From our special correspondent for the Paul-Ricard circuit, in Le Castellet,
Formula 1 paddocks are done in scorching heat. The French Grand Prix takes place this weekend at the Circuit Paul-Ricard, in Le Castellet, in the Var, in blistering heat as the department puts itself on orange heatwave alert for these three days of racing. Up to 34 degrees in the air, and not far from the double on the track, organizers could not have been more apt to christen the race the “Summer Race” after this date change to end of July, versus end of June normally.
A “necessarily special weekend” for Frédéric Vasseur, boss of Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen, who was seen in a water fight with his two drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, on Thursday in late afternoon For him, the impact is mainly on single-seaters. “We had track temperatures that are in the record range, with Bahrain. It’s really challenging in terms of tire degradation, and everyone is preparing for the race from that. Nobody used the hard tires to save for Sunday. The other issue is the cooling in general. We are almost all at the maximum of what we can do in terms of cooling and then we will fix it in the race,” confides the team principal .
The record heat is 36 degrees in the air and 61 degrees on the track
There is no more control than usual from Pirelli, the tire supplier, but the temperature, “a hot topic this weekend”, could change the face of the race. Although we are not on record heat, held during the second test session in Malaysia in 2016, which reached temperatures of 36 degrees in the air and 61 degrees on the track, compared to 34 degrees in the air and 56 degrees on the track on Friday at the Paul-Ricard circuit. “We also have to look at the particularity of the circuit because the Paul-Ricard has a third sector with very fast bends that put a lot of energy on the tires. So there’s the heat associated with that energy, plus the heat from the air and the track. It increases the stress on the tires, so we expect more deterioration,” said Mario Isola, director of Pirelli Motorsport.
A greater than normal deterioration that will inevitably influence Saturday’s qualifying session. “It will be mainly on the softs, but we are trying to see if the grip can be improved after a cooling lap, I think it is possible. It could be important for a classification in which the teams use soft tires”, remembers the director of Pirelli Motorsport.
“Drinking hot water is not cool”
And on Sunday for the race, we expect to see “more strategy than usual” in this Castellet circuit, little known for its advances on the track. With the likelihood of seeing teams make an extra stop. “With a bigger downgrade, teams might be tempted to make two stops, whereas usually here the fastest strategy is a single pit stop with mediums and then hards. Especially because this year with the new cars and tires new, it’s easier to overtake during pit stops. The undercut can be powerful,” says Mario Isola.
As for the pilots, even if they are “used to it”, according to Frédéric Vasseur, the heat will also affect their races, as Zhou Guanyu explains, a little worried: “You have to stay hydrated. I’m not used to using the in-car beverage system, the only races where I used it were in Miami and Bahrain. But I’m sure I’ll be wearing it for this weekend. But when you drink hot water, you’re not really cool during a race. I think this weekend will be difficult, not only for the drivers, but also for the mechanics in the garages, because it’s not often that we have such high temperatures. ” What should be involved in a new water battle within minutes of taking the wheel? “No, a very fresh Ricard”, likes to joke Frédéric Vasseur.
This Friday, the granitas and other refreshing mints were more legion than the “cold Ricard” in the hands of the mechanics, between two test sessions. In the garages, on the other hand, the powerful air conditioners and other fans were enthroned in order to cool the mechanics, hands busy under the single-seaters.
As for the track, there is little chance of seeing trucks throwing water to cool the track like we saw recently at the Tour de France. “The Paul-Ricard track is used to this kind of heat, so there is no irrigation planned. The impact will be more on the tyres”, warns André Rey, the circuit’s sporting director. Tires will undoubtedly be the first victims of this heat wave.