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Formula One: Bottas To Stay With Mercedes For 2018

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Formula 1‘s French Grand Prix hasn’t been contested since 2008. It will return to the calendar this weekend at a venue that F1 hasn’t raced at in 28 years, Circuit Paul Ricard, or as many media outlets have taken to calling it, Le Castellet, after the location of the track. The return to Paul Ricard marks the beginning of a “tripleheader” for F1, with races in France, Austria and the United Kingdom in consecutive weeks.

F1 returns to Europe after a relatively tame Canadian Grand Prix that saw Sebastian Vettel retake the lead in the driver standings by a single point over rival Lewis Hamilton. In Canada, Hamilton was on the back foot with a delayed power unit upgrade. He and teammate Valtteri Bottas will have the upgrade in France. How will that affect the weekend?

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Circuit Paul Ricard is new to the current crop of drivers. How well and how quickly can they adapt to the 15-turn, 3.630-mile (5.842-kilometer) track? Will the track create some excitement after processional races in Monaco and Canada? Here’s what to watch for during the 2018 French Grand Prix.

Mercedes upgrades

Mercedes delayed their power unit upgrade in Canada due to reliability concerns. As a result, Bottas and Hamilton couldn’t keep pace with the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull Racing during the race despite starting P2 and P4, respectively.

Mercedes come to Circuit Paul Ricard with an untested but more powerful power unit on another “power circuit”. How much of free practice will be dedicated to testing their new power unit and how much of it will be dedicated to making sense of the track and keeping their rivals honest?

For Hamilton, he’ll hope that the upgrade will propel him back into the lead of the championship. After the P5 finish in Canada, he can’t risk falling further behind Vettel. For Bottas, he’ll hope that the upgrade will jump-start his title hopes while the team hope that the two-week delay is enough to sort out the reliability issues.

The track

The last time F1 raced in France at the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours in 2008, the cars were roughly the same speed and size as the current generation’s cars. Compare the 2018 cars to those last raced at Circuit Paul Ricard, however, and the difference is massive.

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The current cars have more downforce and straight-line speed than the cars of the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Therefore, corners that were slow back then will be taken faster and the Mistral straight will be covered in much less time. How well and quickly will drivers adapt to the track?

The current layout of Circuit Paul Ricard includes the Mistral Chicane (turns eight and nine). In theory, the chicane could be a good overtaking point for those brave enough to out-brake their opponents, and in theory, it should be taken like the Bus Stop chicane at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

However, with a “new” track, theories on how to approach a tricky corner are just that, theories, until tested. While F1 and Pirelli have tested here in the past, testing and racing aren’t synonymous, especially given the gaps in between development.

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