F1's return to France didn't got to plan for all concerned and in this week's talking points we discuss the traffic, Sebastian Vettel's Turn 1 error and McLaren's deepening problems. ESPN's F1 editor Laurence Edmondson, associate editor Nate Saunders and F1 writers Kate Walker and Maurice Hamilton offer their opinions below.
With all the problems fans faced over the race weekend, should the race promoters refund ticket holders?
Kate Walker: Absolutely they should. Silverstone faced up to its traffic issues after refunding a hefty wodge of cash to hard done by fans, and if losing a pile of money is what it takes to get Ricard and the Var department to take infrastructure improvements seriously, then that's what needs to be done. The solution is an obvious one -- ban private fan traffic to and from the circuit, and set up park and ride services from Marseilles and Toulon. Silverstone can show them how it's done.
Maurice Hamilton: I don't know how the mechanics of a refund might work, but there needs to be some sort of mea culpa by the organisers if they hope to entice people back; perhaps free admission for those affected for Friday/Saturday and/or a reduction in price for Sunday. Whatever, the organisers need to show they are doing something to address problems that go beyond the traffic chaos. A friend told me of not enough vendors and 45-minute queues for food.
Laurence Edmondson: A full refund would be hugely costly for Paul Ricard as the economics behind the grand prix relies on ticket sales to pay roughly half of the sanctioning fee. That's no excuse for the awful traffic management, but I'm not expecting the organisers to put their hands in their pockets any time soon. However, F1 should step in and make it clear to the French GP (and other races) that such a poor fan experience will be met with sanctions in the future.
Nate Saunders: No. The worst of the problems were on Friday, which hosts two practice sessions. It appeared to have been sorter better by the weekend itself - the reality is, with just two roads in and out of the circuit, congestion is always going to be an issue at Paul Ricard. No-one complains about the hours it takes to get in and out of Spa-Francorchamps, for example, that's just how it is given the logistics of the circuit.
Is Sebastian Vettel too error-prone to beat Lewis Hamilton to the title this year?
KW: We're just over one-third of the way through the season, and there are 325 points remaining on the table for race winners. Anything can happen over the next 13 rounds (unlucky for some?), and errors both human and mechanical could yet shape the title fight in any direction. Sebastian has proved he can win a title or four, and while he's not in a purple patch right now, the Ferrari driver does have what it takes to get the job done. As does Hamilton. I expect to see errors from both men at various points this season, because they're both human and that's what we do. It's the forgiveness that's divine, not the driving.
MH: He's not great under braking, is he? Compared to the bad mistake in Baku, this was a little more understandable. But even the smallest misjudgement is damaging in company as competitive as this. The championship is so tight, mistakes and failures -- no matter how minor -- are going to settle the title.
LE: Ultimately, the relative development pace of the Ferrari and Mercedes will decide the title, but if they continue neck and neck for the rest of the year, mistakes like Vettel's on Sunday will prove very costly. When Vettel starts from pole he doesn't seem to have these issues, so if Ferrari can regain its qualifying advantage then that will put him in the best possible position to be crowned 2018 champion.
NS: At the moment, yes. His two big errors this year have come at races Hamilton went on to win -- a bit like Singapore last year, which cost him a full 25 points to the eventual champion. It's hard to remember the last time Hamilton made a similar mistake in recent years and that, coupled with the fact Mercedes can expect good reliability, Vettel will not win the title unless he cuts out these mistakes.
Should Paul Ricard remove the chicane on the Mistral Straight and have a flat-out blast from Turn 7 up to Signes?
KW: Yes, yes, all the yes! Can you imagine the opportunities for out-braking and overtaking we'd see if the cars were hitting the end of the Mistral Straight at speeds approaching 400kph? It would be beautiful carnage, and the drivers seem to want it as much as we do.
MH: I'd like to see that tried next year. They would be going into Signes flat, with DRS open -- and probably running less downforce without the chicane. It would be quite a test and the drivers would enjoy it. The braking into Turn 11 would be interesting! It's true that the chicane promotes more overtaking -- but (like DRS) it's artificial and an admission the current cars are useless in close company.
LE: With all the money being pumped into CFD research for the 2021 regulations, surely a small amount of that could be spent on running some simulations. If the simulations suggest it will help overtaking then it's a no-brainer. It would also give an otherwise dull Paul Ricard circuit a defining feature.
NS: No. The reality is DRS would make that move far too easy, and occur before the corner itself. If anything, they should use a slightly earlier configuration for the chicane to ensure most overtakes were done under braking.
Was the French Grand Prix a lower moment for McLaren than it ever reached during its three years with Honda?
KW: What's below the bottom of the barrel? The French GP was a humiliation for McLaren not because of their poor performance -- we've come to expect that from the once-great team -- but because yet again the Woking racers have painted egg on their own faces by failing to manage expectations. Had McLaren not spent the Honda years talking up their Red Bull-beating chassis (yeah right...) we might have forgiven them for having a bad weekend or six with their new engine partners. But when all the fingers of blame are pointed outside and yet the problems are internal? It's not a good look, and not one that begets any sympathy at all.
MH: It has to be, if only because the inefficiency of the chassis and aero package was fully exposed and the power unit could not be blamed for McLaren having to fight off Williams at the back of the grid (which is a really sad thought for both teams). The overall feeling of gloom was not helped by McLaren's rather clumsy handling of a growing spat with certain members of the media and their critical reports.
LE: Let's not forget just how bad those Honda years were, and that McLaren has already outscored last year's points total by 10 after just eight races. But the problem now, as it was back in 2015, is managing expectations. Since the introduction of its big upgrade in Spain the team has scored just four points and uncovered a fairly major failing in its understanding of its wind tunnel data. The team has to accept that it is no longer a race winning outfit, set its targets accordingly and slowly move back up the grid step by step.
NS: Absolutely. This team spent three years knocking Honda and claiming that it had the best chassis on the grid. This weekend was lower than anything it endured in that time - Red Bull and Renault were both quick with the same engine, meaning blame must squarely lie with the car, while it spent most of the weekend defending accusations of a factory in disarray. It's sad to see one of the grid's iconic names in such a sorry state.
Should Ferrari replace Kimi Raikkonen with Charles Leclerc next year?
KW: No, they should replace Seb with Charles! I can't see Seb and Charles playing nice with each other long term, even if Leclerc has got the most impeccable manners on the grid. But Charles is a rising talent of the sort that Seb was in Toro Rosso back in 2008, and in putting the pair in the same team my crystal ball foresees the 'two roosters in a hen house' issue that Ferrari has tried to avoid for years. Leclerc would be the de facto number two, but I don't see him ceding victories in a way that would keep Seb happy. Charles has a lot of talent, and deserves a chance with a top team, but world titles are more easily won in a stable environment.
MH: That's a no-brainer for 2019. If it wasn't for Seb's fight for the championship and needing Kimi's experience as rear-gunner, you'd have Leclerc in there for the rest of this season. Even then, Kimi's inexcusable mistakes in qualifying are becoming as costly as they are frequent.
LE: In the first eight races if his F1 career, Leclerc has shown his F2 title was more than just hype. He is probably still lacking the experience to offer detailed constructive feedback on the car, but he would learn that quickly alongside Vettel next year. He would have to go to Maranello accepting he is the No.2 driver but I think he's smart enough to see the long-term goals of playing Maranello's politics.
NS: I've been very careful not to jump on the Leclerc Hype Train. I rate him a lot, but I don't think we are getting a proper yardstick to judge his talent alongside Marcus Ericsson. Dropping him in alongside Vettel too early could be very risky -- just look at Stoffel Vandoorne next to Fernando Alonso at McLaren. So for now, I say no - give someone else the seat for a year before promoting the golden boy after another year at an improving Sauber outfit. As for Kimi, he should have gone a long time ago.