Lewis Hamilton to step up and other talking points ahead of French Grand Prix

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The Formula One circus this week heads to Le Castellet for the eighth round of the season in France.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton trails Sebastian Vettel by one point following the Ferrari driver’s victory last time out in Montreal.

Here, we take a look at the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

French GP returns to calendar

Following a decade-long absence, Formula One makes its return to France. Magny-Cours was the home of the French Grand Prix for several years, but Paul Ricard – a track F1 has not visited since 1990 – will be the host for France’s comeback.

France is one of the founding fathers of the sport, and is among the original rounds of the world championship which started in 1950.

Paul Ricard is situated 25 miles to the east of Marseille in the south of France, and despite it not being a race venue for nearly 30 years, the circuit has been used by Pirelli for a number of tyre tests in recent seasons.

After two processional races in Monaco and Montreal, F1 is in need of an exciting race, and hopefully the unpredictable variables that are synonymous with a new track can provide just that.

Will we see the ‘real’ Hamilton?

Aside from his impressive displays in Australia and Spain, F1 is waiting for Hamilton to turn up this year.

Traditionally stronger in the second half of the season, the defending champion has made somewhat of a sluggish start.

Hamilton may have had an old engine in Canada, and admitted he was relieved to have finished fifth, but team-mate Valtteri Bottas was also down on power, and he managed to get his car over the line in second.

The Briton also made unusual mistakes on the Saturday in Montreal to qualify only fourth at a track where he usually excels.

The 33-year-old has not been poor this year, but he has not been at his best either.

And with Vettel, who dominated in Canada, now one point clear in the championship race, the Brit can ill-afford another off-colour weekend.

Red Bull take Honda gamble

Red Bull confirmed on Tuesday that they will be powered by Honda engines next year.

It is a gamble, but one Red Bull believe they must take to stand any chance of usurping Mercedes and Ferrari. It works financially for Red Bull, too.

Indeed unlike their previous deal with Renault, the former world champions will not have to pay Honda for their engines.

McLaren pinned the blame of their miserable run on Honda, and paid roughly £60million to sever ties with the Japanese manufacturer and switch to Renault power this term.

But while McLaren have made little to no improvement, Honda have steadily impressed with Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso this year, and Red Bull have seen enough positives to make the switch.

Imagine the embarrassment at McLaren if Red Bull and Honda become a winning combination in 2019?

What next for Alonso?

Fernando Alonso completed the second leg in his pursuit of motorsport’s Triple Crown last Sunday by winning at Le Mans.

Alonso, 37 next month, now needs the Indianapolis 500 to add to his Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans wins and emulate Britain’s Graham Hill as the only driver to have triumphed at all three prestigious races.

The Spaniard is out of contract with McLaren next year, and there are suggestions the Spaniard will turn his back on F1 and make the permanent switch to IndyCar.

Alonso, however, pockets upwards of £20million-a-year racing for McLaren, and he will struggle to get even 10 per cent of that in the inferior IndyCar series.

One would not be surprised to see him stay at McLaren, and instead miss next year’s Monaco Grand Prix (as he did in 2017) to take on the Indy 500.

Start time moved for World Cup

The French Grand Prix has been pushed back by two hours with F1 keen for the race not to clash with England’s World Cup group match against Panama.

The race will now start at 4:10pm local time (6.10pm in the UAE). Qualifying will also take place at 4pm (6pm in UAE).

The French GP kicks off F1’s first triple-header with the Austrian and British Grands Prix to follow on consecutive weekends.

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McLaren reserve river Lando Norris could still make Formula One debut this season despite Toro Rosso setback

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Lando Norris was close to joining Toro Rosso.

McLaren have left the door ajar for their teenage reserve driver Lando Norris to become Britain’s youngest Formula One debutant this season.

It emerged before the Canadian Grand Prix that Norris, 18, has been approached by Red Bull‘s junior team Toro Rosso to race for them for the remainder of the campaign.

McLaren blocked the proposed loan move because Toro Rosso wanted the deal to extend into 2019. The British team’s plans for next year are still undetermined, and they may yet call on Norris to step up to their race team if Fernando Alonso, who is 37 next month, leaves at the end of the season, or Stoffel Vandoorne is released.

Zak Brown, McLaren’s CEO, is, however, keen for Norris to gain experience before he is awarded a full-time seat, and did not rule out the option of a return to the negotiating table with Toro Rosso.

“If there was an opportunity for Lando to gain experience then that’s something we would consider,” said Brown when asked if he would be interested in loaning Norris to Toro Rosso this season.

“Lando is a McLaren driver. He has a bright future here, but we do not have an interest in letting Lando go anywhere on a long-term deal.”

Norris, from Glastonbury in Somerset, has already been earmarked as the next Lewis Hamilton after he won last year’s Formula Three series.

The teenager holds a 27-point lead in this season’s Formula Two championship, the feeder series to F1, and won impressively on his debut in Bahrain in April.

Norris is held in high regard by those at McLaren, but while he is under consideration for a full-time drive, they are wary of thrusting the youngster into the limelight prematurely.

Toro Rosso are interested in Norris replacing Brendon Hartley – the under-performing New Zealander who was given the all clear in a Montreal hospital on Sunday night following his 170mph crash with Lance Stroll.

Hartley’s opening-lap accident with the Canadian teenager was one of few flashpoints in a race won by Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton finished only fifth to fall one point behind his Ferrari rival in the standings following a weekend to forget for the defending champion and his Mercedes team.

“My mind is not weak and I am still here to win,” Hamilton said. “I still believe we can win the championship.
“I have got complete confidence in my guys and I am putting my energy towards them. If you look across the tennis net, and you think I might lose this, then you have already lost.

“I don’t look at any driver and think I might lose to that person, but instead how I can beat them and how can I be better. I am going to keep doing that until I die.”

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Four errors which have cost Lewis Hamilton so far this season

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Lewis Hamilton’s championship defence has been littered with a series of mistakes by his Mercedes team.

Here, we look at the errors which have cost Hamilton at four of the seven rounds this term – the most recent of which saw him surrender the title leadership to Sebastian Vettel.

Australia

Hamilton was on course to win the opening race with ease, but a timing glitch on the Mercedes pit wall during a virtual safety car period enabled Vettel to snatch victory from the Briton.

Bahrain

At the next race, Hamilton started only ninth after he was penalised with a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change. He recovered to finish third, but lost further ground to winner Vettel in the title race.

China

Mercedes were slow to react to a late safety car in Shanghai by failing to bring Hamilton in for new tyres. Daniel Ricciardo, who did stop for fresh rubber, won, while Hamilton was fortunate to finish fourth after Max Verstappen crashed into Vettel.

Canada

Unlike their rivals, Mercedes failed to bring their planned engine upgrade to Canada. Hamilton encountered problems with his old engine in the race while his team also botched his strategy and saw their driver lose places to Ricciardo. Team boss Toto Wolff also admitted they did not bring enough sets of the faster hypersoft tyre compound with them to Montreal which contributed to Hamilton qualifying only fourth. He finished fifth in the race and surrendered his title lead to race winner Vettel.

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