Max Verstappen won the 2022 French GP from Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. Championship protagonist Charles Leclerc crashed out from the lead on lap 18 of the race.
Sergio Perez came home 4th with Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari making a commendable P19 to P5 recovery, after starting at the back owing to an engine penalty. Fernando Alonso of local team Alpine took the chequered at P6 followed by Lando Norris at P7. Esteban Ocon finished P8 at his home race while Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll rounded up the top 10.
As it happened
Charles Leclerc got the better of Max Verstappen at the start with him keeping the lead going into turn 1. Lewis Hamilton jumped on Sergio Perez to P3 while Fernando Alonso took advantage of a slow reacting George Russell and put himself up into P5.
Turn 8, Esteban Ocon came alongside Yuki Tsunoda, two of them making contact and resulting in Tsunoda spinning out on the run-off. Ocon was given a 5-second time penalty for the same.
A few laps of stagnant racing later, Verstappen charged on for the lead against Leclerc. Although it did put up for some brilliant racing, the Dutchman could not stick his move owing to the greater speed carried by the scarlet cars into the long sweeping corners of Paul Ricard. Red Bull only had the one up on Ferrari in terms of top speed but it didn’t seem to help enough.
Around lap 16, the cars went for their first round of pit-stops from medium to hard tires. Verstappen chose to undercut Leclerc with Red Bull going full guns blazing into the strategy gamble. Yet only a lap later, Leclerc went too hard on the throttle at turn 11 and slid across the run-off into a tire barrier. A radio message filled with pure agony later, Leclerc emerged out of the car unscathed but would go on to not finish the race for the third time this season after DNF-ing from the lead. Leclerc owned up to his mistake, saying it was his fault that he went off on Sunday.
With the safety car brought out, most teams would opt for a ‘cheap stop’ during this period. Carlos Sainz, in the arguably faster Ferrari, pit for a change to mediums from his hards. After a slow pit stop, he was released callously and almost went into the Williams of Alex Albon in the pit lane. Ferrari’s woes turned worse as Sainz was soon given a 5-second time penalty for this offence.
Sainz was left with the job of recuperating as much points as possible for the team. With worsened tires, he took the fight up to George Russell in P5. It took him the better part of a couple of laps but the Spaniard stuck the move on lap 30 of the Grand Prix with the far superior F1-75.
At the later stages of the race, George Russell was fighting for the last podium place with Sergio Perez. After a fair bit of on track action, the number 63 Mercedes went for the move against Perez at the Mistral straight chicane. The Brit dived down the inside of Perez, an unusual move at that corner. The former made contact with the Mexican, sending him off-track but the Red Bull re-joined ahead still. Russell wasn’t particularly impressed with the move as he claimed the corner was his. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff ended up asking Russell to “put [his] head down” and get the move done on track instead of asking Perez to give the place back.
Meanwhile, Sainz took the fight up to Perez on his slower tires. Having initially directed to stay out when asked if he can pit, the number 55 Ferrari made a bout with the Red Bull; making up immense lap times along the fast sweeping corners of the track. It did not take long for the Spaniard to make the jump on Perez coming out of the final corner with the sheer pace of the new Ferrari powerplant. What came as a surprise here, is that the Maranello team ended up asking Sainz to pit right in the middle of his fight with Perez, and Sainz immediately shutting down his engineer saying “not now, not now!”.
Ferrari eventually pit Sainz the following lap after serving the time penalty, and emerged P9 behind Esteban Ocon. Having left again to make up immense ground in 10 laps, Sainz set on a hot pursuit with the fresh medium tires on.
Nicolas Latifi also retired from the race at this point. Excessive side pod damage sustained from an on-track tussle with Magnussen spelt doom for the Canadian.
Five laps from the end, Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo came to a halt at the side of the track. This triggered a virtual safety car, where not a lot of teams pit. Since it was a VSC and not a full blown safety car, the pack was not bunched up as the drivers are only required to decrease their speed by 40% and maintain a positive delta of time.
At the restart, George Russell triumphed over a caught-unaware Sergio Perez. Due to a technical anomaly, Perez was misinformed about the timing of the VSC termination, thereby giving away his podium. Perez tried to hunt his place down in the final stint, but to no avail.
Sainz could only make places up to P5, as he was over 20s from Perez at P4.
Max Verstappen went along to take the chequered flag first with Hamilton +10s behind, after the latter said his drink was not working during the race. George Russell rounded up the final podium step with Perez a mere +0.6s following.
Post-Race analysis of the French GP:
The French GP was neither a complete snoozefest, nor an outright banger. For some it was a tough battle, yet for some it was just a matter of getting along for the race. The major takeaways from their weekends were:
- If not apparent already, this race solidified Ferrari’s lack of preparedness in this year’s championship battle. Driver errors, mechanical failures, and terrible strategy calls are conjunctively contributing to the gap Charles Leclerc and Ferrari have to Max Verstappen and Red Bull, one “that shouldn’t have been”.
- Mercedes on the other hand are the team who are the hunter this time, with their years of experience running a top team paying huge dividends. Consistency and a gradual improvement in car performance means the Brackley-based team now have only a 44 point deficit to arguably the fastest team on the grid, Ferrari. A double podium for the team after a relatively poor practice and qualifying sessions is surely a step in the right direction for the Silver Arrows.
- Red Bull are casually coasting away in both championships, having had to deal with lesser issues compared to their Italian competitors. But that is not to say that they are flawless. The RB-18’s were clearly a lot slower than the Ferrari’s, the only advantage being top speed. Max Verstappen had a rather lonely race after Leclerc crashed out, as it was all down to him just managing his tires and the team keeping his strategy right. Although a better result was expected of Perez this weekend, considering one non-finishing Ferrari and a Ferrari starting P19, technical anomalies and excessive tire degradation meant a P4 is all he could do.
- McLaren are yet another team who are on the upward trajectory after a host of upgrades for the weekend allowed them to salvage a respectable P7 and P9. The team’s performance isn’t really all that consistent though, with their performance varying from track to track. It is therefore hard to assume if the team has really made strides in the right direction or not.
- Alpine had a very good weekend at their home grand prix. A P6 and a P8 finish gave them the jump on McLaren in the constructor’s championship, as they take 4th. Similar to McLaren, Alpine’s performance varies heavily from track to track, so it will be interesting to see how much they maintain their form.
- Lastly, Haas. From mediocre practice sessions to a qualifying with considerable pace, both cars started at the end of the grid (Magnussen’s engine penalty and Schumacher’s Q1 exit due to track limits violations). Come race day, it was again a terrible performance from the American team. Although Magnussen was able to pick up 7 places at the start, he ended up retiring due to a mechanical fault while Schumacher could only manage a P15 at best. Bear in mind, Haas also brought in zero upgrades this weekend.
The French GP was nothing to be excited of, as there was only a handful incidents of racing action. Yes, if you are a Charles Leclerc fan, then you sure have some grieving to do. It is race week once again, as Formula 1 is going to the Hungaroring, Hungary come Friday. Although called the “Monaco of race tracks”, one could expect a crazy turn of events like the race last season!