Formula One is gearing up for another European double header, but one that this time will springboard us into the summer break.
Circuit Paul Ricard is calling us this weekend for the French Grand Prix and it’s set to be a scorcher thanks to the current heatwave sweeping the continent.
France’s association with motorsport goes way beyond the birth of F1, with racing roots dating as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Located just outside of Le Castellet, Circuit Paul Ricard is one of seven venues to have hosted a French Grand Prix in the F1 era.
The venue dropped off the calendar in the ‘90s and went through a much-needed facelift after the turn of the millennium, becoming one of the most advanced testing facilities in Europe.
When the race disappeared from the calendar entirely after 2008, it would be a whole decade before we returned to La République, with Ricard taking up the mantle.
The venue boasts 167 different track configurations, all weaving around the eye-catching blue and red highly abrasive run-off area, ideal for not punishing drivers in testing scenarios.
F1 uses the 15-turn, 5.82km layout that brings with it a good mix of corner types. Drivers adore Turn 10, the flat-out right-hander of Signes but the best overtaking opportunity comes just before it at the Turn 8 and 9 chicane, splitting the long Mistral straight in half.
"The venue boasts 167 different track configurations."
What are the drivers saying?
Things will be a little different for Nicholas Latifi this weekend as he gets his hands on the upgraded FW44 package that his teammate has been able to run at the last two races.
It’s safe to say that the Canadian is certainly looking forward to getting behind the wheel in Le Castellet, saying: “I’m super excited to get to France because it’s the first race where I’m going to have the upgrade package.
“We’ve seen some positive signs from it on Alex’s car so far, so I’m looking forward to getting my first taste. Hopefully, it can bring us that extra bit of relative pace that we’ve missed and put us more in the fight.
“France has a unique track layout with lots of run-off areas, so track limits might be a bit of an issue as it was in Austria.
“More than anything I’m looking forward to continuing the development of the car and hopefully we can get some good data going forward.”
"I’m super excited to get to France because it’s the first race where I’m going to have the upgrade package."
WATCH: The upgrade is discussed in this week’s episode of The Williams Warm-Up
Alex Albon had a solid weekend last time out that saw him run just shy of a Q3 berth and in the mix for points, and he is looking to push on in France.
“I'm looking forward to France now that we have Austria under our belt and more information and data available for the team to analyse.
“Hopefully we can keep pushing and working on the car, exploiting its performance and get a good result in France.
“The track is quite a mixed circuit with generally medium to high-speed corners, so will be a good opportunity for us to see what the car can do.”
From the Pit Wall
Our Head of Vehicle Performance, Dave Robson, is excited about the prospect of both cars running the upgrade package in France, knowing full well how much effort has gone into getting these produced in Grove, saying: “Having introduced some new parts to Alex’s car over the last couple of races, we are now in a position where both cars can run with the upgrades.
“Although the weather in Silverstone and the Sprint format in Austria were not ideal for testing, we have seen enough encouraging feedback to be confident that we have taken a step forward.
“With the weather likely to be warm, dry and stable this weekend, we’ll look to use Friday’s running to get Nicky up to speed with the new parts and also to continue to understand how best to exploit the performance of the new package.
“For this event, Pirelli have brought the middle of their compound range, a combination that we used frequently at the start of the season, most recently in Miami.
“The next two races will also use these compounds and so it is important that we reacquaint ourselves with this combination quickly.
“The circuit was resurfaced ahead of last year’s event and, in damp conditions, led to some tyre graining.
“We will need to see exactly how the surface has aged in the last 12 months, but this process and the better weather forecast for this year should mean that graining is much less of an issue.
“Instead, the high track temperatures and high circuit energy is likely to lead to tyre overheating, which will need to be managed during the race.
“This time of the season – the second consecutive back-to-back pair of races – is a very busy period of the year for everyone.
“The introduction of a major upgrade has challenged the whole team, but this challenge has been met with enthusiasm and professionalism and, as a result, we head into the final races before the summer shutdown in a good position and ready to push on into the second half of the season.”
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Did you know?
We are the second most successful team in French Grand Prix history, taking eight wins at the event. Three of these came at Paul Ricard through Alan Jones and two from Nigel Mansell. Our Nige took another two victories at Magny-Cours, whilst Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher were also successful with the team at that venue.
Williams are tied with McLaren for most wins in Circuit Paul Ricard’s F1 history, taking victory in 1980, 1986 and 1987.
The mile-long Mistral Straight was last used without a chicane at the 1985 French Grand Prix. It was a weekend of contrasting fortunes for the team, as Keke Rosberg took pole position, while Nigel Mansell missed the race after crashing in qualifying.
The blue and red run-off areas aren’t just there to look pretty, they serve a good purpose. As mentioned, they are highly abrasive and act like sandpaper to a car. The blue areas are slightly more abrasive than the track surface, whilst the red areas are extremely grippy and are there to catch drivers when they go way off the road.
The trophies for the French Grand Prix are certainly unique. Designed by artist and sculptor, Richard Orlinski, the Gorilla silverware, if you can call it that, has become synonymous with this event, with some of his larger work also dotted around the venue.
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