F1 returns to the French Grand Prix for round seven of the 2021 championship with the world championship fight wide open after a crazy weekend in Azerbaijan last time out.
Paul Ricard makes a comeback to the calendar after missing 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic at a point of the championship where Mercedes and Red Bull are almost falling over themselves in the quest for supremacy.
Red Bull and Max Verstappen should have left Baku with a much larger gap to their rivals but fate would decide the Dutchman should retire with a tyre failure and not secure victory.
With the southern French circuit not well known for its overtaking action, here are five things to expect from the upcoming weekend.
Mercedes to get season back on track
Monaco and Azerbaijan may have been really poor for Mercedes with the championship swinging in Red Bull's favour but the French Grand Prix begins a run of circuits that should offer a chance to regain a footing in the title race.
Adding to the team's confidence is the fact Lewis Hamilton has been victorious in each race at Paul Ricard since the circuit was added to the calendar in 2018.
Whilst the RB16B offers a stronger package, Mercedes should be the ones to beat this weekend as was the case in Imola, Portugal and Spain.
A more abrasive track surface and higher-speed, flowing corners should help the Silver Arrows with the tyre warm-up issues experienced on the street circuits.
Having collected only seven points in two races, that tally should comfortably be demolished this Sunday.
Pirelli under scrutiny after Baku failures
Verstappen controlled the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and should have extended his points advantage over Hamilton to 14 points instead of the four-point lead he holds entering France.
This means a new technical directive has been sent ahead of the weekend with new safety parameters for tyre pressures and blanket temperatures.
With the high-speed Signes corner at the end of the Mistral Straight, teams will no doubt be anxious about the potential loads being put through the tyres over the 53 lap race distance on Sunday.
Second drivers continue to hold title key as Bottas comes under pressure
Sergio Perez finally got it all together in Baku with a victory to please the Red Bull hierarchy.
The performance was exactly what Dr Helmut Marko and Christian Horner have been looking for since Daniel Ricciardo's departure from the team at the end of 2018, with points mopped up by the Mexican in light of Verstappen's demise.
Whilst Perez sits third in the drivers' standings, Bottas is languishing down in sixth place, 22 points behind Red Bull's number two. With 26 points between the constructors, these two drivers may well hold the key to the destination of the teams' crown given the tightness of the Hamilton-Verstappen battle.
Bottas is under pressure himself with talk of him being replaced by George Russell so a good result is absolutely crucial for the Finn this weekend.
Can he swing the momentum back in his and Mercedes' favour?
Two stunning pole positions in a row, helped by two late-session red flags in qualifying, has given Charles Leclerc and Ferrari hope of what the future could hold as the team continues on its redemption arc from 2020's misery.
With the street circuits clearly suiting the Scuderia much more than some cars around them, it is more than likely that the team will fall back towards a battle with McLaren this weekend than sit with the top two.
The Ferraris were clearly speedy through the fast-combination corners in Monaco and Baku where quick changes of direction was needed, although in Azerbaijan the race pace was not up to anything special.
Fifth and sixth in the race would be a great result in the fight for third in the constructors' table.
Battle of wits at Paul Ricard
A long straight and a heavy braking zone should promote decent overtaking opportunity but unfortunately, the medium-speed, radial corners of Paul Ricard means that following a car in turbulent air is near impossible.
We have seen already this season that the strategic boffins on the Red Bull and Mercedes pit walls have been able to spark their races into life and provided excitement at home.
With the lingering concerns over tyres, we may well see some alternative strategies and hopefully create a better spectacle than the 2019 race. Keep an eye on that pit lane!
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