Saturday, 23 June 2018

France: pre-qualifying 2018

After a prolonged, rather odd, absence, F1 returns to France. Specifically, Marseilles, founded by the Greeks as Massilia and the heart of the Roman province Gallia Narbonensis. The Circuit Paul Ricard is not one with which I’m familiar, so I cunningly look at a diagram to try and guess how things might turn out.

It’s quite similar to Canada. Lots of straight lines, so horsepower is at a premium. Most corners look slow too. Correspondingly, it may well be hard on brakes (potentially bad news for Leclerc who had a failure in Monaco and brake difficulties in Canada). The high number of straights should, perhaps, be indicative of overtaking opportunities, but that was thought/hoped to be the case in Canada and instead most cars ended up being strung out.

Watched a video of a lap, and, unless things have been updated, there’s lots of bedwetting run-off areas.

Early doors, the weather forecast is for it to be totally dry and sunny.

It’s the 13th as I write this, and my current thoughts are that Vettel will enjoy another victory, assuming there are no gremlins (the Ferrari intercoolers might be a problem, as Raikkonen’s had to be changed, and I think that was the failure that caused Grosjean’s magnificent plume of smoke). One fears that, once again, we’ll have less racing and more tyre/fuel/engine/brake management.

Off the line, it looks a long(ish) run to the first corner, which should help fast starters like Alonso and Stroll. May not help Raikkonen, although he’ll have a splendid engine. Could increase the possibility of the chap on pole being passed (although later straights mean there could be an opportunity to re-take the lead).

Away from F1, Alonso (alongside former F1 drivers Nakajima and Buemi) won the Le Mans 24 hour race, meaning the Spaniard has two-thirds of the triple crown (missing only the Indy 500). The only chap to ever win it was Graham Hill, quite some time ago. Worth saying that the Toyota was far and away the best car, and the sister car had a very unfortunate misunderstanding in which it accidentally didn’t come in at the right time, necessitating a penalty and gifting a straightforward win for the Alonso-Nakajima-Buemi car. (I watched a little, there’s a new rile about stint limits being clearly defined, and this was accidentally contravened by Toyota).

And, in yet more off-track news, it’s been announced that Red Bull are to switch from Renault to Honda engines at the end of this season, in a two year deal. Pretty big news, and we could have four teams with four different engines all vying for podium positions, if not wins and the title itself.

I saw a little of the circuit. There’s a lot of run-off painted with blue (and sometimes red) stripes. To be honest, it gave me nightmarish flashbacks to the Indian circuit, arguably the worst track I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, another rumour I heard was that Leclerc will be getting Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari. Seems plausible.

In first practice Hamilton was top dog, just over a tenth ahead of Bottas. Ricciardo was close behind and half a second down the road Raikkonen led Vettel. Grosjean was a tiny margin ahead of Verstappen, followed by Gasly, Perez and Magnussen.

The second session Hamilton was again quickest, a full seven-tenths up on Ricciardo, who was a tiny margin ahead of Verstappen. Raikkonen and Vettel followed close behind with Grosjean just a hundredth off the German and ahead of Bottas (the Finn’s time was so far off Hamilton that he must’ve fluffed a quick lap or been carrying a small rhinoceros with him). Alonso, Magnussen and Gasly round out the top 10.

At this stage, things look good for Hamilton and Grosjean, but I do wonder if Ferrari are sandbagging. If not, they risk being outpaced by Red Bull.

I keep an eye on Twitter for F1 purposes, amongst other things, and apparently one driver suggestion for improving the French GP was moving it back to Magny-Cours. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Some also wanted the chicane removed, asserting the short braking zone makes overtaking difficult. If it’s tedious, that’ll be three in a row, which isn’t great. We may see very little passing, again.

Third practice saw quite a bit of rain, so it must be a possibility for qualifying. The time sheet isn’t worth much but for the sake of completeness:
Bottas was top, ahead of Sainz and Leclerc. Next came Alonso, Vettel and Vandoorne, then Gasly, Ericsson, Perez and Ricciardo.

Rain is, apparently, possible not only for the qualifying but the race itself. Which is good news. In the wet, with teams so close, I would favour the Red Bulls (particularly Verstappen). Further back, Alonso and perhaps Hulkenberg could be good.

With rain possible on a new circuit I’m not that keen on betting, but checked the odds anyway in case anything looked out of kilter.

Hmm. The Red Bulls are each 15 (16 with boost) to win qualifying, with a third the odds for top 2. That’s too long to not back, given how close things have been and the possibility of rain. So, I’ve split one stake and backed them equally.

Morris Dancer


  1. The Circuit Paul Ricard does not allow tobacco advertising, which is odd given who it's named after.

    It was also designed as a track for testing rather than racing. The bits and pieces of track combine for over 150 tracks, depending on what you want to test.

    Watching qualifying with all those blue (slows you down a bit) and red (slows you down a lot) stripes made me think I was smoking something.

    Tim B

    1. That explains a lot, and I certainly agree about the daftness of the stripes. Looks ridiculous.