French Grand Prix… Whoever blinks first…

The big stories leading up to the French Grand Prix revolved around speculation about whether it would last much longer. Kyalami has offered to replace him, but this is still an evolving story.

The track itself is a mix of performances – it can be something of a nap fest or deliver some degree of action. This weekend was no different. More on this later, but on the subject of naps, I once asked South African racing legend Sarel van der Merwe what he thought of Paul Ricard during his time in Group C endurance racing, and he replied: “It’s a boring track…too much dripping cream.” “. Short answer from “Uncle Sarel”, as always. But last weekend it was not like that at all. There were ups … there were downs, and then there was what Charles Leclerc experienced.

Heat. Temperatures were hot throughout the weekend, reaching 31.6°C at the start of the race, with track temperatures in excess of 50°C. One can sympathize with the plight of the drivers dressed in three-layer fire suits, Nomex flame retardant underwear and a balaclava. Hot! Despite some refrigeration technology in these suits, you can’t blame them for making them feel like grilled chicken at Woolworths.

Qualification. It looks like Ferrari had a clear plan to put Leclerc on pole with a Carlos Sainz penalty thanks to an engine change, the Spaniard’s abandonment of the human shield for the day, the use of his rebuilt Ferrari to break through the air and give Leclerc the win. tow in a straight line Mistral. This was done in the hope of finding a few tenths.

All the usual suspects hit Q3, with Daniel Ricciardo missing just 0.086 seconds – a harsh reminder of just how intense this game is.

The whole weekend saw the Red Bulls far outperform on the straights and the Ferrari showing speed in the corners. Great mix for players, but with DRS zones it will always be difficult.

What is interesting is the turn in form in the Mercedes camp: Lewis Hamilton beat George Russell again in qualifying, contrary to the start of the season. A sign that Hamilton is feeling better with the Mercedes W13, but in a three-way battle of the British, it was Lando Norris who squeezed his Mclaren between the Mercedes, showing speed to round out the top six with Leclerc on pole, ahead of Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez.

Lights out and we’re on our way. Verstappen got off to a good start, but Le Clerc matched him, punching a hole in turn one before aiming for further work. Fernando Alonso took on his usual Spanish samurai temper at the start, taking three places from P7 to P4 and proving that the old man still holds his own. Take it, youthful enthusiasm!

Ricciardo also took advantage of his luck, passing the McLaren and making three positions to join Norris in attack. But in the foreground, it was all about Leclerc, who looked like he was absorbing pressure breaking Verstappen’s tug, even with DRS and that Red Bull Speed. The first step was taken by Red Bull when Verstappen pitted on lap 16, but the big moment came when Leclerc spun into Le Beausset on lap 18 after what seemed like an honest mistake when the rear end failed, giving Verstappen has a clear advantage. the way forward, a little luck and getting a “get out of jail” card. But this is racing for you. Sometimes luck comes to you. In most cases, this is not the case.

For the rest of the race, all eyes were on Carlos Sainz. After starting from 19th, he moved up 16 places to 3rd, fighting Russell and then Pérez. What a spectacle and a truly stern performance from the Spaniard who seems to be doing better with a Ferrari that seemed to be struggling at the start of the season.

To everyone’s surprise, the team volunteered to fight Sainz, sacrificing third place. Why this happened, we may or may not find out.

Russell seemed to be in a fighting spirit after he fought his way to a step that can only be called “bold” by dropping Pérez on lap 42 in the chicane of the Mistral Straight. Pérez continued to avoid contact, and after proper whining from Russell, no foul was found. The Briton then had to go through a difficult path, which he did with three laps to go after the virtual safety car period, thanks to the fact that Guanyu Zhou was eliminated. Russell was successful on the restart, catching Pérez for a siesta at the end of the race.

Sainz went from 19th to 6th, which rightfully earned him the driver of the day award, and yes, Ferrari can take some serious losses due to bad strategic decisions, and yes, they can deserve them. But realizing that for a relatively “new” team in the modern era that didn’t have a winning car, they are all on a learning curve – steep.

It certainly wouldn’t make Monday’s report any more bearable, but I can assure you what separates people who are in F1 from couch critics at home is that they can turn around while swimming in the filth. This is what makes team members worthy of Formula 1 just like that. Red Bull, remember, was also in this position in 2019 and several times before, and when Ferrari gets it right, they will turn the result into victories.

In the final results, Verstappen enjoyed trophies on the top podium with Hamilton finishing 10 seconds behind him and closing that performance gap. Russell, meanwhile, took the third step of the podium, giving Mercedes great points overall as they struggled to get performance out of a car that didn’t match the rest.

All is not lost for Charles, but 78 lost points is just a “could, could, should” situation. Spilled milk and what will haunt him at the end of the season, but despite the fact that he fully admits it, which for a young rider is quite admirable. He needs to dig deeper and look further, focusing on the bigger picture, and who knows, luck may turn against him after a few races.

As for Paul Ricard, we’ll have to wait and see what the next few weeks bring. So, whether it will be the last bonjour or au revoir, time will tell. The next race will be on July 31st when we head to the Hungaroring in Hungary.