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2021 French GP: Day 1 Free Practice highlights at Circuit Paul Ricard

Verstappen manages to get on the top after the first day of practices ahead of the French GP

It’s race week! The world’s top racers and their teams are back on the race circuit post a much-needed break after the chaos of Baku weekend. The destination of this Grand Prix is the Circuit Paul Ricard.

The Highlights

Before we check today’s FP1 and FP2 race highlights, first let me quickly freshen up your memories from Azarbaijan a fortnight before. So after the eventful race at the city of winds, Checo, Vettel and Gasly claimed the podium after Verstappen was ruled of the equation as his tire went flat just before the last 2 laps. Mercedes drivers Bottas and Hamilton clearly had their worst nightmare at Baku which won’t be easy to forget anytime soon as none of them managed to gain any point at the Azerbaijan GP. All this meant that Max Versttapen still holds his 4 points lead over Lewis Hamilton on the drivers’ tally which he gained during the clean sweep at Monte Carlo last month. Okay enough of the flashback, let’s see what went during the French GP’s first two practice sessions. Hold tight, this story has lot of spin offs (like literally)!

Mercedes – After two tough street races, with no points in Baku two weeks ago, Mercedes are hoping for a return to winning ways at a southern circuit they have dominated since its return to the calendar in 2018. And they did look in full control during the first free practice run when both Silver Arrow racers managed to do 1-2 with Valtteri Bottas leading the charge and his Brit teammate, 7-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton trailing behind him. But by the end of the race, the duo was overtaken by their Red Bull rival Max Verstappen just by a margin of a fraction of seconds. However, there’s no denying Bottas was a threatening presence on softs and mediums.

Red Bull – At the end of FP1 at Paul Richard, Verstappen ended up 0.432s behind Bottas, with Perez 0.745 adrift on his best soft tyre lap. That means both Red Bull champs were right behind the Mercedes boys. But things changed drastically during the second run. While Verstappen claws back gap and pips Bottas, his teammate and winner of the last race at Baku could not match the Dutchman’s pace and ended up sitting at P12 by the end of today practice sessions.

Alpine – Taking Checo’s place at P4 after the end of the day was Fernando Alonso of Alpine, while his teammate Esteban Ocon wasn’t far behind and crossed the chequered flag at P6. The French team had been on an upward trajectory before heading to street tracks at Monaco and Baku, so their return to the upper end of the midfield shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. “Oh, Sherlock, I told you to keep an eye on those A521s, but did you listen?” – Jim

Ferrari – Splitting the Alpines on the Paul Richard is none other than Charles Leclerc on his Prancing Horse, delivering a consistent performance lately and securing the fifth position after the Friday test run. His teammate Sainz who ran on medium and soft tyres in the second session of the day under the split strategy of the Scuderia came home at P8. The Spaniard was one of four drivers to spin, with the odd gust of wind blamed, along with a green track and few overexuberant drivers.

Alpha Tauri – Ocon’s compatriot and the podium holder of the Baku, Pierre Gasly received a new Honda engine this weekend just like the Red Bull pair. However, this new engine failed to produce a similar result to the Azerbaijan GP and the Frenchman has to settle for seventh ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. The AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda lost 3 positions after managing to secure P10 in the first test run. He did well in the very busy competitive middle section of the table but couldn’t hold his position and crossed the finish line at 13th after FP2. However story could have been different without his AT02’s twist (spin actually).

Alfa Romeo – The Alfa Romeo duo Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi tried to have their own 1-2 at the bottom of point grabbing table positions but got separated by Norris. Both racers finish with a respective ninth and eleventh position.

McLaren – Lando Norris in P10 was sandwiched between Alfas but did his best to not lose the last point earner position he was hanging to, after dropping a position after the FP1. As for his new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo lost a major lead as he fell from P6 of FP1 to P14 in the FP2.

Aston Martin – Several drivers, damaged their cars and tyres on the kerbs at turn two and brightly painted abrasive run-off areas in the first session, including Bottas, Verstappen. But no one suffered as badly as Sebastian Vettel who hit the barriers at Turn 11 backwards and had to nurse his damaged car back to the pits, with a set of tyres wrecked. The four-time world champion did great during the last 2 street races but things get back to as it was at the beginning of the 2021 season, as soon as the season hit the closed circuits. His second session run of the day was without any incident and he was nearly two-tenths faster than his teammate Lance Stroll, but still finished 15th, the same spot he secured after FP1. Stroll crossed the chequered flag right behind him at 16th after losing his first run’s 14th spot.

Williams – Right behind the Astons was the Williams pair, George Russell slotting a P17 after FP2 with just 0.065s lead over his teammate Nicholas Latifi who finished 18th. However, the British team started the practise sessions with a different pair of racers as Roy Nissany was running in place of George Russell at Williams for FP1, and ended up at the rear of the field when the race finished. The driver was swapped in FP2 for the regular occupants of the FW43Bs.

Haas – One word to describe their season so far, “Consistent”, actually two words “Very Consistent”. The sightings at the Haas camp very pretty familiar with Mick Schumacher at 19th-place and 0.039s behind him at the 20th-place was his teammate, Nikita Mazepin, the trouble maker who literally went on a spin during the race.

After the Baku’s vodka, Paul Richard seemed like a mild beer. But let not jump to the conclusions right now. Hope the Fresh GP qualifiers and the race day comes with a lot of surprises. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton had a good Track Record (no pun intended) at the French track and will be hoping to gain their lost lead positions on the championship table, however, Verstappen isn’t going to hand over the victory to him this easily, especially after getting robbed of the clear 25 points last fortnight. What does it mean for the viewers? Well, a guaranteed thrilling entertaining season.

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Himanshu Harsh

My love for automobiles is what fuels my writing. You can catch me twisting synth knobs when I'm not drooling over cars.

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