Renault has fired the first shots in the psychological battle ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 Pirelli Grand Prix De France at Circuit Paul-Ricard. Team principal Cyril Abiteboul, along with drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg, have expressed strong feelings of confidence in the cars, with Abiteboul stating firmly: “Not only is it our home Grand Prix at Le Castellet, but also the opportunity to demonstrate a further improvement in our competitiveness. While Canada, a power sensitive circuit, underlined the gains made in engine performance, France will see the introduction of several development items on the chassis. One thing is clear: we cannot dwell on Montreal, we have to aim for a repeat of that result and keep striving to reduce the gap to the front.”

Hulkenberg backs that up, with: “”I think it’s realistic, because so far the car has performed welled on every kind of circuit,” he said. “So I think the package is consistent and works pretty much everywhere so far we’ve been. We’ve just not got the results because of different mistakes, reasons, technical issues, whatever it was. So, I’m quite optimistic.” Perth born Ricciardo, is also confident of a change in the team’s fortunes, saying: “We’ve certainly got some momentum now and the last few weekends have been stronger, we’ve got a few new parts coming.” Montreal did mark a milestone for the team’s 2019 season, with both cars finishing inside the top ten for a double points score, for the first time this year.

Ricciardo himself showed what the cars are capable off when everything comes together. After he qualified fourth, the Australian went head to head with Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, managing to keep out the Finn for some time.

A major talking point from Montreal, and one that may still be in discussion up to before this weekend, is Ferrari’s decision to challenge the five second penalty handed to Sebastian Vettel. They had initiated an appeal however a certain time frame had elapsed, precluding the team from taking one form of action. However, another process may allow them to pursue the matter, with an internal source stating: “…they must provide evidence of any “significant and relevant new element” that has come to light that was not available at the time of the race.” and this is to be done via the International Sporting Code.

It’s been said that, to be appearing as consistent for penalties, they (the stewards) felt the Ferrari driver had contravened Article 38.1 of the Sporting Regulations when he re-joined the track “in an unsafe manner and forced car 44 (Hamilton) off track”. The stewards have apparently viewed further video evidence that was not shown in a broadcast situation, hence the decision to keep the penalty.

Ferrari themselves will be using a number of small, incremental, changes to their SF90 car, with the hope of using these changes to help identify further the areas that need improvement. “What we will be bringing won’t be the solution to our problems, but the technical feedback we get from these evolutions will be important for the next steps we take.” said team principal Mario Binotto.

Of good news for Red Bull and Toro Rosso fans is that Honda has provided the team with more upgrades for the team. The Spec 3 engine, an upgrade itself, has been given an uprated turbocharger, with bench-testing showing a demonstrable power increase over Spec 2. This follows on from their own incremental changes in the season so far, which has the team closing the gap between them and Ferrari. However, for the French GP, Red Bull have chosen not to upgrade Alexander Albon’s car as Daniil Kvyat’s upgrade has exceeded his allowance for the season and will, under the regulations, receive a grid place penalty.

Circuit Paul Ricard is a thin circuit as seen from above, with the track’s straights almost within handshake distance of each other. The first race here was in 1971 and won by (Sir) Jackie Stewart. The race distance will be 53 laps, for a total distance of just under 310 kilometres. It’s a popular circuit for testing thanks to the mix of high to low speed corners in the 15 turn layout. It’s worth mentioning that part of the track’s popularity is due to its proximity to the French Riviera, just a few miles away.

Tire choice is the C2, c3, and C4 compounds, with all teams opting for more of the red rimmed soft rubber than the medium and hard.  Free Practice 1 gets under way at 11:00am local time on June 21. Qualifying is the following day at 15:00 local, with the French F1 GP getting underway at 15:10 local.