The Friday in F1 French GP had a lot to talk about, especially at the front of the field, but the mid-pack seems way too tight with multiple teams.
Before getting into the fight between Mercedes and Red Bull, the big topic of Friday in F1 French GP was the chassis swap between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, where the latter got the former’s season-long chassis, while the former had the latter’s Baku one.
While the commentary had some talks that maybe Bottas’ renewed performance is down to chassis related, but the Finn noted after the session that wasn’t clear if it is the case. It was similar from Hamilton, who said, that he didn’t feel it to be largely different.
“It’s hard to say if its chassis or the track conditions, but it is a lot better feeling than two weeks ago, that’s for sure,” Bottas said, after finishing first and second in the two F1 sessions. “I feel we have started the weekend on the right foot. I feel everything is feeling quite OK, and I’ve been comfortable and pretty fast with the car so far.
“It’s different a track, but the balance is good, the tyres are working well and I’m confident with the car. I can trust the car, and I think that is the biggest difference. It’s going to be close between us and Red Bull, I’m sure they have lots more to come, but so do we,” summed up Bottas, as Hamilton added, having to work more.
“Even though the position is quite a bit different to Monaco and Baku, [it’s] quite a struggle this weekend, I think, probably for everyone,” Hamilton said. I don’t know if it’s the track surface or it’s the temperature, or these inflated tyres. They put the pressures up higher than ever before, one of the highest.
“I think it’s difficult to say. We’re all sliding around, and it’s a struggle out there I think for everyone.” Amid talks of the chassis, Toto Wolff clarified that the practice has been long done by Mercedes and this is nothing new from their end.
“We swap parts around all the time,” said Wolff. “This is part of the planning, as these carry-over chassis run for a second season, so we are not accumulating millions of miles on one, basically that’s part of the plan. It’s the chassis that was splendid in Monaco, that qualified Valtteri right in front. But you never know.
“You listen to the engineers and they said it’s all tested and it’s stiff, there shouldn’t be any difference, but if the driver feels that it’s not then it’s definitely not worth trying to make a point here, then you just need to change.” It’s good to get the feedback and if it calms the driver’s mind, we have a spare chassis, which is a brand new one, we can always do that,” Wolff added.
Moving on to their main rival for F1 French GP, Red Bull, for them, it was a competitive run, especially with Max Verstappen, who managed to top the second session. Even though teammate Sergio Perez was far below, the Mexican felt pretty solid at the end of the day.
He had some traffic which didn’t allow him to set a good lap time in FP2, but in FP1, he was quite close to Verstappen, as he continues to better understand the car. For the Dutchman, it was hard work after not feeling too well in FP1. He bounced back well in FP2.
“I think overall it’s been a good end to the day and we improved quite well,” said Verstappen. “I wasn’t entirely happy in FP1 and even at the start of FP2 but on the second set of tyres this afternoon the car felt a lot better and a lot more connected. It’s still really difficult around here as the track is so open and it’s quite windy which means it isn’t always easy to nail the lap.
“The wind is also quite gusty so one lap it feels alright and the next lap it can increase, which means it’s not always easy to judge your mid-corner speeds, but everyone has to deal with the same thing,” summed up Verstappen. While the Top 2 F1 outfits are more in their own fight, the pack behind them were closely matched with several teams in play.
Looking at the times, Alpine seemed solid on pace with a Top 10 result. They had AlphaTauri for company with Ferrari, McLaren and Alfa Romeo not far off. At the same time, Aston Martin chose to work on their long run pace, in the hope to go deep in the F1 grand prix and take advantage of the situation.
Despite showing good pace, Alpine were not getting too excited – where some alleged that it could be also down to ‘glory runs’ due to it being their home event. The newly re-signed Esteban Ocon kept his hopes as 50-50, considering their rivals, while Fernando Alonso was overall pleased, having run some new parts to test.
While FP1 was not their showing, but Ferrari bounced back in FP2, with a double Top 10 result. Even though it wasn’t the pace like they showed in Baku, both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were pleased with their pace overall, amid their midfield fight.
“Overall with the car balance, it’s been a very difficult day for everyone I think,” said Leclerc. “The wind is very, very strong so it makes it quite tricky to drive. But it’s like this for everyone, so we just need to try and find a way around it. I think in FP2 it was a little bit better, but let’s say it’s say that it’s just more in line with what we expected here.
“I think Baku and Monaco were two weekends that were much better than what we expected and now we are a bit more in line with what we expected. There’s still quite a bit of work to do, but we did quite a nice recovery from FP1, the car felt quite a bit better, so I’m happy with this,” summed up Leclerc, as Sainz concurred with his teammate.
For AlphaTauri and McLaren, it was Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris leading the way, with Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, not far behind, but having Alfa Romeo in the middle. The Frenchman was happy with a double Top 10 result and feels good to make it into Q3, while his F1 teammate is gaining confidence from his Baku outing and move to Italy, where he is working closer with his team.
For McLaren, it was a tricky run, especially in FP2, where they feel, they lost few tenths – perhaps down to the warmer conditions. “Tough first day, tricky conditions playing the biggest part,” said Norris. “The temperature made it difficult to keep the tyres in a good window. So, driving the car became a bit of a challenge especially with the wind.
“I think we’ve got a few bits we can definitely improve upon, but we still have quite a bit of work to do. It’s very close with the rest of the field so every little bit is going to help – but it’s also going to make qualifying tough,” he summed up as Ricciardo felt similar of losing pace in the second session after a good run in the first one.
It is what allowed Alfa Romeo to get close to them, even though both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi did not feel 100% with the car. They both feel that they will have to fight it through to make it into Q3 as their are less open spaces to enter. Behind them, Aston Martin tried different tactics by not running the soft tyres at all in FP2.
But both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll felt good with the car, noting that they still have some performance left on the table. For the German, he put it down to wind for his spin. “I had an off this morning which cost us some time,” he said. “You can’t see what the wind is doing, obviously you get a feel for it but it’s difficult to see whether there’s a gust or not. But it’s the same for all of us, so it is what it is.
“I think overall it was okay. There’s a lot of things that we can do better but I think that’s a positive. I feel we’ve got more in the car so it’s up to us to unleash it but for sure it’s going to be very tight. I haven’t seen much of the times, but I would expect it to be very tight. So we have some work ahead of us,” summed up Vettel.
At the back, Williams had Roy Nissany in the car in FP1, which limited George Russell’s running to just the one session. For the Brit and the Canadian, it definitely felt good in the latter session, where they made some small changes, which made the drivers comfortable. For the Haas F1 rookies, it certainly wasn’t the smoothest of runs, where both noted that they took some time to get going with the wind and the temperature.
Here’s how F1 French GP FP1 panned out
Here’s how F1 French GP FP2 panned out