Vettel must channel rage at French Grand Prix

Jamie Woodhouse
Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari must pounce on a wounded Mercedes in France.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari must pounce on a wounded Mercedes in France.

For Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari Canada is gone, now they must focus on taking it to a wounded Mercedes at the French Grand Prix.

Formula 1 packed up and departed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with a dark cloud hanging over it.

The incident between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton was one which ruined a battle long overdue in 2019, and also suggested that the sport’s new “let them race” attitude is merely a catchphrase.

It’s not like fans will forget what happened anytime soon, but for those in the dark or who need a refresh, here is the moment in question…

It had looked likely all race that the top two would ultimately go at it for the win, and that’s what we got as Hamilton closed in on leader Vettel, but the German made an unforced error and went over the grass at Turns 3/4, sliding back on to the circuit and nearly collecting his rival.

Formula 1 cars aren’t designed to drive on the grass, but the stewards ruled that the Ferrari man had rejoined the track in an unsafe manner and forced Hamilton into taking evasive action. A five-second time penalty came his way and Hamilton claimed the win, with Vettel down to P2.

Vettel had every right to be feel robbed, though his post-race antics did carry a hint of toddler tantrum about them. However, what he did do is show that contrary to belief, Mercedes are beatable in 2019, and this is the real motivation the Scuderia need to take with them to France.

The Circuit Paul Ricard only joined the calendar last year, ending the French GP’s 9-year-absence, and the winner last year was none other than Hamilton.

However, although this is a different circuit, history is on Ferrari’s side – they have won the French Grand Prix 17 times! The second most successful team is Williams with 8.

So yes, it’s a different circuit, it’s a different era, but if the Scuderia take confidence from their track record in France, coupled with the emotion of Montreal, then perhaps they can finally break the Silver Arrows.

Another interesting development within the Mercedes and Ferrari camps going into France is the respective performances of Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc.

Bottas took a dominant win in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but memories of that and his Championship-leading days are fading, his resurgence appears to be burning out.

The Finn was well off the pace in Canada, and if he doesn’t find a shot of adrenaline soon, then it could be back to his ‘wingman’ role as Hamilton chases the title.

Leclerc equally needs a result with Ferrari. He matched and at times exceeded Vettel in the early rounds, but the four-time World Champion appears to have found that extra gear, while Leclerc is stuck in 4th at the moment.

The 21-year-old has said himself that his Q3 performances need to improve, but his racecraft has been dodgy in recent races as well.

His ‘to hell with it’ attitude in the Monaco GP was destined to end in disaster and a repair bill for Ferrari, both of which duly happened, and then at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve he never really got himself near the Hamilton/Vettel battle.

Both drivers need to prove in France that they are reliable options who are suffering nothing more than a blip. If they don’t, then expect ace-scavenger Max Verstappen to be snapping at their heels.

The Circuit Paul Ricard was a strong track for the Dutchman in the inaugural running last season. He would cross the line P2, seven seconds down on Hamilton but comfortably clear of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in P3.

There is plenty of full-throttle running to be had around the 3.6 mile circuit which won’t be welcome news for Red Bull and Honda, even though the Japanese manufacturer have said an “improved” engine will be available for the event, but Verstappen is a weapon capable of finding that extra drop of speed to get the result.

Speaking of speed, his team-mate Pierre Gasly – it’s his home race and there is no time like the present to start showing he is good enough to be at Red Bull, because quite frankly, he is nowhere near right now.

Renault are another team heading for home soil, the French manufacturer put in their best display of the 2019 season so far in Canada, Daniel Ricciardo qualified P4 ahead of Gasly and Bottas, while in the race he headed a P6/7 finish with team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.

The Hulk wasn’t happy with the team orders to stay behind his team-mate, but as Renault rightly explained, they couldn’t afford to risk losing those points in their Constructors’ battle with McLaren.

The British team scored zero in Montreal – Carlos Sainz finished P11 while Lando Norris retired in odd fashion after it appeared his overheating brakes had melted the rear suspension.

All that meant Renault moved up to P5, nine points clear of Racing Point and crucially now just two adrift of McLaren. That buffer is gone and Renault can focus on reclaiming that best-of-the-rest P4 spot at the French GP.

Another team who need to reverse negative form are Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen was in the points at every race until Azerbaijan, but he hasn’t scored another one since.

In fact, team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi is starting to find his feet. The Italian rookie outqualified his team-mate for the first time in his career at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, while it was also the first occasion where he got the better of him in the race.

Kimi may have got us laughing again with his short and sweet responses to questions from the media, but a challenge from Giovinazzi is no laughing matter.

Alfa and Haas now run the Spec Two Ferrari engine, but they are yet to find its benefits. All four drivers finished outside the points in Canada, of course that was Pirelli’s fault, right Haas?

But in all seriousness, with the extremely tight nature of the midfield, another poor result for both teams at the French Grand Prix and they risk becoming detached from the best-of-the-rest race.

As for teams who are detached – Williams. We briefly saw light at the end of the tunnel in Monaco with George Russell’s P15 while Robert Kubica avoided last place, the first time neither driver has been bottom of the timings, but Canada was a reality check.

Russell may have finished ahead of Kevin Magnussen who was in the “worst car” he has ever driven, but he was still a lap behind the rest of the field, while Kubica was a further lap adrift.

Williams say a “significant upgrade package” is coming for the middle part of the season, but they really need it now and it’s hard to see what success they can conjure up in France with their current FW42.

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