Bottas ‘2.0’ has disappeared
Strong wins in Australia and at Baku, followed by a storming pole lap in Spain, prompted many people to suggest we were seeing a different, better version of Valtteri Bottas in 2019. Now, those thoughts look completely wide of the mark.
In three of the last four races, he’s really struggled. Hamilton has battered the Finn in Spain, Canada and yesterday at Paul Ricard.
Bottas finished a whopping 18s behind the Brit, his best lap in the race was 0.8s slower than Hamilton’s and he had to hold off Charles Leclerc off for 2nd place.
With Hamilton now on top form, the Finn simply cannot find another gear to challenge the Brit, particularly on a Sunday. His deficit to Hamilton is now 36 points.
The rest of the season is shaping up to be very difficult for Bottas, just like 2017 and 2018. His seat and future at Mercedes might be in jeopardy after all.
Leclerc’s best performance since Bahrain
Sebastian Vettel has very much been the star driver at Scuderia Ferrari for the vast majority of the 2019 season. However, in France, Charles Leclerc delivered an excellent performance across the whole weekend and scored a well-deserved podium.
He outpaced Vettel in all the practice and qualifying sessions with the exception of Q2 to line up 3rd on the grid.
After fending Max Verstappen off the start, he produced strong race pace to comfortably finish on the podium. He almost got Bottas at the end following the VSC period, but couldn’t quite get close enough to have a go.
The challenge for the Monegasque star now is to consistently string weekends together as he had in France on a regular basis.
After some extremely difficult races for both the Finn and his team, Raikkonen was back on top form in the race.
Qualifying in 12th proved to be a blessing in disguise as Gasly and Giovinazzi struggled massively on the softs in the race.
Starting on the hards, he got past Albon and Giovinazzi to be P10. He managed to perform the overcut on Pierre Gasly to move up 9th.
The final lap was extremely profitable for the Finnish star as he overtook Norris for 8th on track at the end. That turned into a 7th placed result as Ricciardo received a penalty for overtaking Raikkonen off the track on the final lap. The result moved him back into the top 10 in the championship.
To beat both Renaults and a McLaren on a day they were faster was extremely impressive. Even at 39, the 2007 World Champion is driving at a very high level.
McLaren’s renaissance continues
McLaren has flattered to deceive with some one-off performances in previous years – but 2019 is showing the team has made genuine, real progress.
Great qualifying efforts from Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz saw the pair annex the third row of the grid – and it was the first time since the 2014 Italian Grand Prix McLaren achieved that feat.
Sainz got the jump off the line and the pair were very evenly matched throughout the race as they looked set to seal a very solid P6 and P7 for the team. However, Norris’ late problems changed all that.
He got swamped on the last lap by Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg and crossed the line in P10. Yet, the post-race penalties for the Aussie – one of which was for rejoining unsafely and pushed the Brit off the track – saw Norris end up in 9th at the end.
Sainz leads the ‘best of the rest’ championship in the drivers’ standings, while McLaren are in the same boat in the constructors' championship.
If they can iron out the small gremlins they’re having, McLaren looks well set to claim 4th in the championship. The last time they finished in the top 4 at the end of a season? 2012.
Haas are in deep trouble
2019 was already turning into quite a disappointing season for the American owned team – but France was the lowest point by far.
Kevin Magnussen did a superb job just to get out of Q1, as team-mate Grosjean qualified a miserable P17 on home soil. The race went horribly, too. Grosjean retired as Magnussen finished 17th in a hugely disappointing event for the team.
The reality for Haas is that they were the second slowest team at Paul Ricard. Raikkonen’s P7 for Alfa Romeo saw them drop to 9th in the constructors’ championship. They’ve got a lot of work to do to rediscover the pace they had in Australia and Spain.
Understandably, Guenther Steiner was less than impressed with his teams showing.
‘’In the four-year history, I think this was our worst weekend all in all. In the race [yesterday] we still struggled. I don’t know why. What is bizarre to me is that a car that was good enough to qualify seventh and eighth in the first race and then sixth in Monte Carlo, all of a sudden we are second last.
Don’t ask me what it is, I don’t know. So don’t even ask me, please, because I couldn’t answer it. We need to find out and it’s very disappointing to be honest, ending up in this situation but not having an understanding of it is the worst of all.
This was a lot worse than Montreal, because already on Friday and in qualifying we weren’t good. At least in Montreal in qualifying we got one car into Q3, but here we were happy to get one car out of Q1. So that was a lot worse.’’