2021 Formula One French Grand Prix preview: A return to Circuit Paul Ricard

Round seven of the 2021 Formula One World Championship takes us this weekend to Circuit Paul Ricard, the current home of the French Grand Prix.

The race was absent on the calendar last year due to Covid-19 disruptions, but it’s back now and should see plenty of action thanks to the ongoing close battle between points leaders Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-Benz AMG and Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing.

The French Grand Prix is one of the oldest car races in the world. It dates back to the earliest days of motorsport, as the very first Grand Prix, French for “Big Prize,” was the 1906 French Grand Prix. The original big prize was 45,000 Francs, which at the time was equivalent to 28.6 pounds of gold.

The French race currently calls Circuit Paul Ricard home. Located close to the city of Marseille, the circuit features an even distribution of high, medium and low-speed corners, and for those reasons is one of the most used test circuits in the world. The circuit is also famous for its red and blue run-off areas, which are designed to avoid the need for gravel traps.

The circuit was extensively resurfaced ahead of F1’s return to France in 2018, with nearly all of the corners—approximately a third of the lap—getting new asphalt. This means the surface is still relatively smooth, which in turn means tire degradation is generally low.

The winning strategy in the previous race was a one-stopper, from medium to hard, which was adopted by all the podium finishers. Pirelli has nominated its C2, C3 and C4 compounds for the weekend.

The expected warm weather at this time of year in the south of France could lead to some thermal degradation, which teams will need to take notice of. The current forecast calls for peak temperatures of about 85 degrees F (29 degrees C) throughout the weekend and possibly some thunderstorms on Sunday.

Going into Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race, Verstappen leads the 2021 Drivers’ Championship with 105 points, with Hamilton in second with 101 points and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in third with 69 points. In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull leads with 174 points versus the 148 of Mercedes and 94 of Ferrari. The last winner in France was Hamilton driving for Mercedes.

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