For the first time in Invictus Racing League history a race from France would be on the calendar. The Paul Ricard circuit has previously been used for junior formula and tyre testing by Formula One, but after leaving Magny-Cours in 2008 it has been a decade since a French grand prix has been run.
The circuit offers up fast and technical corners, and with the famous Signes corner at turn ten a mouth-watering opportunity for some wheel to wheel action across the vibrant and colourful track layout.
The circuit is littered with colourful run off areas, and is punishing when attacking track limits ensuring drivers would have to be on their best behaviour to stay out of trouble with the track stewards.
The no-assist championships as usual were first up on Monday evening and they would be the trailblazers around the new track layout.
It was a cold and misty start to qualifying as the cars poured out onto the track surface, and with the threat of rain in the air it certainly added incentive to get a lap time on the board early.
Humbostone, Scopefielder and BoyBetterKnowSB were all vying for the top of the standings heading into round four but with BoyBetterKnow an absentee from this week’s event it gave a real opportunity for the rest of the field to throw their proverbial hat into the ring for a championship challenge.
Pirelli had brought the ultrasoft, supersoft and soft tyre compound to the track, and with a weather report offering changeable conditions for the race it left the drivers and their race engineers in discussion about what tyre they would prefer to start on, knowing that a move to wet tyres was inevitable.
Qualifying was dominated by the Force India of Joel, who left the field six tenths of a second away. He populated the front row with ChielNijland who recorded his best qualifying effort of the season in the McLaren, whilst SJD1988 and Nikki9095 made up row two.
Scopefielder and Humbostone could only manage eighth and tenth respectively so it would be a tall ask for them to move back up the order come race time.
The rain was already starting to threaten as the formation lap started, and with race engineers furiously calculating alternate strategies for their drivers, the potential for an upset was well and truly on the cards.
It was a perfect release off of the line for Joel as the Force India raced down towards turn one with a comfortable lead over ChielNijland who equally maintained his second position as the two rounded the first lap.
The pack spent the early laps trying to make the most of the grip but with rain falling and track temperatures plummeting the need for intermediate tyres was definitely on the horizon, after his good start it seemed that Chiel would be the first to start feeling the effects of the greasy track surface as his McLaren ran wide on the entry to turn five allowing Nikki9095 and SJD to move past and demote the Dutchman from second into fourth.
Nikki was enjoying the changeable conditions on track and within a lap hauled in Joel and passed the leader before the sweeping turn ten. The rain started to fall heavier and was really affecting the grip levels, with Nikki and Joel both driving for Force India it was Joel who was called into the pit-lane first as the now leader of Nikki9095 along with SJD and Speed_Queen among others stayed out for another lap in what looked like very difficult conditions.
The extra lap destroyed any advantage that Nikki had built on Joel for the lead and not only did he come out of the pit-lane almost eight seconds down; he was also jumped in the pit-lane by the Red Bull of SJD who moved up into second.
Lap seven saw the premature end for last weeks winner Jos who ended up in the wall and with terminal damage and it seemed to open the floodgates as Mike and Phil_mcfc both then suffered retirements as we went down to 11 runners.
The rain came down heavier and heavier with each minute of the race, whilst there was chaos behind with Delange and Humbostone tripping over each other on the entry to the pit-lane, the time was right for the extreme wet tyres.
In contrast to the first stop where he got his strategy call spot on, Force India driver Joel spent one lap extra on the intermediate tyres compared to SJD on the wet tyres, he was made to pay as he skated around the final sector allowing SJD to cruise past down the main straight as Joel pitted.
The man who was struggling the most was ChielNijland who had dropped well back in the wet and found himself battling with Delange and Malc for 8-10th places.
As the race crossed into two-thirds distance with the rain not looking on slowing down, the leader SJD was stretching out his advantage to around six seconds whilst Speed_Queen and Scopefielder were both starting to make up ground on the grid as both circulated in fourth and fifth respectively.
Team boss Christian Horner was ecstatic as his car driven by SJD took a brilliant first win of the season, he made perfect decisions in regards to strategy all race long and using excellent pace in the treacherous conditions took a storming win.
He was followed home by the two Force India cars of Joel and Nikki who will rue bad pit-stops that potentially cost them a race victory.
It was a poor result for Humbostone who could only manage ninth place and with Scott missing the race due to a scheduling conflict it meant that Scopefielder would insert himself well into the battle for a title challenge as he moved onto 27 points and one behind leader Humbostone.
Next week would be much different with a trip to Monza giving the drivers a plethora of passing opportunities and ensuring that we were in store for another fantastic race.
Mj_coop led the way at the top of the standings heading to Paul Ricard and with the British driver full of confidence after his race victory in Hungary in the previous race, it would take a strong performance from the rest of the field to deny coop another positive result.
Coop was running in the Renault Sport team for the debut in France and the home crowd were delighted to see him put the french manufacture on pole position. He marginally edged out Spud in the Red Bull who took second ahead of LMC_Boogster and Megglugpy, who was disappointed to only be on the second row of the grid.
Only nine drivers took to the circuit for the race so the battle for a top three position would be much more achievable for the rest of the field. However, the overnight rain had become a deluge. The track surface was covered in puddles and huge areas where aqua-planing could become a real issue. The conditions certainly shook up the field as it would certainly become a test of confidence and patience on the unpredictable surface.
It was a disaster start for the pole sitter, coop’s Renault bogged down off the line as it struggled to gain any traction on the drenched surface. He was already in fourth position by turn one as Boogster and Spud had made the best getaways leading the pack away with Skyzii moving well up into third.
A mistake from Spud saw him drop back behind Skyzii and the two McLarens were already starting to stretch a gap over the field in the first two laps.
By lap three, a quick shift in weather saw the rain stop, and almost immediately a dryer line started to appear on the track allowing cars to start to come off the extreme wet tyre and onto the more adaptable intermediate tyre.
The race evened out as the drivers became more confident in the ever-changing conditions, the two McLaren drivers circulated in first and second with Boogster in a comfortable lead ahead of Skyzii. Megglugpy had moved up into third position by the half way point whilst mj_coop had endured a torrid race and was well down the field, and ultimately the day ended as badly as possible for coop as he retired from the race on lap 18.
The weather continued to dry out and SJD was the first to test out slick tyres, it was a little too early for the Sauber who struggled to get any temperature into the red walled Supersoft tyres on exit and spent the next two laps battling to keep his car pointing in the right direction.
Skyzii appeared out of the pit-lane ahead of Spud who had planned his stops perfectly to minimise time lost in the pit-lane and he made third place his own with the Mclaren ahead being out of reach. The two McLaren cars had both pitted onto the dry tyres and maintained their lead with four laps remaining.
Zak Brown was left speechless in euphoria as he saw both his cars come across the line to take a one-two finish ahead of the Red Bull of Spud in third.
Megglugpy dropped to fourth after missing out on strategy calls in comparison to Spud, whilst the retirements saw Coop and Mike suffer a frustrating session.
Boogster would take a slim one point lead over Skyzii into the next race in Monza, but with three winners in three races so far it is not over in Performance One.
After his victory in round one BWAClyde led the table ahead of WaveIntel and osteven002 as the teams headed to France. The rest of the field were aware that the French Grand Prix was much less of a power circuit and more about corner speed and technicality, this would open up the grid for multiple challengers come the chequered flag.
Qualifying saw a storming lap from Delange93 in the Force India take the pole ahead of NickLJThomson, who along with Scopefielder made use of their raw pace to put their under-powered Sauber and McLaren cars into second and third position.
KaW rounded out the second row alongside Scope whilst other pre season favourites WaveIntel and Jos would make up the third row.
However, it turned into a race to forget for both Delange and Nick as the front row qualifiers could only manage fifth and sixth in the race. Scopefielder made the most of their disappointment as he took the race victory. His victory was slightly out-shone by the fantastic display from Sab7786 who after starting at the back in 13th position battled through the field missing all the drama to come home in second position.
WaveIntel maintained his strong start to the season, he added another podium to his tally and took the lead in the championship, but with a hungry pack all looking to knock the Scotsman off his perch, he will certainly have to keep up the pace that has seen the young driver so successful in a short career.
Sambamkid had opened his F1 account this season with three consecutive wins, he was comfortably ahead in the standings and with Jos and Speed_Queen both finding themselves off of the podium once each in their first three, it had given Sam a superb early opportunity to impose himself as the front-runner for this seasons F1 drivers champion.
Former Invictus champion Gamer_Da_Best262 has been absent for two of the first three races, he had only picked up tenth in Bahrain after a difficult race, but today was another story for the Mercedes driver.
Gamer took pole ahead of Sam, who could only line up alongside his team-mate as Mercedes cars locked out the front row. The second row saw Aleskiller and Speed_Queen paired up, the two would hope that Mercedes would trip up over each other into the first chicane.
It wasn’t to be for the rest of the field and come the end of a hard race that saw both Plexitz and Aleskiller take retrospective penalties from the stewards, Gamer would convert pole into the win and break the dominance of Sam who could only watch his team-mate pick up the winners trophy from the second step on the podium.
Scopefielder moved up three places from sixth into third whilst Speed_Queen had to digest another frustrating session as she dropped from fourth to eighth.
Sam-ster007and Megglugpy are both drivers who will hope to kick-start their season after both have suffered from poor starts to their debut seasons in F1.
Sam maintains a healthy lead in the title race with 46 points with nearest rival Jos_Heinssie 20 points behind the Mercedes driver. It is going to take a monumental effort for someone to catch Sam this season, he is well on the way to another Invictus drivers championship and enforcing himself as one of the fastest, if not the fastest within the Invictus community.
Red Bull may have believed they had struck gold after they signed the promoted F3 driver last season to a contract with the Milton Keynes based team, and Betrayer46 had not let them down so far this season.
He has taken a first,second and third in the first three races and leads the championship on 28 points ahead of Humbostone and WaveIntel.
The veteran driver would look to continue his good form at the top of the standings before we head to Italy next week, and a strong performance in France was on the mind of the entire Red Bull pit-wall.
There was a hint of rain in the air for qualifying and with pockets of rain showers appearing on the radar, it would be a rush to get out and set a competitive time.
It was Mercedes driver Humbostone who took pole position fractionally ahead of KieranT in second, there was just 52 thousandths of a second between the front row in what was an electric end to qualifying.
NickLJThomson and RickWR88 would line up on the second row with Ricks time of a 1m30.4 on the supersoft tyres saw him well ahead of drivers on the faster ultrasoft compound showing off the pace ability of the Canadian.
A problem with the electrical system kept championship leader in the garage all session long along with MrStim who’s Haas was sidelined with a hydraulic issue, both drivers would make up the final row of the grid in 13th and 14th places.
The threat of rain became more apparent for the field come the start to the race session and whilst it would be a dry start, the drivers were well aware that they would be entering changing conditions whilst racing.
As the lights went green, a good release from both Humbostone and Kieran saw the two battle into the first corner and then proceed to fight over the lead for the first laps of the race.
The expected rain started falling on lap six but with the warm track temperature allowed the cars to maintain dry running for the first half of the race even though the track surface was becoming trickier every lap. LAP 16 saw a mix of dry tyres and intermediates tyres seen across the grid as drivers battled to find the best strategy.
The slick tyres started to lose traction and that gave intermediate runners the edge heading into the mid part of the race but not until 18 was DRS disabled. This indicated dry compound tyres would be totally ineffectual and the last cars to pit then came in for the grooved tyres.
The weather intensified on lap 20 and caused those who had just pitted for the green intermediates to once again dash into the pit-lane for the extreme wet tyres. However, in a huge mix up, both the Haas and Toro Rosso teams were caught out by late calls to pit and with both cars double stacked and the Haas team blocking the exit of the Toro Rosso box, it would be a frustrating wait for Gaz and Tony whilst the Haas pit-crew scrambled to bring out 2 sets of the blue walled tyres.
The varied strategies had worked out perfectly for Rick, who had found himself in the lead after the stops for wet tyres, he was being followed home by Humbostone as the pole-sitter looked to recover lost time after being displaced at the top of the running. Humbostone was slowly starting to reel in the Force India ahead, but after losing traction on the kerbs, the Mercedes driver found himself pointing in the wrong direction and now under threat from mj_coop who had enjoyed a much more positive race and found himself in third.
Rick would eventually come home and take the chequered flag and a victory for the Force India team. Humbostone held off the challenge from coop as they made up the podium whilst Betrayer had driven a great race in difficult conditions as he brought his Red Bull home in fourth after starting 14th.
It was a tace to forget for other championship challengers as WaveIntel and NickLJThomson both retired earlier in the race. Their downfall played perfectly into Betrayers hands and he would extend his gap at the top of the standings before we head to Monza next week.
Unlike the rest of the leagues this week in France, it seemed F3 had the most luck as they were bathed in bright sunshine upon their arrival at Paul Ricard. The lead in the championship was held by Bren_Ons after his excellent start to the season but he was by no means alone at the top. Fascone, Captain_Stiff and Tejuarr all looked quick behind him and as we make our way through the first half of the season, it will all be about consistency for the grid when achieving points scoring every race.
The first foray onto the French Grand Prix circuit saw the session end with a surprise as pole was superbly taken by Booje in his debut race in Invictus. He crossed the line last of everyone on circuit and as one the two cars to use the ultra-soft tyre, he took pole for the Force India team.
Craig8728 lined up second after an excellent lap on the supersoft tyres, whilst BWAClyde and ColinJ would make up the second row and have an eye on getting a fast start on the leaders ahead.
Bren could only manage seventh and it was another nightmare session for Spud, he has struggled hugely over the first few races and a hydraulic issue kept the Mercedes in the garage for the entirety of the session. The British veteran would be forced to start from the back and make up a lot of places if he was to make anything of the race.
It was another glorious day in southern France for the F3 drivers, with no rain in the air and only blue skies forecasted it would give the field the best opportunity at wheel to wheel racing.
Ferrari driver Craig was the fast starter and utilising a perfect release off of the line, he would make his way into the lead of the race ahead of Booje who dropped to second, with BWAClyde and Tejuarr in third and fourth.
A race ending incident on the first lap for ColinJ after contact with FerociousDan and Captain_Stiff running deep into turn four and then subsequently losing front aero after contact with Mike highlighted the fast and furious opening laps.
Craig started building a gap over Clyde, who had been promoted into second after BooJe made a very early stop to come off of the ultra-soft tyres. This promoted Tejuarr onto the provisional podium as the Ferrari team garage looked on in delight.
JamieMet has shown great pace in his second F3 race and after a lap five overtake on Tejuarr into the chicane at turn 8 saw the Red Bull ease into second place.
The fight in the mid-field was captivating for the viewer, as Mike, Dan, Booje and Clyde all fought over eighth place and it was two laps of pure nose to tail racing. It ended abruptly for Clyde and Mike who made contact at turn three, this allowed the four to split up.
Craig had built a comprehensive lead over the field after the pit-stops and with a 14 second gap back to F1Richard who had used a superb over-cut to move up past Tejuarr and Bren_Ons. Lap 18 saw JamieMet on the faster super-soft tyres become a real threat for the podium and he breezed past Tej for third a lap later.
It was lap 21 when Jamie finally moved back up into second position and after dispatching both Bren and Richard he would go about trying to cut down the lead to Craig. However, the Scottish Ferrari driver was in a class of his own around Paul Ricard and it would certainly take a monumental effort for the Red Bull to catch and pass him.
Captain_Stiff had endured a terrible race after two first lap problems saw him at the rear of the field by 26 seconds. He pushed a set of soft tyres 17 laps which gave him the prime ultra-soft tyre for a final seven lap dash to the line.
Appearing out of the pit-lane in 13th the Renault driver had an explosive first three laps on his fresh rubber and the British driver drove out of his skin and found himself ninth after some excellent power laps which also gave him the fastest lap of the race.
The laps wound down and it was a comfortable victory for Craig, he drove a masterful race after a very strong performance all evening long. He picked up his first win of the season and a well deserved kick-start to his season. Jamie and Bren_Ons picked up second and third respectively which maintained a strong start for both drivers in the title challenge.
Bren_Ons extended his lead in the title, but with Jamie and Craig both looking strong it will not be an easy ride for the Sauber.
SirSpud finally looked to have garnered some luck as he came home in fifth after a torrid start to the season for the Mercedes driver. Booje couldn’t match his qualifying lap to race pace and came home seventh.
The F3 grid once again provided fast paced action from flag to flag and with positions changing all race long up and down the field it proved just how unpredictable and competitive F3 has become.
Join us next week for the Italian Grand Prix at the famous Monza, we have seen some fantastic racing there in the past and are with no doubt in store for some more.
Italy never fails to provide close battles and upset results, with cars hitting 227mph down the famous straight. It is not one to miss!
For all announcements and updates from the leagues make sure you follow the Invictus twitter feed @InvictusRL for all your information about next weeks races!