Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Gifted French Grand Prix, Mercedes Earn Double Podium

Max Verstappen looked like he might be set for a second-place finish at the French Grand Prix through the opening 15 laps.  Initially unable to pass leader Charles Leclerc, that changed when Leclerc crashed out, giving Verstappen a free pass to first.  With the opening given, Verstappen made easy work of grabbing his seventh win of 2022 and the 27th of his career.  The win also opened up his lead over second-place Leclerc by 63 points (233–170) with one race to go until the summer break.

Lewis Hamilton used a masterful start to go from fourth to third and then also benefitted from Leclercʻs DNF to gain second and then hold on from there.  The second-place finish came on Hamiltonʻs 300th career start.

George Russell followed teammate Hamilton to the finish, giving Mercedes a bountiful points day.  While the Silver Arrows still sit in third, they closed the gap to second-place Ferrari in the constructorʻs title, now behind by 44 points (314-270).

Sergio Perez finished fourth on a day when he never seemed to be able to push the pace.  Carlos Sainz, starting from the back, gave Ferrari a solid finish by crossing the line in the fifth spot.

Fernando Alonso gave the France-based Alpine team a reason to smile by earning sixth on the day.  Alonso could never find the pace to match the frontrunners but was wily enough to keep anyone from behind getting past.  Lando Norris secured another solid result with the upgraded McLaren by taking seventh.

Esteban Ocon gave Alpine a double-points day by finishing eight with Daniel Ricciardo in tow taking ninth.

Lance Stroll held on to earn the last points-paying position by besting teammate Sebastian Vettel to the line to close out the race.

The Race

The getaway from lights out passed in mostly clean fashion with only a collision between Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda providing any overt drama.  Leclerc took to the front with Verstappen behind as Hamilton moved from fourth into third with a lovely start.  Perez slotted into fourth with Alonso in fifth followed by Russell.

Over the course of the first couple of laps, the order held.  By lap five, concerns about how Ferrari would manage Leclerc and the tyres on his car became a focal point.  Verstappen repeatedly closed the gap and looked to be quicker, with an overtake as assurance but only a matter of time.

But it never happened.  Leclerc, in clean air, enjoyed better tyre wear, while Verstappen wore his down and what had at one point been a tight race opened up with Leclerc able to move ahead enough to be out of Verstappenʻs DRS zone.

Verstappen pitted early, with Red Bull seeking an undercut but just three laps later Leclerc crashed out through no fault but his own.  The ensuing safety car period sent everyone to the pits for fresh tyres and positioned Verstappen in the lead.

As soon as the race resumed on lap 21, every logical thought would posit that Max Verstappen, holding the point, would run away with the win.  After ten laps, Verstappen opened a six-second lead on Hamilton and engaged cruise-control mode.  From there, even the virtual safety car for Zhou Guanyuʻs car failure on lap 48 would have little impact and Verstappen grabbed what looked like an easy win.

The Good

  • The circuit provided a response to the power that DRS has held over the field this season.  With what appeared to be a perfect balance of straights and curves, DRS never came to be the overwhelming advantage that it has been.  For teams that feature better straight-line speed, their advantage was equaled by the teams that feature better traction in the corners.  Hence, the early battle between Leclerc and Verstappen was the best possible outcome of how handling, speed, and DRS play out with track position being the ultimate deciding factor.
  • After a disappointing start to the season, Lewis Hamilton is willing his Mercedes to best possible finishes and show the form expected of the seven-time champion.  For the fourth time in four races, Hamilton stood on the podium and this time he earned his best result of 2022 with second.  Yes, Mercedes are still off the pace.  Yes, Hamilton is not going to win the title.  But also yes, Hamilton may still have a decent shot of grabbing a win at some point this year with what seems to be a car that has yet to show its relation to the previously dominant one of the past eight years.

The Bad

  • Again, Ferrari being Ferrari.

Itʻs one thing that Charles Leclerc blew a beautiful opportunity to close the points gap on Verstappen.

To whit, for the third time this season Leclerc had been leading a GP and recorded a DNF (Spain, Azerbaijan, and France).  Not only did his result cripple Ferrariʻs efforts on the day but it changed the cosmetics of the race, giving everyone a free pit stop and bunching up the field.  The radio exchange between Leclerc and the team was punctuated by Leclerc screaming a barbaric yawp at the end before climbing from the vehicle.  These types of hiccups are exactly the ones that will keep Leclerc from the title and Ferrari from realizing their full potential.

  • What had begun as a promising season with Alfa Romeo has turned ugly of late for Valtteri Bottas.  Seemingly getting more performance than expected from his car in the early rounds of 2022, Bottas and team have floundered in what looks like the tale of two quarters in 2022.  In six out of the first seven races, Bottas scored points, hitting a high mark of fifth during that span.  Over the past five races, he has earned just one finish in the points with a low coming in France as he finished 14th.  That Zhou Guanyu has been an unreliable teammate, accumulating four DNFs and just two finishes in the points might suggest that Bottas may have been above expectations or had been lucky.  Regardless, the recent trend asserts that the team must be eager to get to the break to see if they can stop the slide and regain form in the second half of the season.

The Questionable

Should Red Bull have brought Sergio Perez in for fresh tyres to better battle George Russell or would the move have given a free spot to Carlos Sainz in the late stages of the race?  The fact the question is even being asked is reason to wonder what was going on with Sergio Perez this weekend.  At times, he races as though he was a stout 1B to Verstappenʻs 1A, and at other times he shows a confusing lack of pace and inability to challenge other drivers in the field.  While his inability to pass Hamilton in the first 20 laps can be viewed as Hamilton using everything gleaned from his years in the sport, Perezʻs flailing when dealing with George Russell showcased a driver whose focus might meander from race to race.  As much as car performance may be in question, perhaps a little tinkering of the mind might be good for Perez.

The Driver

Carlos Sainz started at the rear and quietly pushed through the field.  Kevin Magnussen also started in the rear, both drivers having been relegated to the back because of replacing parts in their power units, and jumped up to 13th in the first two laps.  In comparison, Sainz held position in the rear, biding time in 18th until he began an orderly drive through the field.  By the time of the safety car period at lap 18, he had made his way to the top ten.  From there, he continued to pick off drivers until he reached the fourth position.  And then, in spite of his team, he still managed to earn fifth on a day when apparently the Ferrari strategists replaced their brains with ham sandwiches.

The Quotables

“A mistake.  Mistake.”  That is how Charles Leclerc started his interview after crashing out of the GP.

On the radio with Hamilton after the race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, replied, “To both of you, really, really, really good.  We know we are lacking pace.  We know that at certain stages of the weekend we pushed so hard.”
Wolff, not known as a cheerleader, is doing all he can to manage his two drivers and to keep them invested in what is clearly a down year for the team that has won the past eight constructorʻs championships.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto offered a very business-like, “First of all, the F1-75 was very competitive, even on this difficult Paul Ricard track. There is no point on dwelling on Charles’ mistake. These things can happen, even to great drivers like him, and together, we have already put it behind us. Carlos had a strong weekend, starting with qualifying when he did what was required of him for the team.”

The Results: French Grand Prix; Circuit Paul Ricard (Jul 24)

Pos No Driver Car Laps Time/Retired PTS
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing RBPT 53 1:30:02.112 25
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 +10.587s 18
3 63 George Russell Mercedes 53 +16.495s 15
4 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing RBPT 53 +17.310s 12
5 55 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 53 +28.872s 11
6 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault 53 +42.879s 8
7 4 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 53 +52.026s 6
8 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 53 +56.959s 4
9 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes 53 +60.372s 2
10 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes 53 +62.549s 1
11 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes 53 +64.494s 0
12 10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri RBPT 53 +65.448s 0
13 23 Alexander Albon Williams Mercedes 53 +68.565s 0
14 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari 53 +76.666s 0
15 47 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari 53 +80.394s 0
16 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Ferrari 47 +6 laps 0
NC 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes 40 DNF 0
NC 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 37 DNF 0
NC 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 17 DNF 0
NC 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri RBPT 17 DNF 0

Note: Sainz scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Zhou received a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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