LE CASTELLET, France (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton can expect a welcome boost in engine power this weekend as Formula One embarks on an unprecedented triple-header at a French grand prix returning to the calendar after a decade’s absence.
Le Castellet’s Paul Ricard circuit last hosted a Formula One race in 1990, before 10 of the current 22 drivers were born, and has been reconfigured from the one fondly remembered by older generations.
France’s most recent grand prix was at Magny-Cours in 2008, the year Hamilton won his first world championship with McLaren, and it remains a rare country that has yet to see the Mercedes driver triumph.
If the four-times world champion does so on Sunday, he will take another record from retired great Michael Schumacher; that of the most wins at different grands prix.
The pair are tied on 22 at present, although Hamilton already holds the record for different tracks (25) after winning in Azerbaijan this year.
Hamilton is one point behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after seven races, with the German taking the lead in Canada two weekends ago when he celebrated his 50th career win.
Ferrari and other rivals had an engine upgrade for that race and Mercedes did not.
Reigning champions Mercedes had delayed the introduction of their planned upgrade due to what they said was a ‘quality issue’, a problem that also affected customer teams Williams and Force India.
That should change as of this weekend, with Mercedes planning on making the change and Hamilton determined to hit back hard in the first of three races on successive weekends.
“I’m really going to make sure that we come back strong at the next race,” he said after Canada.
The France-Austria-Britain sequence of races poses a fresh logistical challenge for teams hitherto committed only to back-to-back weekends, with the 21-round season hurrying to the halfway point.
The three-in-a-row format was scheduled specifically to avoid a clash with the World Cup soccer final in Russia on July 15.
“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data,” said team boss Toto Wolff.
“It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge.
“The triple header ... will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks — which is precisely what we’re setting out to do.”
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, 36 and 38 respectively, are the only current drivers to have won a grand prix on French soil — although former double world champion Alonso won the Le Mans 24 Hours at the weekend.
Renault will have plenty of support for their first home race, as will the country’s Formula One drivers Romain Grosjean (Haas), rookie Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) and Esteban Ocon (Force India).
Sauber’s Charles Leclerc is the most local of the lot, growing up in Monaco, about three hours up the road from the circuit between Marseille and Toulon.
Editing by Peter Rutherford