How much-maligned Paul Ricard produced “one of the most exciting races for five years” · RaceFans

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System 1’s return to Paul Ricard didn’t start nicely. Its first two races have been, to place it kindly, not classics.

RaceFans readers rated the 2018 and 2019 French grands prix unfavourably: Scores of 6.3 and three.4 out of 10 meant Paul Ricard ranked final amongst all 32 tracks which have held races since 2008 for the standard of its motion.

Fortunately, Sunday’s race was a complete departure, not solely serving up motion within the midfield, however a battle for the lead which hung within the steadiness till the penultimate lap.

System 1’s head of motorsport Ross Brawn raved about Sunday’s seventh spherical of the world championship. “It was fabulous watching the race evolve from a gradual burner to humdinger,” he stated. “This race was the epitome of F1 – we noticed the human aspect and the technique aspect of the game in all its glory.”

Pink Bull CEO Christian Horner was thrilled with the race in addition to Max Verstappen’s win. “When you think about it was arguably probably the most boring race of the final 5 years, two years in the past right here, that was most likely one of the thrilling races we’ve had within the final 5 years,” he stated.

Whereas System 1 didn’t race at Paul Ricard in 2020, its rules haven’t modified drastically because the final race in there, so we are able to rule that out as a purpose why we would have seen a significantly better occasion. Nor did a fortuitously-timed Security Automotive seem so as to add drama. So why did the monitor produce a way more satisfying encounter final weekend?

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Climate

Soaked Sunday F3 race washed monitor clear of rubber

It didn’t rain in the course of the race – it by no means seemed prone to, the official FIA forecast by no means indicating greater than a 20% probability. However there was a big downpour on Sunday morning which made life fascinating for the System 3 drivers.

It additionally cleaned the monitor of the rubber which had constructed up over the earlier two days. That, plus a lot decrease monitor temperatures, meant drivers found strikingly totally different grip ranges after they took to the monitor for his or her pre-race reconnaissance laps.

Some, like Ferrari, realised they have been in deep trouble. Their subsequent descent from fifth and seventh on the grid to eleventh and sixteenth on the flag was a part of the explanation why we noticed a lot overtaking within the midfield.

It additionally saved groups guessing about tyre efficiency. What initially seemed like a sure one-stop race swung in the direction of two-stop territory. However it was shut – race-winner Verstappen was one in all simply two drivers to pit twice. This was a strategic transfer to forestall Lewis Hamilton leaping forward of him, which arrange a contest which was solely resolved on the penultimate lap.

Verstappen’s race-winning go on Hamilton could have been inevitable from the second he acquired inside DRS vary, however the chase that led as much as it was pure drama.

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Nearer competitors

The main automobiles are extra carefully matched than two years in the past

Mercedes have been broadly thought-about the pre-race favourites. Coming off the again of two tracks that they had struggled at, the return to a extra standard course was anticipated to play into the arms of the world champions.

This didn’t occur. Pink Bull beat them in qualifying, although once more it was shut. Max Verstappen took pole place by 1 / 4 of a second, however with the Mercedes pair wanting robust on race tempo, and Sergio Perez lining up behind them, qualifying set the race up beautifully.

Earlier encounters at Paul Ricard have been much more one-sided. On F1’s final go to to the monitor Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari was the one non-Mercedes to qualifying inside a second of pole-winner Hamilton.

Monitor tweaks

Paul Ricard reprofiling and resurfacing, 2021
Report: Paul Ricard reprofiles corners in bid to enhance racing

Daniel Ricciardo, who equalled his greatest results of the season with sixth place, supplied one other rationalization for why Paul Ricard produced a greater race this yr.

“My reply is that they re-laid the circuit, the Tarmac, and maybe it was slightly bit extra aggressive and I suppose some automobiles suffered extra,” he defined. “So then you definately had greater tyre deltas.”

The climate circumstances additionally performed an element, Ricciardo added. “With the wind as nicely [there was] numerous errors and sliding. So it was very simple to make a mistake. And clearly, in the event you’re the automobile that’s searching, in the event you type of maintain it clear, you may actually get a very good slipstream.

“In order that was most likely the factor, simply difficult circumstances with some tyre deg created good racing. So I believe that was very nice to see.”

The revisions to the monitor went past refreshing the floor, which had already been extensively relaid two years earlier. Whereas the configuration of the corners was unchanged, the profile of the monitor was altered at a number of factors.

Ricciardo watched F3 motion with envy

In locations this was completed to enhance drainage – word how rapidly the water cleared throughout Sunday morning’s System 3 race. However the repositioning of the camber at a number of corners additionally had an impact. It was noticeable at flip 5, the start of the acceleration zone which ends up in the chicane, the place a number of drivers locked wheels.

It might even have performed a job in Verstappen’s essential first-lap error which handed the result in Hamilton. The Pink Bull driver was caught out by a tailwind when he arrived off-line on the first nook and a twitch of oversteer despatched him huge. That put him onto a piece of monitor which now slopes away from the centre extra steeply than it did two years in the past, and he needed to make one other correction which despatched him off. Yuki Tsunoda was caught out on the similar nook throughout qualifying.

Nonetheless it took place, Ricciardo was happy F1 lastly placed on a very good race on the third French Grand Prix because the race was reinstated to the calendar.

“I’m simply comfortable that there [were] some battles and a enjoyable race,” he stated. “It offers me a whole lot of satisfaction once you’re in a position to battle and overtake.

Eric Boullier, Paul Ricard, 2021
Boullier loved “optimistic vibe” after race

“I had envy, actually, watching F3 this weekend, their races have been so thrilling. I actually hoped we may have one thing like that. And I believe at moments of the race it was, so I loved that.”

Better of all, the gradual easing of pandemic restrictions meant there have been 15,000 spectators within the stands having fun with all of it. No surprise there was a smile on the race of the race’s managing director Eric Boullier afterwards.

“The goal as a promoter is to have everyone leaving the monitor on Sunday evening with a smile, but in addition having a smile at house for the TV spectators, clearly, and the paddock,” he stated. “I suppose some individuals are not comfortable as we speak as a result of they haven’t gained nevertheless it’s good to really feel a very good, optimistic vibe.”

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2021 French Grand Prix

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