The eighth round of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship began with practice Friday at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet as teams prepared for the French Grand Prix Sunday. It marked a return to the track after a 28-year absence, where countryman Alain Prost won the 1990 French Grand Prix before the event departed to Magny-Cours, running from 1991 through 2008 whereupon the French Grand Prix dropped from the calendar altogether. This weekend's event ends a 190-race drought between French Grands Prix.
Two 90-minute sessions - FP1 and FP2 - on the revamped circuit that was the first to be designated as a "Centre of Excellence" by the FIA were run under sunny and warm conditions. Circuit Paul Ricard was completely resurfaced in preparation for the return of the French Grand Prix, resulting in smooth yet high-grip asphalt that is similar in character to Circuit de Barcelona - Catalunya, which hosted the fifth race of the season. These traits mean the tires used this weekend have a tread reduced by .4 millimeters, as was the case in Barcelona. Teams are expecting high grip and low degradation, similar to what they encountered in Spain.
Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen put that theory to the test, beginning FP1 on the Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tire before transitioning to the Purple ultrasoft tire. Both drivers proved quick, with Grosjean an impressive sixth on the time sheet and Magnussen a solid 10th. Grosjean ran 22 laps and his quick time of 1:33.318 came on his 17th lap shod on ultrasofts. Magnussen completed 23 laps and his best time was a 1:34.108 on his 19th lap, also set on ultrasofts.
Grosjean and Magnussen continued to show speed in FP2. Grosjean wrapped the second practice as the sixth-quickest driver with a time of 1:33.699, which came on the 19th of his 30 laps while riding on a set of ultrasofts. Magnussen delivered a time of 1:34.457 to move to ninth fastest. His quick lap came on his 14th tour, also on ultrasofts. He completed 33 laps.
Between the two sessions, Haas F1 Team ran a total of 108 laps - 56 by Magnussen and 52 by Grosjean.
Romain Grosjean: "It was a very positive day. I've seen a lot of French flags, and it's been a very special feeling driving at home. The car's been very fast, so I'm super happy with that. We've been doing some good laps. We've got a few things we can improve on the car, but it's been a good start for the whole team. We'll try to keep it as it is today, hopefully get some good performance tomorrow, and be fighting just behind the top-three teams."
Kevin Magnussen: "It's been okay today. The car looks competitive here, so we're positive, but we have a bit to learn on tires. It's always the main thing to focus on - getting those tires in the window. That's what we'll be looking at overnight. It's a cool track - lots of a high-speed stuff and good braking zones. It's actually quite a fun track. We'll have to wait and see for tomorrow, see how things evolve. People improve - you never quite know where you are - but we want to score points this weekend, so we need a good qualifying for that. We'll take it as it comes."
Guenther Steiner: "It's been a good day today. The upgrade seems to be working. It's showing that it works and doing what it should be doing, so I'm very positive about that one. The car is going well. We ran through our program and we're looking forward to tomorrow."
Check out our Friday gallery from Paul Ricard, here.