The current European heatwave may well cause chaos at the upcoming Formula One French GP held in the south of France. This week the body which regulates professional cycling initiated its extreme weather protocols for the tour de France stages held close to the Paul Ricard circuit. Formula One this year has switched from its 13 inch tyres to more road car relevant 18 inch rubber, but the teams at times have struggled to predict how the new tyres will react.
Pirelli are bringing the Pirelli the middle of the range tyres to the south of France the white striped C2 is the hardest the yellow C3 the medium and the Red banded tyre the C4.
Given the extreme heat causing exercise fires and deaths in southern Europe, the track temperature is likely to exceed 50 degrees centigrade add this to the abrasive run off areas which are designed to penalise drivers for exceeding track limits and tyre wear could be a real headache for the teams.
At last years race only Max Verstappen and Charles LeClerc pitted more than once however given the new FIA car design regulations allowing cars to follow more closely has seen teams value track position less and pit more often during the 2022 season to date.
This should make for more interesting racing at this years French GP which has been blighted by uninteresting GP’s since the sport returned to the Paul Ricard venue 3 years ago.
This may also be the last time we see racing here as French GP’s agreement concludes with this season’s events. Those close to F1’s decision makers have reported recently that to make way for new venues, Europe will only have 8 races from 2023 onwards. The Belgium GP at Spa Franca-chomps is also believed to be under threat.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali recently admitted they had received an application from Nice to host the French GP on a street circuit and it seems almost certain Paul Ricard does not fit the Liberty Media drive for more races to be held in ‘destination cities’.
Mercedes are bullish about their chances on a dedicated racing circuit which is super smooth. There’s even talk within the camp that should everything go their way, this is the circuit where a Mercedes driver may win a first F1 race for the team in 2022.
F1’s race control zero tolerance over track limits will also come into play at Paul Ricard. Last time out in Austria 43 warnings were issued to drivers for exceeding track limits. Much of this is due to the reworking of the old A1 ring by Herman Tilke into the current Red Bull Ring we see today.
Tilke’s era of track design/redesign saw gras and gravel traps excluded as the track limits and acres of asphalt replacing them to prevent track limits violations finishing a driver’s race – and allegedly in the name of safety.
Paul Ricard is one huge asphalt arena with hardly a barrowful of gravel in sight. The challenge for the drivers will be the same as in Austria, to restrain themselves from leaving the circuit and receiving a penalty. A record 4 drivers were issued with time penalties during the Austrian GP for exactly this offence.
Mario Isola, the Pirelli Motorsport Director, is interested to see how the eighteen-inch tyres fare this weekend.
“This year’s French Grand Prix takes place nearly a month later than it did last year, when it rained on Sunday morning, so it’s fair to expect warmer temperatures,” said Isola.
“This year’s generation of tyres and compounds is different and more resistant to overheating than the thirteen-inch versions used last year, so we’ll have to see how that affects the strategy.
“A bit of history: Paul Ricard was actually where our eighteen-inch tyres for the current era made their debut, at a test with Renault and Sergey Sirotkin back in 2019.”
Unpredictability is what makes motor racing and all sports interesting. This season the F1 teams years of data on setup and tyres is worth much less than before. Add into this the fact the race at Paul Ricard is almost a month later and during a European heatwave and hopefully this will all add up to a fascinating farewell to a circuit not much love by Formula One fans.