The Formula One season arrives in France this weekend for the eighth round of the campaign. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are separated by just the one point at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, as this season builds towards a potentially epic title battle.
This is the first Grand Prix on French soil since 2008, and first at Circuit Paul Ricard since 1990. It’s not a track short on history, though, having been a feature in the first ever Formula One campaign.
Drivers are not completely going in cold, however. Many will have done tyre tests or competed in junior championships at this venue.
The track has a different configuration for Formula One, but a bit of experience is better than nothing even with the hours to practice in the lead up to qualifying.
The blend of sweeping turns and lengthy straights should make for an open, exciting race. A couple of DRS zones give more than ample overtaking opportunity, too. Unlike several of the other European circuits, this race is far from decided after qualification. Race pace will be rewarded.
Mercedes and Ferrari should be the frontrunners. Mercedes are a decent 11/10 to have the winning driver this weekend.
Unlike Monaco, and other tighter circuits on the calendar, the Red Bulls are expected to struggle due to their weaker power unit. Renault-powered cars up and down and field will be looking forward to Monday already.
The probable struggles of the underpowered Red Bull cars might leave opportunity for a midfield team like Force India to sneak into the top six. Sergio Perez is way out at 33/1 to finish on the podium, which is one of the better longshot bets on offer this weekend.
Pirelli have opted for the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft tyres. Tyre management – as often is the case in modern Formula One – will likely play a huge part in the outcome of this race. Hamilton and Vettel have opted for a solitary set of the softs, while the other top teams have all been a little more conservative with their selections.
Strategies are immensely hard to call. Hamilton and Vettel might be looking to a two-stop, but we really won’t know much more about that until they have gone for a couple of longer runs in Free Practice Three.
It’s a dead heat between Hamilton and Vettel for qualifying, with both sitting at 5/4 to take pole. The Mercedes raw pace is still superior to the Ferrari, which makes Hamilton the better bet of the two in that market.
Ferrari have improved their power of late but are still short of the Mercedes on the straight. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, is a decent pick at 7/10 to finish in the top three, too.
This weekend is relying on the Ferraris and Mercedes being close enough that we get some actual racing at the front of the field.
If either team are to cruise to a victory, it’ll be Mercedes, making Hamilton a cracking price at 6/4 to stand atop the podium on Sunday.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*