At what could be the last French Grand Prix, three teams could be vying for victory. Gasly and Ocon will be looking to impress in front of their home crowd and Haas hope to continue their strong results. Nicky Haldenby is here to preview this weekend’s action.
The last French Grand Prix?
Circuit Paul Ricard could be getting its final hurrah in 2022. With the French Grand Prix yet to secure a contract beyond this year, speculation is mounting that the event will not be included on next year’s calendar. The race rejoined the schedule in 2018 and produced two relatively lacklustre races over the next two years, both of which were dominated by Lewis Hamilton.
Last year’s French Grand Prix was much more interesting, with Hamilton and polesitter Max Verstappen in a race-long duel. Verstappen ultimately came out on top, snatching the lead on the penultimate lap of the race.
A win from pole is likely at this circuit. All of the three races here since the venue returned to the calendar have been won from the front of the grid. Even in Circuit Paul Ricard’s first stint on the calendar – between 1971 and 1990 – all but four of the 14 races were won from the front row.
Furthermore, in the past three races at the track, only one podium finish has come from outside the top four starters. Kimi Raikkonen finished third having started sixth in 2018.
Ferrari back to winning ways – but France could be tricky
Ferrari look like they’re truly back in the race for the title. The Scuderia has taken victory at each of the last two races, with Carlos Sainz securing the first win of his career at the British Grand Prix and Charles Leclerc winning for the first time since early April last time out at the Red Bull Ring.
The F1-75 still appears to be a delicate machine, however. In Austria, Sainz’s race came to a fiery end, while Leclerc struggled with a partially stuck throttle in the closing stages. The team has recorded five mechanical non-finishes this year and the hot temperatures expected on the French Riviera this weekend could prove a real challenge.
Should Ferrari falter, Red Bull – still the championship favourites – are the most likely candidates to benefit. Max Verstappen is seeking his seventh win of the year, while Sergio Perez has been in the top four at every race he has completed so far this season. Perez could be one to watch this weekend. With the warm temperatures, tyre management is likely to be critical in the race – and this is often identified as one of the Mexican’s key strengths.
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) to win – 6/5
Sergio Perez (Red Bull) to win – 12/1
The Mercedes breakthrough?
While 2022’s form book would suggest another Red Bull and Ferrari duel is in store this weekend, don’t rule out Mercedes stepping up to the challenge. A mix of smooth surfaces and high speed corners should minimise Mercedes’ disadvantages over one lap. Expect them to be mixing it with the frontrunners in qualifying, just as they did in Austria.
Achieving a big result in the race may be more difficult for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell – but it’s not impossible. Mercedes’ race pace in Austria was certainly not on the same level as RedBull or Ferrari, yet Hamilton did challenge for the win at the previous race in Silverstone. Only one of the last six races has had a Mercedes-less podium result.
Mercedes winning car – 9/2
French stars on home soil
Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly both race at home this weekend. With both having previously won a race, this will be the first French Grand Prix with multiple French winners on the grid in over 20 years.
Of the two Frenchmen, it is Gasly who has the better track record at the French Grand Prix. Gasly recorded his best French Grand Prix result to date last year, finishing in seventh place after qualifying in the top six. He also picked up a point here in 2019.
Meanwhile, Ocon heads to his home race as the one year anniversary of his maiden win at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix approaches. Ocon is yet to reach Q3 at Circuit Paul Ricard (he qualified 11th in both 2018 and 2021) and is yet to score at home. He finished 14th last year. Hopes will be high for Ocon and the French Alpine team. Last time out in Austria, on Ocon’s 100th race start, he recorded his best result of the season to date, with fifth place.
Both Gasly and Ocon will be keen to avoid a repeat of 2018, when they were each eliminated from the race on the opening lap. Will home success be on the horizon in 2022?
Esteban Ocon (Alpine) to win – 150/1
Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) to win – 500/1
Haas on a points streak
Haas are having a fantastic run of results recently. Last year’s backmarkers failed to pick up a point in 2021 but have now scored 34 points in the first half of 2022. Kevin Magnussen has been a consistent top ten finisher, while Mick Schumacher has been going from strength to strength recently. After scoring for the first time at the British Grand Prix, Schumacher went on to finish sixth last time out in Austria.
If Magnussen and Schumacher both pick up points in France, it will be the first time that the Haas team has finished with both cars in the points at three consecutive races since their run between the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix and the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. The team last scored at the French Grand Prix in 2018, when Magnussen finished in sixth place.
A landmark weekend for Alonso
Talking of points streaks, Fernando Alonso will be keen to keep his six-race scoring streak going at the 2022 French Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are the only drivers who currently hold a longer active points-scoring streak than the Spaniard. If he does keep the streak going, it will be his longest run of points in well over four years.
Celebrating his birthday next Friday, this will be Alonso’s last race as a 40 year old. He may be another year older by the next race but he still appears as motivated as ever. This weekend, if he completes the first three laps of the race, Alonso will overtake Kimi Raikkonen as the driver to have completed the most Grand Prix laps in Formula 1 history.