French Grand Prix

French Grand Prix preview

After a decade long absence from the Formula One calendar, the French Grand Prix makes it triumphant return this weekend.

Only four of the current grid were driving the last time one of F1’s spiritual homes staged a race, and that was at a different circuit. There are, therefore, plenty of unknowns to consider when deciding who to get behind on Sunday.

Magny-Cours staged the last French Grand Prix, a 70-lap encounter won by Felipe Massa, who lead home a Ferrari one-two with Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are the only men left, who have competitively driven an F1 car on French soil.

Fewer still have experience of driving at the new home for the race, the Paul Ricard Circuit, since the track underwent a major revamp – so learning the nuances of the layout will be key come practice.

One man in desperate need of getting to grips with the circuit quickly is defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is the 2.50 favourite for the eighth race of the season.The Brit was replaced at the top of the Drivers’ standings by Sebastian Vettel courtesy of the Ferrari driver’s victory in Canada and the German now holds a one-point advantage.The pressure is on for Hamilton, who has not come close to winning either of the last two races with engine temperatures issues ruining the Canadian Grand Prix, a race he usually excels at.The good news for the four-time world champion is that Mercedes are hopeful of being able to introduce engine upgrades, having been forced to delay them a fortnight ago.The bad news for Hamilton and team mate Valtteri Bottas is the Paul Ricard Circuit has been re-surfaced and there have been reports of issues with tyre wear, something Mercedes have battled with all year.

Ferrari will certainly fancy their chances at a track which mixes long straights with some tight chicanes, and Vettel is 2.55 to come out on top for the second race running.

The ease with which the German won in Canada will have troubled his title rivals, but he could be reined in come France.

Given all the uncertainties that come with a new track, the value this week lies with Red Bull, with Daniel Ricciardo 11.00 to win a third race of the season. The Australian is one of the few to have already driven round the Paul Ricard Circuit, so his experience could prove invaluable.

Team mate Max Verstappen is 7.75 after a return to form in Montreal, when finishing on the podium. Perhaps the biggest plus for Red Bull that weekend, other than Verstappen avoiding another crash, was him clocking the fastest lap and dominating practice – a demonstration of the improvement in their Renault engine’s power.

Away from the battle for the chequered flag, Charles Leclerc could continue his excellent debut season with another points finish. The Sauber driver has finished in the top-10 three times already this year and is 2.70 to enhance his burgeoning reputation with another strong showing.