After each Grand Prix, Nextgen-Auto.com invites you to find the tops and flops identified by the editorial staff. Who deserves to be applauded? Who, on the contrary, should be criticized? Finally, what are the question marks or ambiguities, which should be followed with interest during the next Grands Prix? Check it out below!
Top n°1: Hamilton shines, double podium and doubled hopes for Mercedes F1
Last year, it was hard to imagine Lewis Hamilton so happy with a 2nd place in his duel with Max Verstappen. Saturday evening again, after qualifying, we had the same difficulty imagining the optimistic and relieved Mercedes F1 camp, while the performance over one lap, on this circuit, which was supposed to be more favorable than Paul Ricard, had been disappointing – with almost a second behind poleman Charles Leclerc. And yet, on Sunday evening, the Mercedes clan was delighted and Lewis Hamilton confided that he “Couldn’t be happier. »
But what happened in the meantime? The race, go! The Mercedes have indeed had a very satisfying pace in long stints, to the point of being able to beat Sergio Pérez’s Red Bull on a regular basis (Max Verstappen remaining out of reach for the moment). In truth, the developments or the characteristics of the Paul Ricard circuit have accentuated the strengths and weaknesses of Mercedes: the German team seemed even further in qualifying, and even closer in the race. What remains is excellent reliability allowing Mercedes to come within 44 points of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings.
While morale, deflated on Saturday evening, was back on Sunday, a special mention must still be attributed to Lewis Hamilton. Not only did the seven-time world champion dominate George Russell all weekend (3 tenths apart in qualifying in particular). But still he sees himself being rewarded for his irreproachable attitude and for all his substantive work on the settings. Work that will perhaps bear fruit next year… with a car more tuned to the wishes of chief engineer Hamilton?
Top n°2: Verstappen controls the race and the championship
The battle with Lewis Hamilton seems to have made Max Verstappen grow and mature: calmer, more composed, more serene, the Dutchman has established himself as the undeniable boss of this year. The statistics show it again: 7 wins in 12 races, it’s unstoppable and it allows the Red Bull driver to have a padded mattress in his head (63 points ahead). It is thus this solidity, this calm, this serenity, this implacable constancy of the Red Bull driver that we would like to underline here.
His performance at Paul Ricard also illustrated what makes Max Verstappen strong this year. When he is not able to quite get Charles Leclerc in pure speed, the Dutchman now knows how to be patient, making Auguste’s motto his own: Festina Slow, Hurry Slowly. Max Verstappen applied a strategy of wear and patience, believing that he should save his tires more than trying to overtake Charles Leclerc at the start of the race. This cautious strategy, aimed at maximizing intermediate points, is paying clear dividends this year, especially when Ferrari crashes into the wall of reality. In short, Max is never as strong as when he’s not Mad…
Top n°3: Fernando Alonso reaps, reaps, reaps…
When the black cat is absent, the mouse Fernando Alonso dances! At the start of the season, and also on certain occasions lately, the Spaniard from Alpine was like the victim of a curse: only 2 points in 6 races. Since then, he has had solid results almost every weekend, effectively showing that when luck returns, the results return with it. The consequences are also immediate for Alpine, which is now ahead of McLaren in 4th place in the constructors’ standings.
This Grand Prix at Paul Ricard showed it again. Without having the pure speed of Lando Norris in qualifying (5 tenths difference all the same), Fernando Alonso did Fernando Alonso on Sunday: fox, trickster, very efficient trickster at the start, he was already ahead of the McLarens at the end of the first lap, even offering himself the Mercedes of George Russell. He then easily controlled the gap on Norris… and the experienced Fernando Alonso, as proof of his motivation and his confidence, even wanted the McLarens to come back on him so that they exhausted their Pirellis!
It is therefore a new conclusive weekend for Fernando Alonso – he has moreover put his teammate Esteban Ocon under the extinguisher, he who suspects a chassis problem on his single-seater. Two years of possible extension at Alpine may seem long for a forty-year-old, but with such a forty-something, the future has no age.
Flop n°1: Ferrari abuses Ricard
When all is well, it means that everything will soon go wrong for Scuderia Ferrari… That’s the feeling given by Maranello for several races. For the third time this year, Charles Leclerc therefore retired while leading a Grand Prix. For once (unlike Barcelona, Monaco or Baku for example, but like Imola), Charles Leclerc does not have his team to blame: but himself for his blunder in lap 18. He did not hesitate to elsewhere not after arrival, finding words that even his fiercest detractors, compassionate in that moment, had not dared to imagine. The parallels to Sebastian Vettel’s blunder at Hockenheim in 2018 have been drawn and arguably have their validity; the explanations on Charles Leclerc’s excursion, guilty of perhaps pulling too much on his rear axle (but isn’t that also what makes him strong?), will multiply; the perennial topics, ‘can you be a champion if you make too many mistakes?’ will come back, while the answer has been well known since 1950. Of course, Charles Leclerc knows that he must not make such mistakes in the future and of course he keeps the potential of a future world champion. Success never happens all at once.
Moreover, Charles Leclerc should not take 100% responsibility for his potential failure against Max Verstappen this year (a failure that is taking shape with 63 points behind in the standings now). Ferrari also accumulates errors this year. Again with Carlos Sainz in strategy: despite an excellent pace (the Spaniard had perhaps his best weekend of the year), Sainz had to deal with a deficient strategy at Ferrari. The Scuderia stopped him much too late for his last stint in mediums to bear fruit. While talking to him on the radio in the middle of a superb battle with Sergio Pérez’s Red Bull! And while misleading him on his 5-second penalty for unsafe-release, the pilot himself having to correct his track engineer on the radio, to remind him that it was not a stop-and-release -go…
Finally, reliability continues to be a concern at Ferrari: this time it was Guanyu Zhou who suffered a clear failure of the Ferrari power unit, which had gone a little under the radar due to events. The fact is that this year, the Scuderia shows that it is not always ready to fight against a machine like Red Bull. It’s a bit the same refrain as in 2017 and 2018: the drivers are not blameless, but after all they follow the example set by their team… This refrain was worrying, then haunting, now it is appalling.
Flop 2: Pérez wasn’t really there
Sergio Pérez was a bit of a shadow of himself this Sunday at Paul Ricard. His only spark of hope was certainly placed at the right time, in Q3, because he finished only 1 tenth and a half behind Max Verstappen after being unhooked from his teammate in free practice. In the race logically, Sergio Pérez paid the price for poor groundwork this weekend. Seeing his team-mate win while being beaten by the Mercedes in pure pace (and no matter how bad the virtual safety car was, George Russell was very close anyway)… it could weigh on the Mexican’s morale.
For the rest, Sergio Pérez backed up his own worrying remarks, when he claimed that the development of the car was more in Max Verstappen’s direction than in his direction. After this weekend in France, we want to believe it, and it’s also hard to see how to prove Milton Keynes’ technical team wrong. Brilliant second or good second, Sergio Pérez remains a second. Moreover, when we see the Ferraris, Max Verstappen may no longer need Checo to go for the title…
Flop n°3: Pierre Gasly’s weekend: developments on Friday, regression on Saturday, disappointment on Sunday
When things aren’t going well… Free practice was however promising for AlphaTauri and Pierre Gasly: thanks to the late but apparently effective upgrades, the Italian car seemed to have the potential to compete again with the Alfa Romeos and the McLarens. Then: crash, as too often this year. In qualifying, unable to get enough pace out of his AlphaTauri, and struggling in particular with his rear axle, Pierre Gasly suffered his 4th elimination in Q1 (none last year). As his teammate reached Q3. The observation is therefore all the more bitter for the Norman when he sees Yuki Tsunoda taking more advantage of the single-seater, and thus starting to bite into his reputation as well as his morale.
In the race, it was very difficult for Pierre Gasly to be comfortable enough to hope for the points. The symbol of his frustration was perhaps a missed overtaking on the Williams of Alexander Albon: Pierre Gasly then had to shoot straight, losing a handful of places in the occasion. Pierre Gasly still moved up to 12th place to offer himself a little hope for the second half of the season: under normal circumstances, these developments do bring something and the rest of the Hungaroring should be more suitable for the AlphaTauri. Hope, Gasly needs it precisely when his season, like his career, seems to be stuttering. Probably very unfairly.
We want to see…
A last Grand Prix of France before a while?
Aren’t we ready to see the Grand Prix de France again? Officially, nothing is done yet for next year: the calendar has not been announced and hope remains with Eric Boullier, the boss of the Grand Prix. But these attitudes may only be window dressing: it is far too late to snatch a contract for next year, especially when such prestigious and, let’s face it, perhaps more glamorous Grands Prix, like in Las Vegas, or more symbolic, as in South Africa, knock on the door.
However, Paul Ricard also proved that he could put on a good show: especially with the skirmish between George Russell and Sergio Pérez. The level of safety also remains very good, with large clearances decried but which at least are not full of curbs or tricky gravel like at Silverstone. The organizational hiccups remain (corks still present, little water on the circuit despite overwhelming heat…), but we are far from the fiasco of 2018.
But the Paul Ricard may be fighting against a bigger adversary, the dynamics of the globalization of F1. What can Beausset do against Las Vegas? Signs facing Singapore and Shanghai? The South Region facing the State of Qatar? Here is why Christian Estrosi called for a start from the Head of State, after having done a lot with his own weapons it is true: “We are in the middle of a discussion, I am not resigned, while I have allowed our country to regain its Grand Prix de France, this magnificent sporting event, this magnificent popular event. It’s also good if the Head of State and France say through his government that we want Formula 1, that we want to have one of the most popular sporting disciplines in our country. The president confirmed it to me, now I see in what conditions we will not be, the communities, alone as we have been for five years to carry this on our shoulders “ he confided to Canal +.
An alternation with the Belgian Grand Prix, every other year therefore, would be a good rescue for Paul Ricard. A way to perpetuate what might have disappeared a long time ago without the effective mobilization of local authorities.