Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Is the French Grand Prix Ferrariʻs to Lose?

This weekend, Formula 1 returns to the visually striking Circuit Paul Ricard. Utilized as a test track for the teams, the track features little in the way of gravel or sand challenges, giving wide run-offs and plenty of space for drivers to recover from errant moves. Such a circuit means that rather than drivers being penalized by mistakes, they are able to drive on––as long as any such issues that manifest themselves are not collisions that end in DNFs.

Whether or not the racing is special at the French Grand Prix might be up for debate. Considered the safest track on the circuit, the trackʻs highlight is the Mistral straight, which was originally a high-speed drag-way of 1.1 miles, that now features a chicane at the midpoint. The track has been re-configured six times since it came into existence in 1970. Yet the track was left for dead in 1990 as the French GP switched to Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours in 1991 and stayed there until 2008.

The French GP ceased to exist after 2008 and did not return to the schedule until 2018. Three races have been held at the track since with the 2020 iteration canceled owing to COVID precautions. Max Verstappen won the 2021 version with a two-stop strategy against the Mercedes decision to use one-stop to run the race.

The tire strategy decisions proved to be the far-reaching drama of the race as overall the event came to fruition as quiet. The fact that neither Ferarri driver scored points offers a recognition of how things unfolded. Just as important, Verstappenʻs win showcased Red Bullʻs return to form at the front of the field. With his win, Red Bull had won three consecutive GPs for the first time since 2013.

Heading into the 2022 French GP, the practice sessions have confirmed what has been the story all season––that Ferrari and Red Bull are leading the field. In this case, Ferrari has shown the pace to keep Red Bull in the rearview mirrors but practice results and race results have proven difficult to keep consistent for the Italian team. The fact that Carlos Sainz led the second practice ahead of Charles Leclerc highlights the confusion and challenge that Ferrari face.

Having shown the ability to match and beat Red Bull by winning the previous two GPs, Ferrari is starting to make good on the pace they showed at the beginning of the season. Marred by strategic blunders, mechanical failures and driver errors, Ferrari have appeared as unstable as a helicopter without a rear rotor at times. With the rotor attached, they come across as competent and confident and ready to challenge and beat Red Bull.

Odds & Sods

– If Ferrari are going to continue their recent dominance, they are going to do so with one arm tied behind their proverbial back. Carlos Sainz is already set to drop 10 spots for the GP after taking a new engine component ahead of the race. The team hinted that they might take additional components which would push Sainz to the rear of the field in a preemptive move to avoid further penalties in future races.

– For the first time since Romans began racing chariots, Lewis Hamilton sat out FP1. To better state the matter, this is the first time Hamilton has ever sat out the first practice session in his 300-race career. This statistical anomaly is the result of the FIAʻs mandate to have drivers sit out at least one practice session during the year to give reserve and test drivers seat time in a maneuver to work with the testing regulations but also to explore ways to get new drivers on the track.

– American F2 driver Logan Sargeant continues to make a name for himself in hopes of landing an F1 ride. He is putting together a promising season in the feeder series that frequently puts its top drivers into F1. What makes him stand out at the moment is that he is racing in F2––rather than IndyCar. Zak Brown, McLarenʻs CEO, is focusing on talent coming from the IndyCar series, offering tests with Alexander Palou and Colton Herta. It often seems like the Indy drivers might have the inside track, and to whit, Hertaʻs talent is well understood while Palou and even Pato OʻWard offer fascinating glimpses as to possible F1 talent. But the F2 series still offers a different and vital option to succeeding in F1 and there is reason to believe that Sargeant may have the inside line.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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