Lewis Hamilton was fastest in both of Fridays practice sessions as Formula One returned to Paul Ricard for the first time since 1990. In FP1 he was a tenth faster than his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and in FP2 he was seven tenths faster than Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Mercedes confirm new power unit
Mercedes were expected to perform well at Paul Ricard as it is a high following and speed circuit. In practice, they appeared to have the edge from the beginning and the German manufacturer has confirmed as we expected they have brought the spec two engine.
The team had been forced to delay the introduction of the new power unit, which has also been fitted to the customer cars Force India and Williams with what they are calling “2.1”. Mercedes Brixworth team has “reworked” six race units plus spares, and this allocation is on-site at Paul Ricard.
It confirmed it intends to continue running these engines for the rest of the race weekend. Mercedes team need the upgrade as they were beaten on a power circuit in Montreal by Ferrari, the team has a few cooling problems with the new power unit.
But the new power unit put them seven tenths ahead of Daniel Ricciardo by 0.7s in second practice, having edged teammate Valtteri Bottas by a tenth earlier on.
The Renault-powered Red Bull was almost a second off the pace across both sessions.
Ericsson crashes out
Marcus Ericsson missed second practice after he crashed his Sauber in FP1.
Goes through turn six then he loses the rear as he locks up and that sends him into the barriers side ways. Team Principal Fred Vasseur said “For Marcus, it was a tough session this morning and he won’t do FP2 this afternoon, We have a small update on the car, but it is difficult to see this morning.”
The Frenchman has also confirmed that the team was running an upgrade this weekend and it has been hard to judge. Also, Charles Leclerc didn’t help the matter as he spun his car, making it hard to judge its effectiveness.
Speaking about the accident, the Swede said “I turned in [to the corner] like every other lap. I wasn’t going any faster or doing anything different. And I just lost the rear end completely. It was one of those strange crashes that you don’t really find a good explanation for.”
“We analysed it a lot afterwards and couldn’t really see anything apart from the wind being quite different on that lap compared with previous ones. On that lap I had a lot less headwind so I had less downforce because of that. If that’s enough to lose a car completely like that – I wouldn’t think so, but it’s the only thing we can find.”
The winds are nothing new as prevailing wind is from the northwest and generally caused by low-pressure areas in the Gulf of Genoa drawing cold air from the mountains and through the Rhone Valley.
The organisers of the French Grand Prix have announced changes will be made immediately to traffic management following the enormous queues that occurred on Friday.
Paul Ricard is only accessible by one road which has created problems for fans and the paddock, with some queuing for hours to get to the track. For Friday’s practice day the local authority, which is responsible for traffic management, made the main road into the circuit accessible in only one direction, via a single lane, for spectators.
It was also operating car parks – which have a total combined capacity of 25,000 places – on a one-by-one basis, filling them to the maximum before opening the next one.
A statement from the Var prefect, the local authority, said that in conjunction with the organiser they had decided to open all car parks at once and temporarily double traffic lanes “in the immediate surroundings” of the track.
The Var prefect statement claimed “the situation is gradually improving” but a meeting is taking place between the authority and the organiser to draft a contingency plan for the weekend if problems continue.
Organisers had targeted a crowd of 65,000 – 70,000, some 20,000 below the circuit’s maximum capacity, and previously admitted that traffic management had been a top priority given its natural access problem.
Sirotkins mishap stop
Sergey Sirotkin has blamed the glare of the sun for his pit mishap during second practice. The Williams driver pulled over in front of Force India’s mechanics, who were preparing to service their driver Esteban Ocon, after concluding a run early in FP2.
He briefly held up Ocon as a result before moving on to the correct pit garage. The Russian told the media “I know it was quite stupid and I realised it last moment. If you saw where the sun is coming from, it is right in your eyes. Everything is flashing, you see just dark [outlines of] people, but you don’t see colours, really.”
“And I just boxed, I thought ‘wow, did we change the shape of front jack?’ – and then like ‘oh, it is wrong colour’. I was nice on the marks and ‘f**k, it’s not mine’. It’s just the sun. It was difficult to see the colours.”
His teammate Lance Stroll ended the day seventeenth in both sessions, however, it was another day when the team underperformed. Sirotkin added “[It was a] long difficult day, honestly. I predicted it would be tough, and obviously, it was tough. I think we still went through some interesting things and obviously, we scored some reasonable data.”
“Obviously putting it all together, we would expect a bit of progress for tomorrow, but [at the] same time we have to be realistic that all what we will put together, it’s not going to be such an impressive step, and obviously all others will do the same.
Mercedes are looking to be slightly ahead, however, the question is can they beat Ferrari when they get into the qualifying modes. I think from seeing the upgraded power unit delivering what they needed in Montreal. Throughout this week, we have seen expectation be on Mercedes as this favours the power and performance of the engine.
Haas is another team to watch this weekend, they were the fastest of the midfield teams. We have seen the US team perform well at high-speed circuits and that should see them in the midfield. Force India has underperformed today, they had there upgrade in Montreal. But their qualifying sims were interrupted by the Ericsson crash.