Following a previous stint in Canada, the Formula One World Championship has returned to Europe. This weekend is the French Grand Prix, and teams are in preparation at Circuit Paul Ricard, located between the cities of Marseille and Toulon on the French Riviera.
It's the eighth round of the current season and the 16th time the circuit has hosted the race, the first being back in 1971. The French Grand Prix dates back much further, however. In fact, it dates back to the earliest days of motorsport as the very first Grand Prix, which is French for "Big Prize," was the 1906 French Grand Prix. The original big prize was 45,000 Francs, which at the time was equivalent to 28.6 pounds of gold.
The modern Circuit Paul Ricard features an even distribution of high, medium and low-speed corners, and for those reasons is one of the most used test circuits in the world. The circuit is also famous for its red and blue run-off areas, which are designed to avoid the need for gravel traps.
The circuit was extensively resurfaced since last year, with nearly all of the corners—approximately a third of the lap—getting new asphalt. This means the surface is quite smooth, which in turn means tire degradation is generally low. The expected warm weather at this time of year in the south of France could lead to some thermal degradation, though. Pirelli has nominated its C2, C3 and C4 compounds for the weekend.
After an initial practice session on Friday, Mercedes-AMG's Lewis Hamilton ran the fastest times, followed by his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Close behind them were Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen.
Going into tomorrow's qualifying and Sunday's race, Hamilton leads the 2019 Drivers' Championship with 162 points. Bottas is second with 133 points and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel is third with 100 points. In the Constructors' Championship, Mercedes leads with 295 points, Ferrari is second with 172 points and Red Bull is third with 124 points. Last year's winner in France was Hamilton driving for Mercedes.