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F1 Race Preview: French Grand Prix

We are halfway through the current Formula One season with 11 races done and 11 to go. Next on the calendar is the French Grand Prix, one of the oldest motor races in the world. If rumours are true, this could be the last French GP for a while – but will it go out with a bang?

Who will take the spoils and who’ll be left languishing in the pits? Read on to inform your F1 predictions ahead of the next race of the season with expert insight from Jennie Gow.

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At times, it looked like this season was going to be a Ferrari whitewash, but they’ve done a good job of dropping the ball at times, which actually means the Constructors’ Championship seems to be Red Bull’s to lose.

In a year full of change, the game is certainly not over yet, but it will take a really strong second half of the season from Ferrari if they and their drivers are to challenge for the title in either Championship.

But this is Formula 1 and you never can predict what might happen next time out! Take the last race as a perfect example: Austria was predicted to be a strong race for Max Verstappen – being the home of Red Bull racing - but actually, it was Charles Leclerc who came out on top.

The pace wasn’t there for Verstappen and even with a fault on his car that meant the throttle was left slightly open even through the fastest of corners, Leclerc still managed to win the race ahead of Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in third. However, it could have been another Ferrari 1-2 but for a fire in Carlos Sainz’s car that led him to retire from the race.

There is clearly still plenty of work to do for both teams when it comes to reliability and car performance. And it’s those types of issues that could well decide the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships this season.

French Grand Prix 2022: What can we expect?

The Circuit Paul Ricard’s days of hosting F1 races might be numbered – there are strong suggestions that this could be the last time we race here for a while. The French GP only came back to the calendar in 2018 and for a nation that created Grand Prix races, it’s sad to see that they may lose their home race. However, if this is the last hurrah, let’s hope it’s a good one!

The race is 53 laps long with 15 corners (an even mix of high-, medium-, and low-speed), although it has many different configurations up its sleeve because it’s a test track for most of the year. That’s why it looks so odd with miles of run-off and swirling patterns if you look from above.

The first F1 race to be held at the track was back in 1971, a year after it first opened, and since then, there have been 12 different winners in the 17 Grands Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Alain Prost has won four times at his home track – the most of any driver. Since the race went back to France in 2018 there have only been three races (2018/19/21) – Hamilton won the first two and Verstappen won last year. The last Ferrari win at the track was back in 1990 when Prost collected the last of his four wins.

The smallest winning margin was back in 1975 when Niki Lauda won by 1.59 seconds from James Hunt. Verstappen was hunted down last year by Hamilton in a thrilling race that saw the top two separated by just 2.9 seconds – the second-smallest winning margin at the track.

Another interesting thing to note is that the odds of seeing a safety car are relatively high at Paul Ricard – there was one in 2018 (as well as a virtual safety car that year) and again in 2019. Will we see another safety car this year? It would surely add to the excitement during the race, as it did at Silverstone a few weeks ago.

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French Grand Prix 2022: How important is pole position?

If you start the French GP (at Paul Ricard) on pole, then the statistics say you should finish the race on the podium. It’s something that’s happened in 13 out of the 17 races here (76.47%). There is only one man who has finished on the podium having started outside of the top eight and that was the mighty Emerson Fittipaldi back in 1971.

The last three races have been won from pole position but in the history of F1 at Paul Ricard 11 of the 17 races have been won from the front – almost 65%. That means, statistically, that out of all the races on the calendar, getting pole here is the most important. No one has ever won a race here starting further back than fifth on the grid.

Leclerc is, once again, the favourite to get pole, despite not getting once since Baku at the beginning of June. Ferrari have had seven of the 11 pole positions so far this year and Leclerc should be back at the front of the grid this weekend, all being well. Leclerc has taken 54% of all poles this year compared to 27% for Verstappen.

French Grand Prix 2022: Could track limit penalties impact the race result?

Track limits were a major talking point after the Austrian GP with 43 infringements taking place in the race. Five-second time penalties were being handed out like sweets at Halloween. This is a new strategy by the Race Director and one the drivers aren’t too happy about. There will be plenty of chat on Friday in France when the drivers meet with the officials for this race. They want consistency but on their terms, so it seems.

There are no walls hemming the cars in at this track (unlike a street circuit) – the track is wide open with unlimited run-off areas; so expect track limits to be an issue again and for drivers to brand the penalties ‘a joke’ (as Verstappen called them) once more.

Ocon and Gasly: Should you bet on a home win?

There is no doubt that Alpine are a team on the rise. Their updates seem to be working really well and you can feel both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon are close to earning podiums and even race wins for the team. Ferando Alonso has actually won the French GP before, in 2005 for Renault (Renault are now known as Alpine), but that was at Magny-Cours and not at Paul Ricard.

This would be the perfect race for Ocon to get up there – this being his home race. The other Frenchman on the grid is Pierre Gasly, whose season has been fairly subdued so far (he’s currently 13th in the Championship). I do feel that for either driver to win here it would need something out of the ordinary to happen to the teams at the top – but out of the two, Ocon has the best chance.

In total, there have been eight previous French winners of the French Grand Prix – the first of them being in 1971 when Jean Pierre Jabouille won in his Renault. Rene Arnoux was the winner in 1982, again for Renault, and Prost won six French GP’s in total (four at Paul Ricard).

Constructors’ Championship betting: Could Mercedes make a late challenge?

There is no doubt that Mercedes are back to some sort of form, especially on smooth tracks like Silverstone, so they could do well around Paul Ricard. They seem to be on top of the porpoising issues they struggled with at the start of the year and Hamilton has now been on the podium for the last three races in a row (and before that, we saw George Russell on the podium).

They are still not quite able to keep up with Verstappen and Leclerc but it is coming. Another podium finish is there for the taking and if anything happens to the Ferrari or Red Bull cars, then it’s an open goal for the Mercedes duo. Hamilton is now 99 points behind Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship so the title is out of his grasp but with 122 points separating Mercedes from Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship, I’ve not written them out of that battle just yet.

Drivers’ Championship 2022: Is Verstappen still value?

Although there have only been three races held here in the modern era, in every one of them, the winner has gone on to win the Championship that year. And the man leading the Championship after a French Grand Prix held at Paul Ricard has gone on to win the title 12 times.

So all eyes will be on who crosses the finish line first to get a good steer on who will be the Champion come the end of the year. Verstappen already has one hand on the trophy but a strong second half of the season from Leclerc could see it go down to the wire again.

Leclerc is now 38 points behind his Championship rival so if they finish 1-2 for the rest of the season with Leclerc leading Verstappen home each time (no fastest lap points involved) then he would overtake Verstappen after round 17 in Singapore when there would be five rounds to go. This, of course, is unlikely, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Leclerc could catch him – and give us all a season to remember!

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Jennie Gow
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