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Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
4:13 PM 24th July 2022
sports

Verstappen On Top In France Ahead Of Mercedes Duo

This year’s gripping Formula 1 season continued this weekend in the south of France at the Paul Ricard circuit and in today’s dramatic French Grand Prix it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who emerged on top ahead of Mercedes’ Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell after the leading Charles Leclerc had crashed his Ferrari.

Life got much easier for Max Verstappen after Charles Leclerc had put his Ferrari into the barriers
Life got much easier for Max Verstappen after Charles Leclerc had put his Ferrari into the barriers
During the interlude since the preceding race in Austria two weeks ago the FIA governing body confirmed the official departure of former F1 Race Director Michael Masi. The Australian had been removed from his position following the controversial end to last year’s Abu Grand Prix and subsequent pressure from the Mercedes team and is now pursuing other opportunities whilst closer to his family in the Southern Hemisphere.

An absolute sea of French flags were being waved vigorously in the packed grandstands and when those famous red lights went out Leclerc maintained his grid advantage over Verstappen as both Hamilton and Alonso quickly made up places
In other news, the American McLaren CEO Zak Brown has confirmed that its under pressure and underperforming but highly likeable 33 year old Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo will remain with the Woking based team for next season. However, with F1 very much raising its profile and popularity in the USA and with three Grands Prix set to be held there next year (at Miami, the Circuit of the Americas in Texas and Las Vegas), it would make sense for an American driver to feature on the grid if at all possible. It’s therefore significant that McLaren has recently given US IndyCar star Colton Herta a two-day test at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal using one of its 2021 cars and the 22 year old from California is hoping that he impressed sufficiently to be given further opportunities to show what he can do.

A young man who seems bound to appear on the Formula 1 stage at some point soon is Australia’s 21 year old Oscar Piastri, who’s already been world champion in F3 and F2 and is the current Alpine reserve driver. In case a race seat cannot be found for Piastri at the French outfit next season in place of either Fernando Alonso or Esteban Ocon, there’s a strong possibility that he may be loaned to another team, with Williams perhaps being the most likely candidate. Piastri is managed by fellow Australian and former F1 driver Mark Webber and the Channel 4 pundit has been pushing seemingly unsuccessfully for his protégé to replace Ricciardo at McLaren.

Sir Lewis Hamilton made second place very much his own
Sir Lewis Hamilton made second place very much his own
There are three further news snippets worthy of mention at this stage. Firstly, following Guanyu Zhou’s major accident on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix earlier this month during which his roll hoop failed, the technical regulations covering this part of the cars are to be made more stringent next season. Secondly, new power unit regulations are due to be introduced with effect from 2026 and this has led to the Volkswagen Group showing a definite interest in involving two of its road car brands in Formula 1. The sport used to be an easy way to lose vast amounts of money, but the introduction of the budget cap and the growing success of F1 worldwide has led to the value of the existing teams soaring, with profits now possible as well as massive exposure in so many markets. It seems highly probable that Red Bull will be forming a major alliance with Porsche and Audi has been in discussions with various teams, the most likely outcome being a tie-up with the Swiss based Sauber outfit, which has operated under the Alfa Romeo name since 2019. Thirdly, the Paul Ricard venue for this weekend’s sell-out French Grand Prix well knows that its race and the Belgian one at Spa Francorchamps are under severe threat of being dropped from next year’s Formula 1 calendar due to the arrival of new non-European locations like Las Vegas and perhaps even South Africa in 2023.

2022 Formula 1 French Grand Prix

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr30m2.112s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +10.587s
3 George Russell (Mercedes) +16.495s
4 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +17.310s
5 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +28.872s
6 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +42.879s
7 Lando Norris (McLaren) +52.026s
8 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +56.959s
9 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1m0.372s
10 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1m2.549s
11 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1m4.494s
12 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1m5.448s
13 Alex Albon (Williams) +1m8.565s
14 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1m16.666s
15 Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1m20.394s
16 Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo) Retired
17 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) Retired
18 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Reitred
19 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) Retired
20 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) Retired
Turning to the ontrack action at Paul Ricard, adherence to track limits had been a real issue two weeks ago in Austria and in the build-up to this weekend in France it had been anticipated that it would be even more so due to the copious amounts of brightly coloured run-off tarmac which could tempt drivers to leave the circuit and gain a time advantage. As a result a consistent approach by the Race Director and stewards would be essential to avoid any potential disputes and in theory at least the track limits policy set by the Race Director was simple enough, with the white lines at each side of the track defining its borders and with specific instructions given to drivers about how and where they would be allowed to rejoin the circuit around strategically placed fluorescent yellow bollards after leaving it accidentally or otherwise.

The track has two DRS zones, ahead of Turns 1 and 8, and this is understandably where most overtaking was anticipated. On the strategy front Safety Car interventions here have previously been rare and it has usually tended to be a one-stop race, although high temperatures and accidents could obviously cause a need for flexibility. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz knew on Friday that he would be facing a 10 place grid penalty for today’s Grand Prix after his team had deemed it necessary to change an element of his power unit and this then worsened to a back of the grid start after further items were replaced before yesterday’s final practice. The same fate was to apply to the Haas of Kevin Magnussen too.

Leclerc was on form at Paul Ricard before his crucial mistake this afternoon
Leclerc was on form at Paul Ricard before his crucial mistake this afternoon
In Friday’s opening free practice session Sainz finished third quickest behind his team-mate Leclerc and Red Bull’s reigning champion Verstappen. Mercedes’ Russell proved to be the best of the rest, whilst Hamilton’s car was driven by the outfit’s 27 year old test and reserve driver Nyck de Vries who was ninth on the timesheets. The 2022 F1 sporting regulations require all teams to give experience to two rookie drivers at some point during the season in Grand Prix weekend opening free practice and this was the Dutch Formula E reigning champion’s second F1 outing of the year after replacing Williams’ Alex Albon for first practice prior to May’s Spanish Grand Prix. In Friday’s second practice period at Paul Ricard Sainz led the way ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen and Russell and come yesterday afternoon’s third and final practice session Red Bull’s Dutch racer comfortably outpaced the red cars from Maranello.

Practice, useful as it may be, is still only practice though and an F1 weekend only really starts to get serious come the all-important qualifying hour which sets the grid for the race. Come yesterday’s top ten shootout Ferrari twice used Sainz strategically to give Leclerc a very effective aerodynamic tow and this helped the Monégasque driver to achieve a highly popular pole position, with Monaco being just 90 miles away from Paul Ricard. Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez were the best of the rest, followed by a trio of British drivers, namely Hamilton, McLaren’s Lando Norris and Russell. However, the Mercedes team was understandably concerned that fourth placed Hamilton was still almost 0.9 seconds off the pole pace, which in F1 terms is massive. On the plus side, this Grand Prix was set to mark Hamilton’s 300th F1 start since his debut for McLaren back in 2007.

Come the chequered flag the victorious Verstappen was over ten seconds ahead of second placed Hamilton, but with Russell also on the podium in third it was a welcome strong result for Mercedes.
There may have been serious traffic issues again for all seeking to arrive at and leave the circuit at Le Castellet unless of course you were fortunate enough to be amongst the privileged few using the adjacent small airport, but the sun shone down from a cloudless blue sky as the three pm local time start neared this afternoon. Also the temperature of the track surface was simply scorching and would make tyre management even more critical. An absolute sea of French flags were being waved vigorously in the packed grandstands and when those famous red lights went out Leclerc maintained his grid advantage over Verstappen as both Hamilton and Alonso quickly made up places. Soon the front duo started to edge clear of the rest of the field as Verstappen tried unsuccessfully to find a way past his Ferrari rival and Red Bull brought their team leader in on lap 16 to switch from medium to hard specification tyres, leaving him to rejoin the action down in seventh position.

George Russell prepares to earn another podium finish for Mercedes
George Russell prepares to earn another podium finish for Mercedes
However, the outcome of the Grand Prix was to be determined just two tours later when the leading Leclerc lost the rear of his Ferrari and crashed into the barriers at Turn 11, admitting afterwards that it was definitely his own mistake and something he needs to learn from. Significantly this was his third retirement from the lead so far this season. With the Safety Car called into action whilst the stricken Ferrari was removed, this triggered a series of multiple pit stops, including for Hamilton, Pérez and Russell and, when racing resumed on lap 21, Verstappen set about building a comfortable lead over this trio of drivers. Sainz had been making good progress through the field to fifth position, but suffered a five second penalty when his team had clearly released him in an unsafe manner after his own stop.

The Spaniard then climbed to third past Russell and Pérez before a second stop dropped him to ninth. Meanwhile Russell and Pérez had their own spat at the Chicane, with each driver blaming the other and the Mexican staying ahead. Russell clearly felt particularly aggrieved and the Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff twice had to calm his driver over the team radio, telling him that they would still make the pass on track, which they did after the end of a Virtual Safety Car period following the retirement of Zhou’s Alfa Romeo at Turn 5.

McLaren’s Lando Norris had to settle for seventh place today
McLaren’s Lando Norris had to settle for seventh place today
Come the chequered flag the victorious Verstappen was over ten seconds ahead of second placed Hamilton, but with Russell also on the podium in third it was a welcome strong result for Mercedes. Pérez, Sainz and Alonso completed the top sextet of finishers, with Sainz also taking the extra point for the fastest lap of the race.

There’s one more race to go before the four week summer break, the Hungarian Grand Prix, and it will be held next Sunday at the Hungaroring circuit, a small but challenging track located just a few miles outside beautiful Budapest. A destination that I can very much recommend if you ever fancy combining attendance at a Grand Prix with a city break.


2022 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship


1 Max Verstappen 233
2 Charles Leclerc 170
3 Sergio Pérez 163


2022 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

1 Red Bull 396
2 Ferrari 314
3 Mercedes 270