LE CASTELLET, France -- A one-stop strategy is the way to go in France, but to make sure it works you need to start the race on the medium tyre and switch to the hard. That suits the top eight on the grid as they will all start on the medium compound after using it to progress from Q2 to Q3 in qualifying.
Unfortunately, it means there won't be a huge amount of strategy variation at the front of the field, with pit stops expected between lap 22 to 27. The undercut -- pitting earlier than the car in front to gain a pace advantage on fresh tyres -- will be the most effective way to move through the field as the hard tyre, which will be used for the second stint in the race, was working well in Friday practice.
A one-stopper starting on the soft compound and switching to the hard is also possible but it will require very careful tyre management in the opening stint and a pit stop around lap 14 to 16. The big concern will be physical wear on the tyres as the high temperatures quite literally melt the rubber. A two-stop strategy is a bail out option, but it means a slower overall strategy as changes to the pit lane entrance have extended the total pit stop time from pit entry to exit this year.
In terms of race pace, Mercedes was in a league of its own. If you thought the 0.6s advantage in qualifying was big, the long run data from Friday puts the gap in terms of race pace closer to a second. As a result, victory is likely to be decided by a drag race between the Mercedes drivers to the first apex. Ferrari actually looked slower than Red Bull over a long runs on Friday, so expect to see a good battle between Charles Leclerc in third and Max Verstappen in fourth for the last place on the podium.
Sebastian Vettel faces a challenge from seventh on the grid as the two McLarens between him and Verstappen also looked quick on heavy fuel. Long-run data from McLaren was limited, but the orange cars are genuinely quick here while Ferrari is struggling. The main thing helping Vettel will be a significant speed advantage on Paul Ricard's long straights.