One other loopy race in Baku is within the books and the Championship standings are precisely as they have been for the highest two drivers, however with a possible third menace closing in going into the primary triple header of the season. Right here’s just a few issues we’re wanting ahead to forward of this weekend’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard…
1. Mercedes’ response, once more
We had this precise matter after Monaco, given what felt like a disastrous weekend for the defending champions in Monte Carlo after they solely picked up seven factors courtesy of Lewis Hamilton’s seventh place and quickest lap. However then got here Baku…
The response from Mercedes was blended in Azerbaijan. They improved their automobile throughout the weekend after one other tough begin, however this time it was Hamilton who was aggressive and Valtteri Bottas who was struggling.
All of it appeared to be coming collectively for the seven-time world champion with the late race restart earlier than he sailed huge at Flip 1 attributable to a brake setting error, and Mercedes registered their first pointless weekend because the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix.
On that event, each vehicles retired. If you would like the final time each completed outdoors of the factors, it was Austin in 2012 – 9 years in the past – on the identical day Hamilton took his final win for McLaren.
After such tough weekends on two avenue circuits, Mercedes might be hopeful the change of venue may even result in a change in fortunes, however then we anticipated that final outing…
2. Can Perez get into the title race?
Remarkably, after working first and third with seven laps remaining of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Max Verstappen and Hamilton ended up failing to attain, and so the championship image stays precisely the identical between the highest two.
However Sergio Perez’s first win for Pink Bull – and second of his profession – got here after an immensely spectacular drive the place he seemed able to profitable on pure tempo earlier than a gradual pit cease ruined his probabilities of leaping Verstappen for the lead. Granted, he would have been second however for Verstappen’s tyre failure or Hamilton’s race restart drawback, however he was proper within the combine with each all through the weekend.
And the win propels Perez as much as third within the Drivers’ Championship, as he took 25 factors out of the pair forward of him. He’s nonetheless 32 factors behind Hamilton and 36 from Verstappen, however Baku has proven how rapidly a swing can occur, particularly within the midst of such an intense title battle.
If Perez can proceed his latest kind, he may grow to be an element within the coming races.
3. Final lap drama
OK, so we haven’t all the time seen traditional races at Paul Ricard because the French Grand Prix returned to the calendar in 2018, but it surely’s nonetheless a monitor that permits overtaking and infrequently sees battles come to a head within the closing phases.
The final time we raced right here in 2019, there was drama all through the highest ten on the ultimate lap, with Charles Leclerc closing down Valtteri Bottas and threatening to steal second place, whereas all of it kicked off between Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Kimi Raikkonen within the decrease factors positions.
Norris was working in P7 with Ricciardo – then at Renault – chasing him down and trying an overtake however going huge after which forcing the McLaren off monitor as he rejoined. Raikkonen jumped each just for Ricciardo to then overtake the Finn once more into Signes and cross the road seventh, selecting up two time penalties that dropped him out of the factors afterwards.
4 vehicles scrapping on the ultimate lap was thrilling to look at, and with a good nearer midfield this 12 months, right here’s hoping for extra.
ONBOARD: Lando Norris’s dramatic remaining lap in France
4. Williams’ restructuring
There’s been a change within the management of considered one of Method 1’s most iconic groups since we have been final out on monitor, with Williams workforce principal Simon Roberts leaving with rapid impact and Jost Capito – already CEO – taking up the workforce principal duties.
Technical director FX Demaison may even have elevated duties as he turns into accountable for trackside and engineering operations, and it marks an extra stamp of authority on the workforce from Capito having brought Demaison in himself.
Capito is after all a Dorilton Capital rent, the person charged with transferring Williams additional up the grid below new possession because the departure of the Williams household in September of final 12 months, however in Roberts they’ve let go a gentle hand who helped them by all the disruption of 2020.
It stays to be seen if Capito will need to herald a brand new workforce principal or retain that place himself long-term, but it surely’s one other change as a part of the plan to return Williams to former glories.
5. House followers for Gasly, Ocon and Alpine
Whereas Monaco felt extra “regular” with as much as 40% capability allowed on the iconic occasion, Baku was one other race held behind closed doorways and with out the environment that followers present.
In France, it’s one other step again in direction of normality, with as much as 15,000 spectators per day being permitted at Paul Ricard. That’s twice the scale of the most important crowd we’ve got seen thus far this season, and if the 15,000 determine is hit on all three days of the race weekend it might mark a complete attendance that’s one-third that of the 2019 race.
The French followers may have a brand new workforce of kinds to get behind, with Renault having advanced into Alpine because the final time F1 raced in France, and Esteban Ocon again on the grid with the French producer. However it’s maybe Pierre Gasly who will benefit from the largest assist, particularly after his wonderful kind that noticed him end on the rostrum in Baku and win final 12 months in Monza.
Charles Leclerc can be more likely to get loads of backing, and goes looking for his third consecutive pole place this weekend. Monaco was surprising, Baku much more so, however Paul Ricard could be one other degree solely if Ferrari can maintain the run going.