F1 2021 French Grand Prix Preview: Can Mercedes Regain Their Winning Form?
The pinnacle of motorport rolls into France this weekend with the title challenges hotter and more savory than overcooked crepes. Only six of the eventual 23 races in, the astonishing end of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has left F1 in the midst of amazing competition.
Adding to the excitement is the realisation that it’s only the beginning of the first racing triple-header weekend during the most exciting season in years.
The only downside to this weekend is the difficulty in finding words that make Circuit Paul Ricard seem like a place racing fans could love. It is hands-down one of the ugliest tracks on the F1 calendar and usually a complete stranger to great racing.
Its layout has directly contributed to some wonderfully lame only-in-F1 penalties (ask Daniel Ricciardo) and has most often been a procession following Mercedes home. The French Grand Prix has a long and wonderful history that has been marginalised since it’s lackluster return to the calendar in 2018. However, race organisers have reprofiled and resurfaced much of the track in an effort to aid racing battles and return the overdue race glory.
Last Time Out
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is exactly what a modern F1 track should be and it always lends itself towards the best the drivers have to offer. Yet again, it did not disappoint in 2021. What looked to be a Max Verstappen Red Bull romp to victory changed to a Mercedes win and then back to Red Bull victory by Sergio Perez in the space of a few laps.
Sebastian Vettel had a breakthrough in his Aston Martin to finish second and the always excellent Pierre Gasly climbed the podium once more. In 2018 and 2019, the last year the French GP was run, Mercedes dominated and Lewis Hamilton cruised to easy victories.
Does Hamilton still have it?
The racing in Azerbaijan up until the point race-leading Verstappen’s tire blew had been good – the final laps were stunning. But, as in Monaco, there had been a clear advantage for Red Bull. Fittingly, they increased their Constructor’s championship lead but Verstappen and Hamilton remain within 4 points of each other for the Driver’s championship.
It’s been an uncharacteristic drop in form from the Silver Arrows – both drivers finished out of the points in Baku – and a return to a more traditional track should lift their spirits. As was shown in the earlier races of the year, the pace is there for them when the right conditions exist.
They will consider themselves lucky to go pointless in Baku and still emerge in the thick of a title fight. Undoubtedly, Hamilton will be licking his chops to see the Circuit Paul Ricard. If Valtteri Bottas can be a decent wingman, they have every chance of winning in France.
One thing is for sure, it’s a new race weekend but Hamilton’s mirrors will still be filled with Red Bull blue. Verstappen has, at times this season, seemed unbeatable. Perez has finally come to grips with the RB16b and is just as capable of winning on Sunday as anyone. And with the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc performing weekly miracles, well, nothing is quite set in stone this weekend – thankfully.
Practice 1: June 18 10:30 – 11:30 BST (5:30 – 6:30 am EST)
Practice 2: June 18 14:00 – 15:00 BST (9:00 – 10:00 am EST)
Practice 3: June 19 11:00 – 12:00 BST (6:00 – 7:00 am EST)
Qualifying: June 19 14:00 – 15:00 BST (9:00 – 10:00 am EST)
Race: June 20 14:00 BST (9:00 am EST)
Grid Talk Podcast
Want more content to preview your French Grand Prix weekend? Never fear! The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast. George Howson hosted Owain Medford, Steve Jackson and Tom Downey in their French GP Prixview. Both audio and video versions of the show are linked below: