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F1 Preview – 2018 Canadian Grand Prix

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Round 7 of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship sees its first visit to North America for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton enters the Canadian Grand Prix leading Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 14 points, hardly a comfortable margin at this point in the season.

Ranked third is Daniel Ricciardo. At 38 points out of the lead, his presence in the title picture makes for an intriguing prospect. He’ll need a little bit of luck to make some more headway, but far more strangers thing have happened…and Ricciardo did get his first career F1 win in Canada back in 2014, so he has a good history at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

The Monaco Grand Prix fit right into the wheelhouse of Ricciardo and the Red Bull Racing RB14 chassis – Ricciardo was fastest in all three practices, qualified on pole with a lap record, and overcame an MGU-K failure to score a dominant Monaco victory, his first on the streets of the principality.

But, with Mercedes and Ferrari appearing to have a pace advantage on other tracks, a repeat of Ricciardo’s Monaco triumph may not be as likely.

And yet, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is known to produce a few surprises, so who’s to say Ricciardo and Red Bull can’t find lightning in a bottle?

Talking points ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Looks to Add to Championship Lead

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 11: Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates in parc ferme during the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 11, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton entered Monaco on the heels of back-to-back wins, yet he seemed almost consigned to the fact the Ricciardo and Red Bull just had the better package for Monaco.

“A big congratulations to Red Bull and Daniel, they did a great job this weekend and were quickest all weekend. It would have been nice to be second,” Hamilton said of the Monaco race in a story posted the U.K.’s The Express.

However, with Monaco expected to be an anomaly of sorts, expectations are that Hamilton and Mercedes should be the favorites again in Canada, which has been a playground of sorts for the four-time world champion.

Hamilton has six career wins in Canada, including his debut victory in 2007, and he has won the last three Canadian races in a row.

With Mercedes expecting to be back on top form after a slight dip in Monaco, don’t be surprised if Hamilton is his usual, dominant self.

Ferrari, Vettel Hope to Regain Early-Season Form

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO – MAY 27: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 27, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

Since opening the season with back-to-back wins in Australia and Bahrain, Sebastian Vettel only has one podium – his second-place at Monaco.

Although he has shown pace to win at times, such as in China and Azerbaijan, the results have not been as forthcoming, and leave Vettel 16 points adrift of Hamilton entering Canada.

And given Hamilton’s aforementioned history at the track, this may be a weekend of damage control for Vettel and Ferrari.

Meanwhile, teammate Kimi Raikkonen, whose future with the team seems somewhat in doubt – his contract is up after this season – will aim to be back on the podium after finishing fourth in Monaco.

Ricciardo Set for Grid Penalty, Verstappen Looks to Right the Ship

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO – MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2018 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

As a result of the MGU-K failure in Monaco, Ricciardo’s RB14 will feature some new parts and pieces in Canada, which means he’ll be facing a grid penalty of some kind.

“(Ricciardo) will definitely be taking some penalties in Montreal, we haven’t heard at the moment just how many,” chief technical officer Adrian Newey was quoted as saying in a story posted on Formula1.com. “One of things there is whether the battery was damaged or not in Monaco, so until we know that from Renault we don’t know exactly what we’re facing.”

Newey added, “The [MGU-K] is definitely a penalty. I rather doubt it [can be reused], considering it caught fire and was a burnt out, charred wreck,” he said. “I would be somewhat surprised at that one.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, enters the weekend hoping to rebuild a reputation that has taken quite a few (literal) hits lately – he has had multiple on-track incidents and contact this year, which have combined to be a massive black mark on the 20-year-old’s still young F1 career.

Although several people have thrown rather scathing criticisms at Verstappen in recent weeks, the aforementioned Newey is confident that Verstappen can shake off his run of incidents and regain the form that saw him win twice at the end of 2017.

“He can try and shrug off everybody else’s comments and opinions but when you’ve had a run like that, you question yourself a bit. Of course you do. But I think he’s tough enough that he’ll come through that,” Newey asserted in a piece in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “He’s had one of those bad runs. He’s a great driver, he’s very quick and at some point he’ll shed that (poor sequence) again and be on his way.”

Misc.

  • Montreal native Lance Stroll scored points in his home race last year. Williams has struggled mightily in 2018, and has recently replaced lead aerodynamicist Dirk De Beer with Doug McKiernan. A repeat points-scoring effort from Stroll would be a massive shot in the arm for the entire team.
  • Fernando Alonso had a run of points finishes to start 2018 – five in a row in fact – before DNF’ing in Monaco. Although rumors are flying around about his status for 2019, Alonso nonetheless remains a full-time F1 driver, and he’ll look for more points, if not a podium, in Canada this weekend.
  • After debuting in Monaco, Pirelli’s hypersoft compound returns for its second consecutive event, which means qualifying could see more track records fall.

Qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix will be Saturday at 2:00 p.m. ET, with Sunday’s race also scheduled to roll off at 2:00 p.m. ET.

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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