F1: Verstappen wins French GP after Leclerc chokes

Defending World Champion Max Verstappen pressured polesitter Charles Leclerc early, then pitted early for the undercut, was gaining on Leclerc’s Ferrari, which likely led Leclerc to choke and crash his Ferrari out of the lead of the French GP in Turn 11 on lap 18 of 53.

After the safety car went in, Verstappen then steadily stretched his lead to the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton to win the French GP at Paul Ricard for the 2nd straight year by over 10 seconds.  It was Verstappen’s 7th win of the season.

“I think we had really good pace from the start, but following around here with the heat, I could only go for a move once,” said Verstappen.

French GP winner Max Verstappen waves to the crowd

“We tried to stay calm, stay close. You never know how the race is going to go, but the car was quick today. I hope Charles is okay. I was just looking after the tires until the end.”

It was the 27th career win for Verstappen while Hamilton was happy to get 2nd in his 300th F1 start.

Verstappen now leads Leclerc by 63 points in the championship.

“This is the biggest crowd I think we’ve had here, merci beaucoup,” said a happy Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton. Photo courtesy of Mercedes F1 team

“That was a tough race, my drinks bottle didn’t work! Reliability is one thing my team has been amazing so I need to thank them. Budapest – it’s going to be hard to beat the Ferraris and Red Bulls, they still have a pace advantage. You can see in the race, we can at least lean on them a little bit, so hopefully it’s closer.”

The #11 Red Bull of Sergio Perez was caught napping by George Russell when the green flew after a late virtual safety car to finish 3rd and give Mercedes two spots on the podium.

Perez blew an almost certain 3rd place and Helmet Marko won’t be happy.

“I’m a bit knackered now, it was a long race, a hard race,” said Russell. “I was glad to see the checkered flag. Bringing home P3, two podiums for Mercedes, it’s great.”

The good news for the Mexican is that with Leclerc not scoring, he’s closed the gap to the Ferrari man in the drivers’ championship and could well be chasing a very credible second in the standings.

Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top-5 in the #55 Ferrari and got the fastest lap by making two stops vs. one for Verstappen, who had to nurse his hard tires home.

Fernando Alonso brought his Alpine home 6th.

Lando Norris came home ahead of Esteban Ocon, Daniel Ricciardo held onto ninth and Lance Stroll was 10th with his teammate Sebastian Vettel 11th. The two Aston Martins nearly collided through the final corner!

L to R: Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and George Russell

Mercedes have well and truly come back to life after their early season struggles. They are clearly a step ahead of the midfield now, and as Hamilton said, starting to “lean” on the top two teams.

Hamilton also said they have more upgrades coming for Hungary next weekend.

How the Race Unfolded

When the lights went out at the start of the race, polesitter Leclerc made the best getaway and the Ferrari driver took the lead as Verstappen held second place. Pérez, though, made a slow start from third place on the grid and within meters he was passed by Hamilton. Behind them Russell held his starting place of fifth ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso who managed to get ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris as they went into Turn 1.

Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari F1-75 leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 and the rest of the field into turn one at the start during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 24, 2022 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen stuck close to Leclerc in the opening laps, and at the end of lap six the Dutchman attacked. He tried to go around the outside through Le Beausset but Leclerc positioned his car well to keep the Red Bull at bay. Further back, Carlos Sainz, in the second Ferrari, was steadily making his way through the pack after engine penalties saw him start from 19th place on the grid, and by lap 10 he was up to P12 behind Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

As the first stint developed, Leclerc, who had been protecting his tires for some laps, began to build a margin to Verstappen, and by lap 14 he was 1.4s ahead of the Red Bull. Hamilton held third, almost seven seconds off Verstappen, while PĂ©rez had slipped to a three-second deficit to the lead Mercedes and was falling into the clutches of Russell, who was just 1.6s behind the Mexican.

Verstappen made his first stop, for hard tires, at the end of lap 16 and after 2.4s stationary he rejoined in seventh place behind Norris. The Red Bull driver swiftly dismissed the McLaren, when Norris went wide in Turn 11.

However, whether the Dutchman and Red Bull would make the undercut work was never revealed because at the end of lap 18 Leclerc suddenly lost control of the rear of his Ferrari as he went through Turn 11. The Monegasque driver spun hard into the barriers and out of the race.

The Safety Car was quickly deployed and a stream of drivers, including Hamilton and PĂ©rez, headed for the pit lane. It was a slow 5.6s stop for the Mexican, but as Hamilton powered away from his pit box, PĂ©rez managed to get away from his marks ahead of Russell who had been stacked behind his Mercedes team-mate.

Behind the Safety Car, Verstappen now led ahead of Hamilton and Pérez, with Russell fourth ahead of Alonso, Norris and Sainz. And when the SC left the track it was Sainz who made the decisive moves. With the gaps erased, the Spaniard quickly made his way past both Norris and Alonso and on lap 23 he was just over two seconds behind Russell. However, the Spaniard was then handed a five-second penalty following an unsafe release into the path of Williams’ Alex Albon during his pit stop under the SC.

At half distance, Verstappen led Hamilton by 3.3s with PĂ©rez a further 1.4s further back. Russell, meanwhile, was coming under heavy pressure from Sainz who was just half a second off the Mercedes. On lap 30, Sainz made his move, edging ahead of Russell out of Turn 9 and then, keeping the Mercedes driver on the inside, he eased past on the outside as they swept around the Signes curve.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 24, 2022 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Sainz was now fourth, just 2.5s behind PĂ©rez, and on lap 41, the Ferrari driver closed up to PĂ©rez and attacked through Signes. PĂ©rez resisted but the Ferrari driver had too much pace and in the final corner he managed to get past to steal P3.

With PĂ©rez visibly struggling on his fading tires, Russell then closed in and tried to pass the Mexican. The Red Bull driver positioned his car well into Turn 8 but the Mercedes driver tried to overtake on the inside and PĂ©rez was forced to cut the corner and go across the run-off. He rejoined behind Sainz and having been forced off track kept fourth place.

The Mexican then moved back to third when Ferrari brought Sainz in at the end of lap 42 to serve his time penalty and to take on a fresh set of medium tires. The Spaniard rejoined in P9 but was soon on his way back up the order and on lap 47 he passed Alonso to move to fifth place, 22 seconds behind Russell.

On lap 49, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu stopped in the run-off area at Turn 5 and the race was neutralized by the deployment of the Virtual Safety Car. When the caution finished at the end of lap 50, Russell pounced, easily powering past Pérez as the Mexican appeared to slow in order to stay within the speed delta.

Pérez tried to respond but the Mercedes driver was able to keep the Red Bull man at bay over the final three laps and soon after Verstappen had crossed the line to take the 27th win of his career and his second French Grand Prix win in a row, the Mercedes cars of Hamilton and Russell powered through to take second and third place ahead of Pérez.

Behind the Mexican, Sainz finished fifth ahead of Alonso, with Norris seventh ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo. The final point on offer went to Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates with Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 24, 2022 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Race Results – 53 Laps

POS DRIVER NAT. TEAM BEHIND
1 Max Verstappen NED Oracle Red Bull Racing +0.000s
2 Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas +10.587s
3 George Russell GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas +16.495s
4 Sergio Perez MEX Oracle Bull Racing +17.310s
5 Carlos Sainz ESP Scuderia Ferrari +28.872s
6 Fernando Alonso ESP BWT Alpine F1 Team +42.879s
7 Lando Norris GBR McLaren F1 Team +52.026s
8 Esteban Ocon FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team +56.959s
9 Daniel Ricciardo AUS McLaren F1 Team +60.372s
10 Lance Stroll CAN Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant +62.549s
11 Sebastian Vettel GER Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant +64.494s
12 Pierre Gasly FRA Scuderia AlphaTauri +65.448s
13 Alexander Albon THA Williams Racing +68.565s
14 Valtteri Bottas FIN Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen +76.666s
15 Mick Schumacher GER Haas F1 Team +80.394s
16 Guanyu Zhou CHN Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen DNF
17 Nicholas Latifi CAN Williams Racing DNF
18 Kevin Magnussen DEN Haas F1 Team DNF
19 Yuki Tsunoda JPN Scuderia AlphaTauri DNF
20 Charles Leclerc MON Scuderia Ferrari DNF

 

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