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French GP: Mercedes can compete with Red Bull and Ferrari, says Anthony Davidson

The French Grand Prix could represent Mercedes' best chance of a victory this season; watch the French GP this weekend, with all sessions live on Sky Sports F1; full schedule at bottom of article - qualifying on Saturday at 3pm, race on Sunday at 2pm

Lewis Hamilton Austrian GP

Anthony Davidson believes Mercedes should have the pace to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari for victory at this weekend's French Grand Prix.

After a hugely disappointing start to the season following the introduction of new design regulations for the 2022 campaign, the eight-time reigning constructors' champions have finally appeared to begin to close the gap to their rivals.

The Silver Arrows managed just three podiums in the first seven races of the season, but have now secured four in a row, with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton third in each of the last three rounds.

It was only at one of those three races, the British GP, where Hamilton had the pace to compete for victory, and with Marseille's Circuit Paul Ricard possessing similar characteristics to Silverstone, there is optimism that Mercedes could be in with a chance of a first victory this season.

Former F1 driver Davidson told Sky Sports News: "It's definitely a long shot, but I think if there's any circuit you could choose from this season, it would have been Silverstone and Paul Ricard, where Mercedes would have a chance to mix it with the top two teams - Red Bull and Ferrari - on genuine pace.

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The best of the action from an epic Austrian Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc took the win.

"Coming off the back of Austria, where they had a good solid race - unfortunately qualifying didn't really go their way with both cars crashing out - but the pace looked pretty good. Not on the same level as Red Bull and Ferrari, but traditionally that's been quite a weak circuit for them.

"Bearing in mind what we saw at Silverstone, really strong race pace there, Paul Ricard - a nice smooth circuit which should suit the car, high grip situation as well, high degradation on the tyres, all of these elements coming together for Mercedes should mean, by rights, that the car should be in its happy place."

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'Hamilton finding his stride'

Hamilton's three successive podium finishes has seen him reduce the points gap to team-mate George Russell, who has made a hugely impressive start to his debut campaign with Mercedes.

Russell finished ahead of Hamilton in seven of the first eight races, but the gap between them is down to 19 points going into the 12th round of the championship.

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Lewis Hamilton was proud of Mercedes' efforts after securing a third-place finish following a difficult start to the weekend in Austria.

Davidson has been impressed by Russell's performances, but believes an improving Mercedes will bring the best out of Hamilton.

"George is driving a brilliant season so far, only a few hiccups, but that's what you expect in a first season at a top team," Davidson said. "There's a lot of pressure there for George and he's learning from the master, isn't he? What a privileged position to be in for George.

"I did expect him to have the raw pace straight away. We saw that at Williams, he always shone through, particularly in qualifying. He was labelled Mr Saturday for quite some time, I think that label has gone now because he's proving himself during the race days.

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George Russell was frustrated after a first lap collision with Sergio Perez resulted in a five-second time penalty and damage to his car at the Austrian GP.

"It's definitely raised an eyebrow from Lewis I think, seeing George's approach to this season and how he's adapted so well to these new cars. But now that the car is becoming more familiar to the car that Lewis drove last year and the years before, I feel like that he's now coming into his stride a bit more and they're not trying so many drastic changes to the car.

"I feel like now they're narrowing down on where they need to be and not going so outside of the window of setup options, I feel like Lewis is now getting more into his stride and starting in the last couple of races to really show his quality again.

De Vries to replace Hamilton in FP1

Hamilton will have one less session to fine-tune his performance at Le Castellet after it was confirmed that Nyck de Vries will take his seat for Friday's opening practice session.

The 27-year-old Dutch driver is making his second FP1 outing of the season having taken the wheel of Alex Albon's Williams at the Spanish GP in May.

Mercedes said that Hamilton had chosen this weekend to fulfil his one of the two young driver sessions that all teams are required to facilitate during the season.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said: "Nyck is replacing Lewis in first practice this weekend, as part of the allocated sessions for young drivers this year. So, we're looking forward to seeing how he gets on."

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