Lewis Hamilton celebrates his 300th Grand Prix weekend with a morning of fun.
The seven-time champion Briton sat out his first practice session in France – predicted to be brutal amid a European heatwave – and could not only bide his time at the weekend but be a contender for the Mercedes team.
Sir Paul Ricard is a historically strong figure for Hamilton. He led all but one lap since the track’s 2018 revival last year, and then it took a strategy error from his team to give him the lead and eventually run into Max Verstappen.
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This is expected to be one of Mercedes’ most competitive circuits of the year with the current car problems, and it is a sign of confidence that the team has chosen to replace Hamilton at the weekend’s mandatory start.
Whether this is confidence in Hamilton’s handling of the track, Russell’s ability to install setup work or the likelihood that the car can work straight out of the box, we’ll have to wait and see.
Another team looking to be confident is Alfalfatri, who will be hoping to once again provide a major upgrade to the midfield contender car for hero Pierre Gasly.
And from the Austrian Grand Prix weekend teams and drivers are discussing the future of F1 as the 2023 calendar draws to a close.
DE VRIES to take Hamilton’s car in FP1
The French Grand Prix will be Lewis Hamilton’s 300th race, but French fans hoping to catch a glimpse of him will have to wait a few hours before finally jumping into the car.
The British team will hand over the Mercedes wheel to Nick de Vries in the first practice session in 2022 to partially comply with the rules to give rookie drivers two practice sessions.
It will be de Vries’ second practice outing at the Spanish Grand Prix for FP1 aboard Williams.
After that hour-long session, Williams head of vehicle performance Dave Robson said the Dutchman was fit for a full-time crack at F1.
“His speed was there,” he said. “I think he did a very good job considering he only had an hour in the car, and it’s clear what it takes to be an absolutely top-quality race driver.
“I think he deserves a spot on the grid, but there are a lot of people. I think he made the most of his opportunity… and I think he should be happy and proud of what he did.
In the year Whether it will be too late for the driver market to impose itself by 2023 remains to be seen.
Williams would be the most logical place for him, but after the team made Nicolas Laffey a seat for Oscar Piastri, Alex Albon will have to take the unlikely opportunity to leave the team to make way for him.
Alternatively, the four-time champion could find himself on the list to be replaced by Sebastian Vettel if he hangs up his helmet at the end of the year.
Aston Martin will struggle to replace a man of Vettel’s stature, but de Vries is the reigning Formula E world champion – the series was upgraded to world championship status last season – which at least brings him a bit of respect when it comes to job interviews. .
De Vries’ Mercedes drive will make four of the 40 starting sessions taken for the season.
Alphatauri targeting is the main level of improvement
Alfatauri has been on a steep decline this season, dropping to fifth in the standings from last year to eighth this season, ahead of the struggling Aston Martin and rear-marker Williams teams.
The team has scored just twice in the last seven races and failed to put two cars into the top 10 at the checkered flag.
After a long and fruitless stint in Austria, Pierre Gasly lamented that his team had fallen behind in the improvement game and could do nothing without further improvements to the car.
“[We] We can’t go on like this, we have to start over,” he said. “At the beginning of the year we are fighting with the guys at the front. [of the midfield], [now we’re] Finishing 20, 30 seconds late.
The Frenchman is set to debut the team’s major updates for the next round, and speaking ahead of the home race, Gasly said he expects nothing but big improvements.
“Hopefully things will be a lot better with the updates we get on the car this weekend. They are mainly on the aero side and should give a real step up in performance, so I tried them on the record in the hope that they would bring us back into the fight for points. “
Teammate Yuki Shunoda says he’s hopeful the new parts will address the car’s high-speed weaknesses, which can be particularly punishing at circuits like Paul Ricard’s.
“It’s a track where you want a set-up that works well in medium-speed corners, and it can be very difficult because you have high-speed straights and sharp corners but low- and medium-speed turns at the end of sectors 1 and 3.
“Normally this would highlight some of the weak points in our car, but we’ll have improvements in France, so hopefully that won’t be the case.
“We went for a big upgrade rather than a lot of small ones.
Hopefully it will allow us to be more consistent and fight at the top of the midfield again.
Bots wants more advice on sprint races
With a long break before the next race in Spain at the Brazilian Grand Prix on the final weekend of the season, the sport has plenty of time to think about expanding its sprint schedule next season, with as many as six expected. This year from three.
But while the sprint format has generally been praised for creating a competitive session over all three days of the race weekend, the 100km race itself continues to receive mixed reviews from teams, fans and drivers alike. .
The Austrian bar cars had a limited lead in the sprints from the stand, including the three test events at Imola this year and last season in general.
“You need to choose the tracks carefully,” said Valtteri Bottas. “Sprinting is still important. [in Austria]But I think it could be in a better place; So let’s see what they come up with.
Lando Norris says part of the problem is the lack of a strategy to detect errors or speed.
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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff agreed, although he admitted there was little that could be done structurally, the problem was the cars themselves.
“I think the reason why races are less entertaining is because there’s too much of a performance gap between teams,” he said. “You have Verstappen disappearing in the distance, the two Ferraris are the only entertainment during the race, then we are in the middle of nowhere in no man’s land.
“Then the others lag behind, and then you have DRS trains. That would never make for a good race.
The 2023 calendar is due to be tentatively agreed next month, and although some venues have been tipped as potential hosts for the sprint, F1 will prefer to hold fire until Saturday’s final race in Brazil before confirming which round will get it.
“If I can trust anyone to pick the right race, it’s Stefano,” Wolff said. “He saw Stefano [the Austria sprint] and takes into account.