The French Grand Prix is the oldest Formula 1 race on the calendar, dating back to 1906. The event was a fixture in F1 almost every year until its cancellation after 2008.
However, after a ten-year absence, France returned to the roster last year. The track's layout has remained the same since the previous year's game and almost identical to when it was first used in Formula 1 in 1971, but has varied between the short and long layouts.
With miles of run-off in all directions, you'd think this would be an easy lap to master, but with faster than normal AI and some tricky corners, it's a real challenge to perfect.
Turns 1 & 2
Turns 1 and 2 are effectively a high-speed left-right chicane that are arguably the hardest corners on the track.
As this follows the first DRS zone, this is an overtaking opportunity, but one that you have to be on the inside of T1 to pull off. You'll be arriving at over 205 mph (330 kph) and need to brake at 75m down to fifth gear. Be as far to the right as possible, you can even stick your right front over the white line to aid turn-in. Hitting the apex of the first corner isn't a must, as long as you straighten up for Turn 2.
Turn 2 is deceptively slow, you're tempted to take it full throttle, but it bites on the exit. Running wide here doesn't cost you much time, but your lap will get invalidated in time trial/ qualifying. Some lift, whereas others brake for T2, I personally lift, as the back end is less likely to snap on you that way. Use some kerb on the exit too, but get off them as soon as you can, as they hurt your acceleration on the run down to Turn 3.
Turns 3 through 5 come thick and fast after a short straight where it is possible to overtake on, but isn't the best idea, as there's a DRS zone coming up. Start braking just after the 100m board down to fifth gear again and run the car over the edge of the inside kerbing.
For Turn 4, it's best not to use the inside kerbs, but it's very hard to avoid them. You must slow to third gear to make it round T4 and swing as far to the left as you can for the next corner. A squirt on the throttle and some more braking is required to get through Turn 5. Avoid the kerbs on the apex and exit to aid your traction going into Turn 6.
Turns 6 & 7
Turn 6 is another corner that you would think is flat out, but even in qualifying, that isn't the case. You need to do a significant lift to avoid running wide and picking up a penalty. You'll stay in fourth gear throughout but need to get back on the throttle as soon as you're past the apex.
Turn 7 is a kink to the right before the back-straight, but it's surprisingly narrow and you're best to use kerb on both the apex and the exit. However, like with Turn 2, you're best to get off the kerbs as soon as you can on exit.
Turns 8 & 9
The bulk of your overtaking will be done here, as the slipstream down the first part of the Mistral straight is powerful and you have DRS to help you. You'll be arriving into the 8/9 chicane at 210 mph (338 kph) and need to brake down to fifth gear beginning at the 100m board. Cut the inside kerbing on 8 but avoid the yellow sausage kerbs, they'll throw you wide.
You'll need to brake again into third gear for Turn 9 as soon as the car straightens up. Cut a little kerb on the inside on the apex and run the left front tyre over the kerbs on exit but be conservative with the run-off, it's easy to pick up a penalty here for track extending.
Surprisingly, there's no DRS on the straight before Signes, but overtaking is definitely an opportunity into this corner. It's best to go for the inside, as that's the quick way through Turn 11. Be careful not to go over the white line on the inside when passing, Daniel Ricciardo found out that will cost you a penalty.
The corner itself is an easy flat zone these days, as little steering lock as possible is the fastest way to go around this one. You'll be going 200 mph (320 kph) on the apex, so don't use any kerbs as it will unsettle the car. It's somewhat like Spa's Eau Rogue or Suzuka's 130R in that you have to build up your confidence with it over the weekend, practice makes perfect here. On exit, be sure to get as far to the right as possible for Turn 11.
This corner is a long right-hander that is somewhat like China's first few corners, but without the elevation change. After an initial hard deceleration beginning after the 50m board, brake down to fifth gear by dabbing on the brakes as you go round the corner.
You can get on the throttle surprisingly early here, but watch the back end on acceleration, it likes to get away from you. If you can't get the overtaking move done in T10, you could try and force one down the inside here.
Another corner where you have to brake earlier than you think to be quick, running wide here loses you a lot of time. Making the apex here isn't crucial, you just need to be on the throttle quickly for the run around Turn 13. Brake going round the corner like Turn 11 when you're revving out sixth gear, or when you pass the section of track that runs out to the left. You'll be down to third gear by the time you've rounded this one.
Turns 13 & 14
Turn 13 is a long flat out right bend which is simple enough, but it makes Turn 14 an awkward one. You need to brake after the 50m board down to fourth gear and decelerate around the corner. Turns 11, 12 and 14 are the ones that can either save or destroy your front tyres depending how they take them. Get as close to the inside kerbing as you can through 14, but don't run over them, as it will unsettle the car before Turn 15.
Judging where to brake here is a difficult one, but it's better to brake too early than too late, as running wide costs a heap of time. After straightening up from 14, squirt the throttle then get hard on the brakes for the final corner that needs to be taken in second gear. A good run out of here is crucial, as a poor one will leave you a sitting duck on the next straight. Avoid all the kerbs once again here, they're only going to unsettle the car on cornering or acceleration.
You need downforce here, especially on the rear, but not too much, as there are a lot of long straights. I went with 3/5 wing angles, as this gives you enough turn in for the difficult corners and plenty of speed down the flat out zones. The transmission needs to be more unlocked for on-throttle than off it for the long corners, 75%/ 100% was what I found best.
Tyre wear is difficult to control here, so I put the toe in the centre with the camber a little to the left of default. You do need to use the kerbs around here, so the springs need to be soft at around 3/3 and the anti-roll bar has to be stiff, near the firmest setting for both front and rear. The ride height needs to be low at around 3/4 due to the straight line speed you need to have.
There are some big breaking zones around this track, so 89% brake pressure is the max I could go without causing too many lock-ups. The tyre pressures are slightly below default, with 23.4psi on the front and 21.1psi on the rears.
While the real life 2019 race was a dull affair, the races around Paul Ricard in the game are usually a good strategical battle between the 1 and 2-stoppers with plenty of overtaking opportunities thanks to the slipstreams you can catch.