Max Verstappen took his seventh win of 2022 at Round 9 of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship after Charles Leclerc spun off and hit the wall when leading.
Verstappen’s 27th career win further extends his championship lead, the Dutchman now holding a 63-point lead over Leclerc.
Leclerc failed to score as he made a mistake at Turn 11 on Lap 19, the Monegasque driver losing the rear end of his car and sliding across the run-off area and hitting the wall, handing Verstappen a clear run to victory.
24-year-old Verstappen said: “We had really good pace at the start, but following around here with the heat, I could only go for the move once. You never know how the race is going to go, but the car was quick today.”
“It was really unlucky for Charles and I’m glad he’s okay, it could have been a really fun race because both cars were so quick! From there I just concentrated on my own race and looked after the tyres. The pit lane is so long here so that prevented us from having another pit stop. Today was a great day but there are plenty more races ahead of us and I just always aim for the most points possible, the fight is nowhere near over.”
Ferrari’s lead driver had looked set to win the race having fended off the Red Bull’s attack in the early laps, despite the Ferrari lacking straight-line speed to the Red Bull.
Mercedes capitalised on Ferrari’s woes, and strategic ineptitude with Carlos Sainz, as Lewis Hamilton, in his 300th Grand Prix, and George Russell both passed the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez to score Mercedes’ first double podium of 2022.
Perez lacked pace all weekend and could have finished as low as fifth had Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz not started from the back following engine penalties and then the team bungling the strategy for the Spaniard.
Alpine, on home soil, outscored McLaren in the fight for fourth in the Constructors’ championship, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finishing sixth and eighth with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo seventh and ninth.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll scored the final point.
Leclerc blows another victory chance
Having been aided to pole position by his team mate on Saturday, Leclerc made a good start and attempted to move clear of Verstappen being able to use the Drag Reduction System (DRS).
Many pundits had speculated as to whether Ferrari’s choice of higher downforce, for cornering grip and speed, would be their undoing and in the early laps, it appeared only a matter of time until the Red Bull breezed by on the Mistral straight.
But Verstappen was unable to make a serious challenge into the main overtaking zone, the North chicane, before dropping back to cool his tyres.
Red Bull went for the undercut on Lap 16, which Leclerc and Ferrari did not respond to. How long they were going to keep the Monegasque driver out, we will never know, as the five-time race winner spun off and crashed into the barrier.
When talking to the media, Leclerc blamed himself for a “mistake” which he said was unacceptable as he feels he is performing at his highest ever level.
“If I keep making these mistakes, then it is pointless to be performing at this high level,” the 24-year-old said.
The resulting Safety Car left Verstappen in the lead from Hamilton’s Mercedes, but the seven-time World Champion did not have the car capable of taking the fight to the 2021 World Champion, Verstappen managing his car and tyres to the end of the race, winning by 10.5 seconds.
Ferrari could have won this race with Carlos Sainz, but his weekend was scuppered from Friday after taking extra power-unit elements that resulted in the Spaniard starting from 19th on the grid.
Sainz ran as high as third after passing Sergio Perez, but while the 27-year-old battled the Mexican for position, his team were calling him into the pits for fresh tyres, which Sainz ruled against, shouting “not now, not now!” over the radio.
The winner of the British Grand Prix eventually boxed, but he had to serve a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release from his first pit-stop during the Safety Car period.
Ferrari told Sainz that they were limited on tyre life, but the speed the Spaniard had shown, he could have secured at least third position, rather than the eventual fifth place he scored.
Big questions will need to be asked internally at Maranello, as Ferrari also seemed to have a strategic meltdown in Silverstone.
The ramifications on the title race in both championships is huge, as Leclerc now trails Verstappen by 63-points, despite Ferrari seeming to have a better package compared to Red Bull.
Red Bull are now 82-points clear of Ferrari in the Constructors’ standings, with Mercedes, courtesy of their double podium, now 34-points adrift.
Double podium joy for Mercedes
Mercedes came to France hoping to challenge for the win, as they did in Silverstone, yet found themselves almost a second off the pace in qualifying.
Team Principal Toto Wolff described it as “a slap in the face”, but his drivers Hamilton and Russell drove excellently to score the team’s first double podium since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Starting fourth, Hamilton made a near-perfect start, instantly passing Perez’s Red Bull and even looking at Verstappen into Turn 1.
Perez came back at the Brit, who was competing in his 300th Grand Prix, but the winner of 103 races held firm and the Mexican soon fell away and was never able to pressure Hamilton again.
Leclerc’s demise promoted Hamilton to second behind Verstappen, but although the Mercedes was able to produce competitive times, the power of the Red Bull on the straight meant Hamilton never really had a shot at victory.
“That was a tough race, my drinks bottle didn’t work!” Hamilton said, “Reliability is one thing my team has been amazing at so I need to thank them.
The Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s still have a pace advantage. You cans see in the race, we can at least lean on them a little bit, so hopefully its closer.”
Teammate George Russell also made a good start from sixth, passing Lando Norris who started fifth, but Fernando Alonso nipped by the pair of them.
Russell made his move on Alonso and set about catching Perez, who was struggling for pace all day, eventually lunging down the inside into the chicane on Lap 42.
There was a little bit of contact but both continued and Russell was adamant that Perez had not left enough room at the apex, Russell perhaps thinking back to the penalty he received in Austria for a collision between the pair.
Toto Wolff came onto the radio as a vexed Russell complained to his team, telling his driver to get his head down, and after Virtual Safety Car for Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo stopping, Russell pounced as the track went green.
Perez was hovering off the racing line and Russell hung back, the British driver getting a run on the outside of the Mexican into the penultimate corner and making the Red Bull driver look very foolish.
“It was a long, hard race, I was glad to see the chequered flag. Bringing home P3, two podiums for Mercedes, it’s great,” the 24-year-old said after the race.