As the Formula 1 championship returns to France for the first time since 2008, Kiwi driver Brendon Hartley is hoping this weekend's race could be a rare occasion when he has more experience than some of his rivals.

The 28-year-old, in his first full-time season in the sport, has previous experience at the Circuit Paul Ricard in southeast France.

Only a handful of drivers have competed in the French Grand Prix before while none were racing when the Paul Ricard track last held a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1990.

"Paul Ricard is a circuit I know well, although not in a Formula 1 car," Hartley said.

"We did a lot of testing there with WEC in the LMP1 car and I won the LMP2 category here in 2013.


"I understand the track has been completely resurfaced, which will be interesting to see, because it was quite a unique track in terms of tyre life.

"It used to be very, very extreme on left front tyre wear, so depending on the surface change, that factor may have altered a little bit.

"It's a track I enjoy driving and it's still pretty quick, though not as fast as the configuration I used to test on, which didn't have the chicane on the back straight.

"Even so, I think it's a cool track. It's obviously got a lot of history, both for sports cars and Formula 1, so I'm really looking forward to it."

Toro Rosso's upgrade at the most recent round in Canada a fortnight ago showed improved horsepower in the Honda engine and that will be a welcome relief to Hartley, who will have to contend with the famous Mistral straight.

"It can be very windy at Ricard, with the Mistral wind giving its name to the long straight," Hartley explained. "That can be a big factor in a Formula 1 car and is another challenge you have to deal with behind the wheel."

Meanwhile, the former Le Mans winner appears more secure in his seat at Toro Rosso after recent public backing from Red Bull boss Helmut Marko.

He showed improved pace and out-drove Pierre Gasly all weekend until being taken out by Lance Stroll in the race.

Hartley said he was pleased with how he handled the scrutiny.

"I didn't let it affect me and I just stayed focused on doing the job that I get paid to do. Every weekend I feel like I'm getting stronger and stronger.

"You know, I'm an old fella in some ways but I'm a rookie in Formula 1 and as the weekends go by I feel I'm understanding more and more the business of Formula 1; what it takes to get the most out of these Pirelli tyres; what I'm looking for in terms of balance and the setup of the car and dealing with this new team of people I have around me."