicholas Latifi is also hoping to continue his personal positive trend: 


"In Monaco and Baku we had good performances, I hope to confirm myself on those levels at Paul Ricard as well".


During the first free practice session, held on Friday June 18th 2021, the track had little grip, partly due to the recent resurfacing work. This leads many drivers to make numerous driving errors. At the end of the first practice session Valtteri Bottas is more than 0.3 seconds ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton. He is followed by the two Red Bull Racing drivers, Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, with the latter damaging the bottom of his single-seater after going off the track kerbs. Esteban Ocon set the fifth fastest time, but was no more than 0.8 seconds behind the Finnish Mercedes driver. Scuderia Ferrari seems to be in trouble, as it scores the tenth time with Charles Leclerc, and Carlos Sainz Jr. compromises his fastest lap with a driving error. Mick Schumacher also makes an inaccuracy and crashes his Haas into the barriers. At the end of the day Red Bull Racing is fined €1,000 as Sergio Pérez exceeded the set speed limit in the pit lane. The high asphalt temperatures (47 °C) make it problematic for the drivers to use soft tyres, although the best time of Friday's afternoon session is set by Verstappen, who also damages his front wing during FP2 after running over a kerb. The Dutchman precedes Valtteri Bottas. The Finnish driver set his best time on Medium tyres, failing to improve once Soft tyres were fitted. The first two drivers in the ranking are also the only ones to have finished with a time under the limit of 1'33"0. Lewis Hamilton follows in third place. The British driver, while complaining about the balance of the car, uses Soft tyres to set his personal best time. Fernando Alonso sets the fourth fastest time. The Spanish driver is ahead of Charles Leclerc and the two French drivers, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. At the end of FP2 on the cars of the two Red Bull Racing drivers, McLaren, Aston Martin, Alpine, Alfa Romeo Racing and Williams, along with the cars of Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz Jr., the transmissions are replaced. No drivers will receive penalties. It is therefore clear that Valtteri Bottas has managed to find the right feeling with his car. But the Finnish driver points out:


"It's hard to say whether these results depend on the chassis or the track conditions, but I had a much better feeling than a fortnight ago, that's for sure. We started the weekend on the right foot. Everything went well, I felt comfortable and I've been pretty fast so far. The balance is good, the tyres work well and I feel comfortable with the car, that's the biggest difference".

Mercedes sporting director Ron Meadows expresses his disappointment with race director Michael Masi over the very high kerbs at the exit of Turn 2, where Bottas damaged the front wing during practice:


"It's not possible to cause thousands of pounds worth of damage for wrongly exiting a corner by half a metre".


At the end of the first day's practice, Max Verstappen talks about the difficulties encountered due to the wind, which prevented him from completing a good lap:


"I think overall it was a good end to the day, we improved. I wasn't completely satisfied in FP1 and also at the start of FP2, but with the second set of tyres this afternoon the car was much better. It's not easy, because the track is very exposed and it's quite windy, which means it's not always easy to get a good lap time. The wind is gusty, so one lap you feel OK while on the next lap it can increase. This means that it is not easy to judge the speeds in the middle of the corners. But that is true for everyone. It is difficult to say where we will be tomorrow. You never know how you can improve during the evening, but even the long runs looked decent. There will be balance and it certainly won't be easy".


Although Sergio Perez failed to set a good time and ended practice in twelfth position, he does not give the impression of being worried:


"I found quite a bit of traffic today, so the result probably looks worse than it actually is, we seem to be there, Max had a good day on the pace. We tried some changes during the sessions. We'll look at them tonight to see what worked and hopefully we can find some pace overnight so we'll be in the mix tomorrow. We come from Baku and obviously this is a very different track. But we are continuing our good momentum. The understanding of the car is improving and there are a lot of positives to take from today".


The Alpine team cars look competitive, with Fernando Alonso setting the fourth best time during FP2:


"We faced quite difficult conditions today, with very strong wind gusts and high track temperatures, but I think we can be quite satisfied with what we managed to get out of Friday's practice. We tested some elements in FP1 and then followed our programme for the afternoon with some good mileage. We will analyse all our data this evening, but so far we seem quite competitive here, let's see how we go tomorrow".


Esteban Ocon can also be satisfied with the work done on the first day of practice: 


"Today's free practice was solid. We're back in the top ten for the moment, but we know it's still early days. Both cars have a good pace and this is promising, the aim is to keep working hard and maintain this pace. The car is going well, the team has worked hard on this. There are, of course, areas to improve, we can perform even better. It's great to be back racing in France, at home, and even better to see the fans in the stands. Hopefully there will be even more fans tomorrow".


After two races in which the SF21 showed competitiveness, at Paul Ricard Charles Leclerc was faced with numerous difficulties:

"The results here are in line with what we expected. The weekends in Monte-Carlo and Baku went much better and now we are more in line. Fifth place is not bad, but there is still some work to be done. We recovered well from FP1, the car felt much better and we are happy. It's not looking at Verstappen that I feel any sporting pain. Ferrari's step backwards in 2020 in terms of performance, that was a big pain. The only thing I think about is getting back to winning ways and fighting at the top. We mustn't forget where we are coming from, which is a really difficult 2020. The team worked like crazy, we pilots are the tip of the iceberg with the effort of hundreds of people behind us. Helping each other and maintaining a calm atmosphere within the team is important. We spent practically a whole month together in Maranello in January. I don't know if our relationship would be so serene if there was a world title at stake, but we both have the same vision characterised by sharing".


Meanwhile, Ferrari president John Elkann highlights the change of pace of the Maranello cars at this start of the season compared to 2020: 


"Ferrari is absolutely improving, we have seen this in the last few races and this is a good premise to do more".


Sebastian Vettel's weekend also started with some difficulties: 


"The track conditions were hot and very windy, which took me by surprise this morning when I had a small run off the track. It cost us some time, but we recovered well in the afternoon. The long run was clean and we managed to put together some consecutive laps, which was important. My performance wasn't the best and I made a mistake, but today was all about getting confident with the car to make sure we were up to scratch in qualifying. I think we know where we can make improvements. There are some things we can do better and that is where we will focus our energy tonight".


His teammate, Lance Stroll, is in the same vein: 


"We learned some useful things about the balance of the car and performed some important tasks. However, I think we are lacking a bit of pace so we will look at everything tonight and try to come back stronger tomorrow. In the middle of the pack we are all very close, so even small gains can certainly make a difference. That's what we will try to find for qualifying".


On the other hand, French AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly made a good start to the weekend, finishing both practice sessions in the top-ten: 


"Today went well, although it was quite a difficult day because of the wind that made the car very complicated to drive. Speaking of performance, I think it is good to finish both sessions in the top ten, but it was certainly more difficult than the last two weekends. Today we worked on the balance of the car, so tonight we will analyse the data and then make improvements to the set-up so that we will have more confidence on track tomorrow. I am racing in front of my home crowd and aim to get into Q3 in qualifying again. Seeing so many French flags in the stands is fantastic, I really want to do well for all those who came to support me this weekend and give them a chance to celebrate on Sunday".


AlphaTauri's competitiveness was confirmed by Yuki Tsunoda's performance, despite the Japanese driver making a small mistake in FP1:

"It was a good day. Compared to the last races, the approach here in France is a bit easier because I have raced at Paul Ricard before. I spun in the first session, but I think we made good progress between the two sessions today. I struggled a bit with the set-up in Free Practice 2, but we adapted very well and at the end of the day I was satisfied with the car's handling. My confidence in the car is returning and my result in Baku certainly helped. We still have a lot of work to do before qualifying and the gaps are tight: the fight will be tough, but the pace is there".


Antonio Giovinazzi talks about the weaknesses that emerged from his car during practice: 


"We need more grip, but it was still very windy today. It will be the same tomorrow. We will have a difficult qualifying, especially to find a good consistency. The wind changes lap after lap, after all. It was a very difficult day, but in the end we did everything we had to do. There is room for improvement, it was not easy to find a good balance, but we have the whole evening to fix the car. We all seem to be very close. We need to put the lap together and be confident in the car. I'm still not 100 per cent. The goal is to improve the balance of the car to give me an advantage tomorrow".


Kimi Raikkonen also says there is room for improvement: 


"It wasn't too bad, I also feel that I could have been a few places higher, with a slightly better lap. The hope, of course, is that we can finish top-ten in qualifying as well: as always, we can try to find some areas to improve tonight, with the engineers, so we can find some more performance from the car, but it's not a bad start".


Finally, Haas team principal Gunther Steiner talks about the mistake made by Mick Schumacher: 


"It's one thing to have barriers at the sides of the track where it's normal to damage cars after conspicuous errors, it's another to have kerbs that destroy cars for marginal errors. If it's a fact that they damage cars, why are those kerbs still there? Driving errors of that magnitude are fine if they result in a loss of time, but not if they destroy a car".


On the night between Friday 18th and Saturday June 19th 2021, the McLaren team, respecting the time limit set by the regulations, took advantage of the first of the two opportunities given to carry out repair work on the British cars. During FP3 Max Verstappen confirms that Red Bull Racing is really competitive on this circuit. Valtteri Bottas, despite being able to make the difference especially in the third sector of the track, is 0.7 seconds behind the Dutch driver. Red Bull Racing seems to be able to make the most of the soft tyres. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Sergio Pérez are ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Ten times were cancelled for drivers for exceeding the track limits at the exit of Turn 6 during the third free practice session. The times of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Yuki Tsunoda (twice) were cancelled; Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly, Kimi Räikkönen, Max Verstappen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Nikita Mazepin (once). In the afternoon, the first qualifying session was interrupted after a few minutes due to an accident involving Yuki Tsunoda: the Japanese driver went off the track at turn 1 and hit the barriers with his AlphaTauri. Because of this accident the car has a gearbox problem and the Japanese driver cannot continue practice. After the track is cleared, the drivers are allowed to re-enter and qualify within the remaining 14 minutes of the first session. Pierre Gasly set a time of 1'31"898, but this benchmark was bettered by Valtteri Bottas, who lapped in 1'31"669. His team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, fails to do better, while Red Bull Racing drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez set times of 1'31"001 and 1'31"501 respectively.

Charles Leclerc makes a mistake in his first attempt, and only sets the 11th best time in his second. Lewis Hamilton, who up to this point seemed to be struggling, sets the second fastest time, and Lando Norris moves up to fifth. The session is interrupted again due to an accident, in which Mick Schumacher is involved. In this case, there was no longer enough time left for the drivers to get back on track, so Nicholas Latifi, Kimi Räikkönen, Nikita Mazepin, Lance Stroll (who had had his first fast lap cancelled, made a mistake in the second and was forced to stop the third due to a red flag) and Yuki Tsunoda were excluded from Q1. At the start of Q2 Valtteri Bottas set the benchmark time, but this was improved by Carlos Sainz Jr., Max Verstappen, and finally Sergio Pérez. Pierre Gasly sets the fifth fastest time, followed by Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Giovinazzi. On the other hand, Lando Norris' time is cancelled for exceeding the track limits in Turn 6. Shortly afterwards Lewis Hamilton sets the best time, 1'30"959: however, this reference is improved by his team-mate, Vatteri Bottas. At the end of Q2, Esteban Ocon, Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi, George Russell and Mick Schumacher, who in fact did not take part in the second practice session due to damage to his car at the end of Q1, are eliminated. In Q3 the first time set by Pierre Gasly was cancelled. Carlos Sainz Jr. thus climbs to first position, thanks to a time of 1'31"142. The Spanish driver was followed by Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo. A few moments later Max Verstappen sets a time of 1'30"325 and takes the lead, while Sergio Pérez, 0.5 seconds behind, moves up to second. Q3 continued and Lewis Hamilton set the second fastest time, while Valtteri Bottas set the fourth best time. Then, however, Pierre Gasly closes his attempt and moves up to fourth. The grip provided by the track improves as time passes and all the drivers lower their times. Carlos Sainz Jr. temporarily moves up to third, while Charles Leclerc does not go further than sixth. Max Verstappen posted a time of 1'29"990, still 0.5 seconds behind Sergio Pérez. However, the Mexican lost his position to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who set the second and third best times respectively. At the end of practice Alfa Romeo Racing was fined 200 euros by the FIA as Kimi Räikkönen exceeded the set speed inside the pit lane. Four times are cancelled for drivers for exceeding the track limits at the exit of Turn 6 during qualifying. The times of Pierre Gasly (twice), Lance Stroll and Lando Norris (once) were cancelled. On his return to the pits, Max Verstappen expresses all his joy at taking his fifth career pole position:


"So far it has been a very positive weekend at a track where we have had so many difficulties in the past. In FP2 we turned things around, we improved again today and to take pole position is really nice. The points are not awarded today, but it was a great day. We have to finish tomorrow, trying to bring home 25 points - the ones we lost in Baku. But this performance is very promising, hopefully we can keep it up. The race? I am confident, the car went well in FP2, so we are looking forward to it".


Despite a very difficult weekend, Lewis Hamilton still managed to secure second place on the grid: 


"Nice to have so many British flags and nice to see people here and that they can move after so long. The weekend was very hard mentally trying to get the car into the ideal position. We had to make a lot of changes. We went round and round without finding a solution, but in the end we came back to something similar to what we started with. I was never happy during the weekend, but working with the commitment of the engineers we got the car to a good level. Congratulations to Max, he did a great job. They were fast all weekend, even with the engine. I was losing a lot of time in the straights. We have a good race ahead of us, we love the battle. Race? Free practice was tiring, in the long runs they were one-two tenths faster. Hopefully we can try, in Turn 1 and also in terms of strategy. Tomorrow it might even rain so we'll see. We could potentially do the rain dance to come up with something".


Valtteri Bottas also explained that there was no more room for improvement:

"Very good weekend, here at least we have the pace. We saw that it will be tough with Red Bull, we are very close. My last attempt in Q3 seemed good, I don't think I still have much margin to gain. I can't be too happy with third position because I had been going well all weekend. But Red Bull is very strong. In the first attempt I made a mistake in Turn 3. The second was much better, but obviously something was missing in terms of speed".


Sergio Perez missed out on the front row because of a mistake in Q3, but put his faith in the race start and tyre management to make up positions: 


"The front row was possible. Unfortunately I made a mistake on my last lap in Q3 which cost me quite a bit of time, we were going in the right direction and I felt comfortable with the car, but I ended up wide on the kerbs at Turn 12 and the lap was gone. It's tomorrow that counts and we have a better race pace than in qualifying. My starts were good, so the plan is to gain a couple of positions at the start and manage the race from there to try and bring home a P1-P2 for the team. The race will come down to tyre management, so hopefully we can overtake them in that area".


Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner is also satisfied with the performance of the two cars: 


"If we beat Mercedes here we can do it anywhere. Paul Ricard is their stronghold where they have been unbeatable in the past. This 2021 presents us with big challenges, there is the 2022 car to design, the budget cap to respect, but I am really proud to see how the team is working. Perez also came close to the Mercedes and he can be valuable tomorrow in terms of strategy. We will have to be perfect and make the right choices, I am looking forward to racing".


Charles Leclerc will start from the fourth row, in seventh position. At the end of practice, the Monegasque driver praised the work done by his team-mate, Carlos Sainz Jr, and explained the difficulties encountered in qualifying: 


"At the end of the Q3 lap I was quite happy despite the position, because I know I put everything I had into that lap. I really struggled to drive with this understeer we had. Carlos did a great job driving much better than me in those conditions there. In the end it's not a bad day for the team. Fifth and seventh isn't too bad, we're fighting with those we really struggle with, the McLarens. But after yesterday I expected more today. I was pushing too hard on the entry to the corners and that added understeer to the car making me struggle. But I will analyse the data well as always and come back stronger tomorrow. Tomorrow we hope to gain positions and finish the race close together, me and Sainz. The first run will be a bit difficult tomorrow because I didn't see the tyres very well after the Q2 run, but then there will be no particular reason for me to struggle more than my direct rivals".


Carlos Sainz Jr, will start from fifth potion: 


"Progress on fast corners? We are working on this aspect, but it doesn't happen from one race to the next. In each race we try a different thing to grow in the right direction. Sometimes we make mistakes and go backwards, in others we find improvements. Yesterday the race pace wasn't bad, in fact it was quite good. Of course, it is far from the top four, but that was not a problem. The AlphaTauri are going strong in the race. I don't know if they can handle the tyres like Red Bull. They are a Red Bull team, we know they have something on tyre pressure management more than us, so it will be difficult to keep them behind. They are far ahead, but if something happens I will try, as always. But the race will be with Pierre, Charles and the McLarens".

Scuderia Ferrari's sporting director, Laurent Mekies, says that all in all, the positions gained in qualifying by the Maranello team's drivers are very good ahead of the race: 


"All in all, a positive qualifying. We had arrived here aware that the balance of power on the field would not be the same as seen at two atypical circuits like Monaco and Baku and that the characteristics of the Paul Ricard did not match those of the SF21, but we still managed to reassert ourselves once again as the best team behind the two teams fighting for the World Championship. What's more, as in the previous three qualifying sessions, we put both our cars ahead of our direct rivals. Carlos is having a great weekend, showing his growth. His qualifying session was really good. Charles didn't find the right feeling, especially with the front, but still managed in his last attempt to get close to that third row that was within his reach. Tomorrow will be a long and difficult race, where the behaviour of the tyres will be crucial: in the top ten everyone is in the same condition so we will be fighting for our chances on equal terms. We know that on race pace we are not yet where we want to be: we will prepare as best we can and continue to do so in the coming weeks to give our drivers an increasingly competitive package".


Pierre Gasly put in another good performance in qualifying: 


"I am really very happy with this result because it was a difficult weekend. I didn't feel so comfortable on this track with the car. We changed a lot of things over the weekend, but in the end we managed to have the best possible car for qualifying. Q3 was quite intense because they cancelled my first lap, so I only had one attempt and I managed to do a great lap. I am very happy to be between the two Ferraris. I was very happy during qualifying. After free practice I didn't feel so good. We made some changes and they were very positive. Tomorrow there will be Ferrari and McLaren next to us and we hope to have a good battle, because we have been on track together a lot recently. Qualifying with the averages was important. We start sixth, so hopefully we will have a good race".


While his team-mate, Yuki Tsunoda, will start last due to an accident in Q1 that excluded him prematurely from qualifying: 


"In qualifying I made a mistake and I want to apologise to the team. I used the yellow kerb too much in the first corner and spun. I tried to brake as hard as I could to avoid contact with the barrier, but it was like skating on ice. The impact was quite minor, but the car has some damage so the team will have to work hard tonight ahead of the race. The best way to thank them would be to have a good race. Overtaking here is difficult, but I will push as hard as I can and take every opportunity that might present itself to me".


Lando Norris will start in eighth position, despite having a problem with his car during practice:


"We had a problem with the fuel going into the car, I didn't have enough, which is a problem. I didn't do my second lap, but I had done a pretty good first one, so that didn't cost us anything. But I was a bit lucky, the track was improving, I think the wind actually changed a bit at the end of Q2. That caught me a bit by surprise going into Q3. It wasn't the perfect scenario".


Daniel Ricciardo was also a little disappointed that he couldn't get further than 10th position: 


"It was good to have got into Q3 on the medium tyre, that was definitely a goal. My final lap was good and we seemed to have enough pace to do better than tenth place. I'm a bit disappointed not to be a little bit higher on the grid, but that's how it went. We are still looking for those few extra tenths on the single lap. All in all, I'm quite happy with the performance. Everyone is fast right now and the gaps are close. We will work on continuing to find the rhythm".

After being the author of three encouraging practice sessions, Esteban Ocon missed out on Q3 but says he is confident for the race: 


"It's a shame we didn't get into the top-ten, but we know there is everything to play for tomorrow. We seemed to miss the pace on the averages in Q2. It's that small margin that makes the difference between getting into Q3 or not. It is frustrating, but the weekend is not over. We are just out of the points and aiming to get some tomorrow. We have to think a bit outside the box for strategy and give it our all".


Instead, the feat was achieved by Fernando Alonso, who raced from ninth position: 


"I am happy with today and I think we are more or less where we expected to be, our pace looked good in qualifying. We made the most of most of the laps during the session, with a few exceptions. Tomorrow the gaps will be very close and we are next to some very fast cars, all with the same tyres. Overall, though, we have to be satisfied with our starting position. The points will be awarded tomorrow, so we have to prepare for the race in the right way".


Mick Schumacher was able to enter Q2 following his accident, which ended the first qualifying session, when he was in 15th position: 


"We have to be happy. We managed to get our first Q2, something we had been chasing for a long time. We managed it, I tried to extract something more from the car and in this case I went too far. But you learn that way too. Hopefully we can do something good in the race".


Sunday, June 20th 2021, at the start of the French Grand Prix, Max Verstappen loses first position to Lewis Hamilton, after clipping the braking point at the first corner. He was followed by Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Pérez, Carlos Sainz Jr., Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso. The leading positions remain the same until lap 10, when the two McLaren drivers, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, pass Alonso. The Spaniard then gives up another position to Sebastian Vettel, while Daniel Ricciardo catches up and passes Charles Leclerc. Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc make a pit stop between lap 14 and lap 16. The choice seems positive, as the Monegasque driver improves his pace. On lap 17 Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Pierre Gasly also pit, and on lap 18 Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso pit. When Lewis Hamilton pitted on lap 18, Max Verstappen set an exceptional time and managed to get back on track ahead of the Briton. In the meantime Sergio Pérez took the lead of the race, ahead of Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and the two Aston Martin drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll. The Mexican remained in the lead of the race until lap 24, when he pitted for a tyre change, as did Lando Norris. Sergio Pérez returns to the track in fourth position, ahead of the two Aston Martin drivers. In the following laps Lewis Hamilton closed in on Max Verstappen, while the two Ferraris slowed their pace due to high tyre degradation. 


Charles Leclerc is forced to give up several positions. Lando Norris, after making the tyre change, makes a brief comeback and moves up to eighth place, behind his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. On lap 32 Max Verstappen, worried about the high tyre degradation, decides to make a second stop. The Dutch driver rejoins the track in fourth place. Two laps later Lando Norris passes his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, and Lance Stroll, and moves up to fifth place, also taking advantage of the tyre change made by Sebastian Vettel. Max Verstappen, who is more than two seconds quicker than the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, overtakes Sergio Pérez on lap 35, then Valtteri Bottas on lap 43, also helped by a mistake made by the Finnish driver at the Turn 8 chicane. Five laps later Valtteri Bottas is forced to cede third position to the Mexican Red Bull Racing driver. The Dutch driver's comeback was completed on the penultimate lap, when he passed Lewis Hamilton under braking, before negotiating the chicane. Max Verstappen wins the French Grand Prix and takes the thirteenth victory of his career. For the tenth time in the history of the category and sixth time in the turbo-hybrid era, which began in the 2014 season, there are no retirements by competitors during the race. The last time had happened at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix.

Only one time has been cancelled for exceeding the track limits at the exit of Turn 6 during the race, and that is that of Antonio Giovinazzi. In addition to the 25 points from the win, Max Verstappen earns an additional point for setting the fastest lap in the race.


"Towards the end of the race I had fun, yes. It was very difficult at the beginning, though, with the wind. One lap you had the balance OK, the next you were sliding all over the place. Keeping the stability of the car was difficult. But once we made the first pit stop we saw that with the hard tyres I was struggling from behind. Luckily we chose the two-stop strategy. We had to sweat a lot but in the end we won. It was difficult because there were so many lapped drivers to overtake but luckily they all behaved well and we were able to have a good fight. First corner? I simply lost the rear. I tried to correct it, but the car wouldn't stop. There is a fight every race, it will be like that for the rest of the season".


Lewis Hamilton is forced to settle for second place: 


"Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today. They had a better car all weekend, I'm happy with today's race given the difficult weekends we were coming from. We didn't win, I was in the lead but ran out of tires at the end. Unfortunately I lost the position, but it was still a good race. Definitely we need to find some speed. Most of the time we lose it in the straights, like today".


And adds:


"We have to try to find the reason. We had a good package, I don't know how we lost the position. Undercut was very strong. To find him in front of me was also surprising because I had a front tire that was still good. Second stop Max? The only solution for us was to stay out and try, otherwise I could never catch him. When he caught me it was impossible to keep him behind. I don't think the team made a mistake. We didn't think the undercut was so powerful here, we had no idea. It worked well for them, we had a good lead. That helped them compensate for the mistake Max had made in Turn 1. If they hadn't made that mistake at the beginning they would have gone away and the result would have been the same. It would have been nice to get out in front of him after the pit stop, however, it obviously didn't have to be that way. I tried to attack him, but in the end I ran out of tires. We had a good demonstration of our weaknesses. We have to gather our strengths and figure out where we can improve, understanding why we lose so much in the straights. Whether it depends on the wing-because they have very good wing-or whether it's a matter of power. We know they had a new engine this weekend, so we need to do some work. A two-stop strategy would have potentially done the job, but it was not at all among our options. So we'll do some analysis and try to figure out why. We did a very good job today, it just didn't work so I'm not very disappointed. I think I did the best job possible".


Closing in third was Sergio Perez, who won valuable points for Red Bull Racing: 


"During the first five to 10 laps the car was unrideable because of the wind. It was difficult to keep the pace of those in front. When the wind died down the track improved, I started to pick up the pace, we went long in the first stint and that paid off a lot toward the end. Today there was more degradation than expected. We managed to have a great race and we are happy to have won, also bringing a lot of points for the team. The team did a fantastic job today with a great strategy, they made the right calls at the right time. It's a great result for them, which is what really matters, so I'm happy about that. From my side, this weekend was not as good as I hoped it would be, as drivers we just want to win, so I have to keep working hard, keep improving and get better results with the great car I was given. I would have only needed three more laps to pass Lewis and complete the one-two. Now we will keep pushing to get it in our home race in Austria. I think it will be very good for me to have two races in a row there. The first race will help me understand how the car behaves there and as a result I will have a better base for the second one. Hopefully I can be in contention for success".

Valtteri Bottas ended the race in fourth position, and recriminated about the fact that he chose to conduct a race strategy that preceded a single stop:


"I think the winning strategy today was the two-stop strategy. To say it afterwards is easy, but it was. I had no front tires left in the last 10 to 15 laps. I was just trying to bring the car home. The last stint was not fun, I felt like a lame duck, but of course I tried everything I could. I tried to finish on the podium, but the tires were completely gone, so there was no chance. If I had made two stops, for sure I would have been on the podium and would have been fighting for the race win this is for sure".


Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director of Mercedes, also admits that the strategy adopted in the race was not the best choice: 


"It’s annoying, because I think we could have won the race. We could have had two cars on the podium, and we are in a championship where we cannot afford to let those opportunities slip away. Converting Lewis' two-stop strategy would not have worked equally because Max got ahead of us and we would have had to pass Sergio Perez as well. This, of course, would have been more difficult for Lewis than it was for Max".


And Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is of the same opinion: 


"We had a three-second gap to protect ourselves from the undercut. It was not enough and we have to understand why. I'm not very happy, of course. We did something wrong and that's why we didn't win. Of course if there are two teams fighting it is good for F1. We know Max did a stellar outlap and that's why we lost the race. I think the one-stop strategy was the best strategy. The championship is long, today we see two teams that are both fast. We are on an equal level. We have to stop making the mistakes we made, of strategy and logistics. Valtteri could not do more. He and Lewis did not have the fast car. The tires were pretty much done for the long stint. I really liked that finally Valtteri was a little bit angry. We are 100 percent focused on next year. We don't do development on this year, because there are many seasons coming after 2022. So we focus on setup and tires to go faster this season, but not on aerodynamics".


It is a Grand Prix to forget for Scuderia Ferrari, as it fails to score any points in France. Team principal, Mattia Binotto, talks about how the SF21 suffered so much from tire degradation: 


"We did badly not only compared to Barcelona, but compared to all the other races and also to what we saw on Friday. We had a bad race, out of the points, a drubbing, when thinking about the constructors' standings. Something didn't work. We had a lot of graining and we didn't expect it. We will see from the analysis, among the hypotheses is overheating of the tires. Analyzing and understanding is always the first step to correct. This year at the level of tire temperature in hot weather we are struggling, they were problems we already knew we had last year and there was no chance to intervene because they were frozen at the regulatory level. I don't want to anticipate analysis because that would be premature. You have to analyze data and talk to the riders. Pressures? Pirelli has increased those of the rears. In these cases we slip more and generate more graining. There will be other tracks where we will be in trouble because of the temperature and the asphalt. Not all tracks have these characteristics, not all tracks are critical because of overheating. We will see how to correct, if we can. It is a bad setback, which should serve as a lesson for us, but more importantly, as a further stimulus. It is also on the experience gained in races like this that we build a stronger team".


For Carlos Sainz Jr. the tire degradation also seemed abnormal from the start:

"We struggled so much with degradation from the very first laps and carried this problem with us throughout the race, regardless of the tire compound fitted. I could not maintain the starting position despite all my efforts. We have to analyze what happened, understand the problem and try to deal with it as best we can. We did not expect this kind of difficulty, we are honestly very surprised and disappointed. You never expect to be so slow and have so much degradation. It was quite obvious that something was wrong today. We simply don't understand why we struggle so much in the race. There were cars doing 1'37"0 at the end and we were doing 1'39"0, while yesterday we were giving them half a second. We have to understand the tire degradation, we will do our analysis and look for a solution for Austria. Already from Bahrain I feel that the car on the race pace has something wrong and that we have to improve. When I came from McLaren, I saw this as something to improve on. I don't understand why in races like Barcelona we didn't have this problem. Here the conditions change, the track is slower and we have so much more graining than the others. This is something we need to understand and analyze, but it is something I felt before".


Charles Leclerc finished the race in 16th position. The Monegasque driver was understandably disappointed with this result:


"Both Carlos and I struggled a lot with both rubber compounds fitted today. We tried the second pit stop card to try to improve the situation, with a set of fresher averages. Not much changed from the first stint: good the first three or four laps, then a very strong degradation started again".


Ferrari's historic engineer, Ross Brawn, analyzes what happened to the Maranello team, and tries to give his opinion: 


"In qualifying the cars were going quite well, frankly I don't know how they lost so much speed in the race. But I know the Ferrari environment, I'm sure that both in the pits and in the factory, the men at the Cavallino will be trying hard to figure out what went wrong and will be able to get back up. If they were to ask me what went wrong I would take my time and answer more or less like this: Give us a few days to figure out what happened, we will regroup, trying to come to firm conclusions and problem-solving. Most teams are used to collecting a bitter pill at the end of each race, but I expect more from Ferrari. The engineers need to sit down and understand the causes of the drop in race performance. This is a crucial step to keep the team's morale high".


It was undoubtedly a favorable Grand Prix for McLaren, which in the fight for third place in the standings manages to widen its lead over Scuderia Ferrari. However, Lando Norris says he was surprised by his race pace, which allowed him to finish fifth:


"Obviously I'm very happy. I didn't really expect fifth, I didn't think we would have the pace we had. It was difficult to manage the tires, but it went much better than we hoped and that is always good news. Getting fifth and sixth place represents one of the best team results this season. Overall it was a fun race. Hopefully we can continue like this".


Daniel Ricciardo is also satisfied, not too far from the level of performance shown by his teammate: 


"It was definitely a positive Sunday, I think it was the race we hoped for, but not the one we expected. I don't think we expected that our closest competitor wouldn't score any points and that we were the best in the middle of the pack with both cars. It was the race of our dreams and we managed to pull it off. I am really satisfied with the race, although I was not totally happy with the car. I struggled from the beginning and then throughout the race. But it seemed like everyone else besides Lando was struggling more. It was a fun race and I'm happy that we brought home a fifth and sixth place for the team. It's about time we got back to these positions, so it was a good day".

Sebastian Vettel also managed to score two valuable points for the Aston Martin team, thanks to his ninth position at the end of the race: 


"We expected a difficult race and it turned out to be so on the tires, the start was not very good. I think I lost a position on Antonio (Giovinazzi), then I got it back on him and Ocon. So, the first few laps were good. Obviously we were on a different strategy. We started on hard tyres, which were very difficult to hold. The conditions today were complicated. We know the tires were a problem for everyone, but in the end we can be very happy with the points. It's nice to have both cars in the top-10".


Lance Stroll, on the other hand, rounds out the top-ten by earning a point: 


"It was a pretty good result, actually I didn't have a great start, then I passed some cars in the first laps. We got a good result".


Fernando Alonso, who finished the race in eighth, also rejoiced: 


"We started ninth and finished eighth. All in all, we finished the race as we wanted, so I'm happy with the result. We didn't expect the tires to degrade as much as they did-our averages didn't last long at the beginning of the race. I was a little worried, but when we switched to hard, we showed strong pace. It looked like we could pass Gasly and Ricciardo in the last laps. We had similar performances at some circuits now, both in qualifying and in the race. I think we can be a little more relaxed that this is our real position and not what we showed in Monte-Carlo".


Instead, it was a disappointing race for Esteban Ocon, who came to the finish line in 14th position: 


"It was not the race we were hoping for. We had a disappointing weekend overall. Today we seemed to be missing something. There are some things to review. We had no pace on any of the compounds, they degraded quite quickly and we couldn't get close to the points zone. We will learn from this weekend and move forward. The next race is already next week, so we are aiming hard to get back up".


It is a happy moment for AlphaTauri, which took seventh place in the French Grand Prix with Pierre Gasly:


"I think objectively it was a good race. We finished behind some opponents who turned out to be stronger than us, but we cannot be completely dissatisfied. Of course I would have liked to have been able to get an even better position in front of my home crowd, but it was a difficult race and I think we did our best. During the pit stop we were undercut by both Ricciardo and Charles, losing two positions.We will go and review the data to see if we could have done something different. Today I gave everything I had and ended up in some good fights, so I can be happy. In the end, I think seventh place is still good for us because it allows us to bring home some more good points".


Yuki Tsunoda, who started from the pit lane after some changes were made on his car under the closed park regime, was unable to go beyond 13th position: 


"The first lap went well. I started from the pit lane and made up three positions. Then we got stuck behind the Alfa Romeos, which were running on a different compound, so we tried to undercut by fitting Hard. I had to push from the beginning with those tires and by the end of the race they were completely gone. The good thing is that I added more important mileage to my Formula 1 experience. Now I have to work on qualifying so that I can start the race further up the grid and have a better chance of getting into the points".

Kimi Raikkonen, as well as the Scuderia Ferrari drivers, also struggled with tire management during the race: 


"We will have to understand why we were not able to replicate the good performance we had recently, I had a good start, then we struggled with tire management, but I think it was the same for everyone. In general, we didn't have the speed we had been enjoying lately. We had a much better pace when we switched to medium, but by then we were already too far behind, and with all the time we lost to blue flags, we couldn't make a difference. We will analyze this race and see how to improve for Austria".


The same problem was experienced by his teammate, Antonio Giovinazzi: 


"Unlike the last two races, today we didn't have the pace to get into the points. On Saturday we were good on the single lap, so we will have to figure out what happened in the race. In the end, it was not an easy Grand Prix. We struggled in the first stint on the hard tires and then we couldn't get up enough on the medium tires. I'm looking forward to getting back in the car in Austria. It will be a different track, with different conditions, and we hope for a different and better result".


The Williams Racing team did not get any points, but still achieved an encouraging 12th place thanks to the performance provided by George Russell. For Dave Robson, Grove-based team performance manager, the rain that fell in the morning affected the final result: 


"Although it did not rain during the race, the rain that fell in the hours before the lights went out was enough to mess things up, cooling the asphalt and making it more difficult to evaluate tyre performance. We felt that completing the race with only one pit stop was the best choice, but getting it done was not easy. Kudos go to our mechanics and of course to our drivers, who managed to put together some very fast laps in the final part of the race. We look forward to putting ourselves to the test at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, a short circuit that can always provide great excitement. We know that there is still a lot of work to be done to make our car more competitive, but the FW43B is improving day by day and yesterday's grand prix shows that we can fight until the last corner even in the most difficult racing conditions".


For George Russell it was the best race since he has been running for Williams:


"It was a good race. We overtook a couple of rivals, including Tsunoda, putting the nose in front of Ocon and the Alfa Romeos. Maintaining the right tyre temperature while avoiding graining was not easy, but the car performed great, as did the strategy from the pits. I am very happy with the result and I would venture to say that Le Castellet was my best race since I have been at Williams".


Nicholas Latifi, on the other hand, faced a few more difficulties than his teammate: 


"I got a good start, but after the first lap my tyres did not have the right grip. The situation improved when there were about 12 laps to go in the race. I got into a rhythm, but by then it was too late to recover positions. Together with the team we will evaluate the problems and the corrective measures to be implemented ahead of the next race in Austria".


At the end of the French Grand Prix Max Verstappen increases his lead in the standings, taking 131 points to the 119 of his direct rival, Lewis Hamilton, who has been struggling on the Paul Ricard circuit all weekend. He is followed by Sergio Perez and Lando Norris, who so far have taken 84 and 76 points, respectively. As for the Constructors' World Championship standings, Red Bull Racing remains in the lead with 215 points, followed by Mercedes, which lags behind by 37 points.

The McLaren team climbs to third place, taking advantage of the difficulties of Scuderia Ferrari, which is now forced to chase with 16 points behind the British team. We are only a third of the way through the World Championship, and the challenge between Red Bull Racing and Mercedes is becoming increasingly interesting. The concepts of the two cars manage to subvert predictions at every Grand Prix, and there is a feeling that Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton can make this challenge interesting until the end of the season.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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