Formula One returns to France as teams head into the unknown

GERMAN PRESS AGENCY - DPA
LE CASTELLET
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A voyage into the unknown is a scary prospect for Formula One teams obsessed with data and planning, but it should at least prompt more excitement and drama when the French Grand Prix returns to the calendar on Sunday. France last hosted an F1 race in 2008 but that was at Magny-Cours, meaning even the more experienced of current drivers, like world champion Lewis Hamilton, have never raced in a grand prix at Paul Ricard, near Marseille. It last hosted an elite race 28 years ago. Any Formula One veterans in the garage or paddock who do remember the 1990 race at Paul Ricard will not be much help to the teams either given the layout has changed considerably since then.

Mercedes driver Hamilton trails Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel by just one point after the German usurped the Briton by winning in Canada last time out. Vettel has three wins so far this season compared to two for Hamilton and two for Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, suggesting this could be one of the closest and most dramatic F1 campaigns in years.

France is quickly followed by races in Austria and Britain, making this section of the season all important. Hamilton was only fifth in Montreal while Red Bull's Max Verstappen put a series of crash-strewn races behind him to come home third and show he is a class driver when he limits the risks. Quite how the Dutch 20-year-old deals with a new track remains to be seen as Red Bull try to get the most out of their Renault engine before switching to Honda from next year. Another driver on somewhat of a high is Fernando Alonso, albeit not because of his faltering McLaren. The Spanish double F1 world champion won the Le Mans 24-hour race on Sunday and is looking forward to another fresh challenge in France.

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