A welcome return to France

The French Grand Prix is set for a long-awaited return this weekend following a decade away. The race was a regular on the F1 calendar and has been held 86 times, alternating between venues such as Reims, Rouen, Charade, Paul Ricard, Dijon and most recently, Magny-Cours.

French GP - 5 Iconic Moments

Following the 2008 race, France was axed from the calendar amid ongoing financial issues. But after a 10-year hiatus, F1 is set to return to the country at a revamped Paul Ricard circuit. The 5.8km track, located at Le Castellet, last hosted a GP in 1990, although the race - won by home-favourite Alain Prost - took place around a shortened 3.8km version of the circuit.

This year’s event will see the addition of a chicane half way along the 1.12-mile long Mistral straight to prevent F1 engines running at full speed for the entire straight with the hope of boosting overtaking opportunities.

Will engine upgrade put Mercedes back on top?

Mercedes endured a difficult weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas being comfortably beaten to victory by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari, while Lewis Hamilton could only manage fifth at a circuit he normally excels at.

The result, described as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff as a “wake-up call” for his squad, was partially exacerbated by the reigning world champions’ planned engine upgrade being delayed after a late reliability gremlin was discovered.

Rivals Ferrari and Renault both profited from power unit updates in Montreal, while Mercedes will move onto its second cycle of 2018 engines in France.

It will be fascinating to see whether will provide Mercedes with enough of a boost to return to the top of the pecking order around a power-sensitive circuit, but Bottas insists the team cannot be considered as favourites.

French GP Records

“We came [to Canada] knowing that in theory it would be a good track for us,” Bottas explained. “We came with even the old engine thinking there's a very good chance we were going to be fighting for the win.

“But it wasn't the case and it shows how tough the development race is now and we need to keep improving. We are definitely not the favourites for the French Grand Prix, that's a fact.”

Back to 'predictable' F1 for Alonso after Le Mans triumph

Alonso won’t have too long to revel in the celebrations of a historic victory with Toyota on his debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Spaniard quickly returns to F1 action this weekend after he completed the second leg of his ongoing bid to become just the second driver in history to achieve the ‘Triple Crown’ of motorsport.

While Alonso and former F1 drivers Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi spent 24 hours vying for a rare victory last weekend, Alonso is likely to be brought back down to earth when he gets back behind the wheel of his McLaren MCL33, which has struggled to live up to high pre-season expectations so far in 2018.

French GP - 5 Iconic Moments

Paul Ricard is unlikely to provide McLaren - which has struggled with a straight-line speed deficit compared to fellow Renault engine users this year - with much joy, as Alonso acknowledged following the conclusion of the prestigious endurance race. McLaren’s performance across the rest of the season will likely determine whether Alonso remains in a sport he is becoming ever more disillusioned with, or heads to America for a full IndyCar campaign.

Can Vettel continue form into F1’s triple header

Vettel rolled back the years with an utterly dominant and commanding display in Canada to claim his 50th career win and retake the lead of the world championship from chief rival Hamilton by a single point.

The victory saw Vettel become the first man to move onto three victories in 2018 with Ferrari enjoying a strong start to the season. While F1’s form book has generally been hard to read heading into each weekend, Ferrari’s package appears to be a consistent and reliable performer at most circuits.

Ferrari has made serious gains in the engine department, too. Hamilton believes the Scuderia are now level (if not ahead of) Mercedes in 2018 and the nature of the French Grand Prix venue should provide us with another glimpse of which team holds the advantage. 

French GP Records

Ferrari boasts a dominant record in France, having recorded 17 wins and poles and Vettel will be looking to add to that total this weekend.

French pride at stake

Alongside the return of a grand prix, France is enjoying a resurgence in driver influence in F1, boasting three drivers on the current grid, as well as French works outfit Renault.

Romain Grosjean is the most experienced of the trio and will continue his search for first points of the season at his first-ever F1 race on home soil. The Haas driver has endured a torrid campaign in 2018 but will have plenty of motivation going into this weekend.

He is joined on the grid by young chargers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, both of whom are tipped to be stars of the future.

France has had to wait over 20 years since its last F1 winning driver but with Ocon and Gasly likely to end up at Mercedes and Red Bull respectively at some point in the not-too-distant future, it may not be too long before we hear the French national anthem again on the podium.

While chances of making the podium will be slim this time around, both drivers head into their first home F1 grand prix on the back of strong recent results, with Gasly currently leading Ocon by six points in the drivers’ standings.

French GP - 5 Iconic Moments