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  1. F1

Formula 1: Lights Out - What to look for at the French Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc made a long-awaited return to the top step of the podium in Austria and Ferrari's lead driver will be hoping to cut further into Max Verstappen's championship lead with another result at Paul Ricard this weekend.

The Austrian Grand Prix was the first time this season that Ferrari have won successive races but once again their reliability was called into question after Carlos Sainz' spectacular engine failure.

Red Bull's lead in the World Constructors' Championship stands at a commanding 56 points and Verstappen is 38 points ahead of his Ferrari rival in the Drivers' Championship, but that lead has been cut by 11 points over the last two races and Ferrari's return to form will be a concern for Christian Horner and his number-one driver.

Verstappen is still 11/10 to take the top step of the podium in France, but Leclerc is not far behind at 11/8 and, with Mercedes expected to bring another upgrade package to Paul Ricard, Lewis Hamilton is third-favourite at 17/2.

What

French Grand Prix

Where

Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, Var, France

When

13:00, Sunday 24th July

How to watch

Sky Sports F1

Odds

Max Verstappen 11/10, Charles Leclerc 11/8, Lewis Hamilton 17/2, Sergio Perez 14/1, George Russell 16/1

Momentum shifts in title battle

After a series of mishaps, misfortune and bungled strategy calls, Ferrari's successive wins at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring have put a spring back in their step and Leclerc's return to the podium for the first time since Miami keeps him in contention for the World Drivers' Championship.

The Monegasque driver has hardly put a foot wrong this season but has been let down by bad luck and bad strategy on numerous occasions.

Despite all this, he remains second in the standings and, while the 38-point gap to Verstappen at the top is large, it is far from insurmountable with half the season left.

Verstappen, who found himself off the top step of the podium in successive races for the first time this season in Austria, will not make it easy for the challenger.

Like Leclerc, the Dutchman has rarely put a foot wrong this season and can take none of the blame for his failure to win the last two races.

He held a commanding lead at Silverstone before hitting debris on the track, damaging his floor and severely hampering his pace, while in Austria the Red Bull simply could not contend with the blistering straight-line speed of the Ferrari.

Mercedes upgrades could make it a three-way fight

It has been a season to forget for Mercedes so far but the upgrade package taken to Silverstone last month saw them take a big step in the right direction and more good news could be on the way for fans of the Brackley-based team.

Lewis Hamilton secured his third successive podium finish in Austria after fighting his way back from eighth on the grid, while the seven-time world champion looked on track for his first win of the season before the late safety car at Silverstone.

Now, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has confirmed the team will bring another upgrade to the W13 at Paul Ricard as they look to further close the gap between themselves and the top two.

The porpoising that has plagued Mercedes all season is less prevalent on smoother tracks and Paul Ricard boasts the smoothest tarmac on the Formula 1 calendar.

That, along with the new upgrades, could bring The Silver Arrows into contention for their first race win of the year.

Related Formula 1 News

Formula 1 - Motorsport: Why are some teams struggling with the regulations?

European heatwave throws a spanner in the works

Europe remains in the throes of the heatwave that brought chaos to Britain last week and soaring track temperatures could play a defining role in the French Grand Prix.

Le Castellet, a village just a few miles from the Circuit Paul Ricard, is forecast 33 degrees Celsius on Sunday afternoon and the temperature is unlikely to drop below 30 degrees Celsius for any of this weekend's sessions.

Even on such a smooth surface, such high temperatures will significantly increase the level of tyre degradation, something that Red Bull struggled with in Austria.

But it is not just the tyres the teams need to be concerned about. Ferrari have suffered two catastrophic engine failures and a race-ending hydraulics issue in the last four Grands Prix and increased temperatures will add more stress onto an already highly-strung car.

This could play into the hands of Mercedes, who have proven to have the most reliable car on the grid. They are yet to suffer a single mechanical retirement this season, with their only failure to finish coming when George Russell was involved in the dramatic crash at Turn 1 of Silverstone.

Au Revoir Paul Ricard?

Rumours in the paddock suggest that the French Grand Prix will be dropped from the Formula 1 calendar in 2023 as the decision-makers look towards more lucrative markets, with the Belgian Grand Prix also under threat.

While there has been rightful outrage about the rumoured dropping of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, the same can't be said of the French Grand Prix, with many fans somewhat ambivalent to the circuit after a number of uninspiring races since its return to the schedule in 2018.

Last year's battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was a classic, though, so it will be interesting to see if the public opinion shifts should we see another epic clash at Paul Ricard on Sunday.

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