Reigning champion Max Verstappen emerged as the winner of the 2022 French GP after Charles Leclerc’s devastating crash. The crash and its repercussions have made headlines and spread through social media like wildfire. The worst part is that Leclerc made an honest but costly mistake. The costs on paper are 25 points and the money Ferrari would need to spend to repair the car. But most importantly, this crash cost Leclerc his self-esteem. With Leclerc crashing, Ferrari relied on Sainz to be the sole scorer of points for them in this race. Max Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez finished in P4 behind the two Mercs.
Speaking of the Silver Arrows, Mercedes achieved their first double-podium since George Russell joined the team. P2 and P3 are a hefty points haul of 33 points from the 2022 French GP. Compare that to the 11 points that Ferrari scored in this race since Leclerc didn’t finish the race. This is a fantastic result for Mercedes. Mercedes are not only consistent, but they’ve managed to score big points in France on merit. Russell overtook Perez on Lap 50 for P3 with a sharp VSC restart from the Brit. That made this a well-deserved podium for both of the Mercedes drivers.
Behind the top teams, were the McLarens and the Alpines. Both teams had a fantastic race, with a checkerboard of the 2 teams at the finish. The order was: Alonso in P6, Norris in P7, Ocon in P8, and Ricciardo in P9. Both McLaren and Alpine took a solid bag of points with double-points finishes. It was a special moment for Esteban Ocon, who finished in the points at his home race for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, Pierre Gasly, who was also a home hero at this race, couldn’t do the same.
Before we get into the first section of the race review, let’s talk about the DNFs from this race. The drivers spoke about the race being a struggle. And 4 of them didn’t make the chequered flag at the 2022 French GP. Charles Leclerc was the 2nd driver to retire from the race, with Yuki Tsunoda being the first to do so. Tsunoda retired on Lap 17 like Leclerc, but earlier. Tsunoda took damage on the opening lap, which eventually forced him to retire. Magnussen and Latifi made contact during the race, which is why Kevin Magnussen retired from the race on Lap 37, with Nicholas Latifi retiring 3 laps later. Zhou Guanyu also had a technical failure, but he was still classified in the final results, just 6 laps down.
The Red Bull v Ferrari Battles
Max Verstappen now holds a 63-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship after winning all 3 races where Leclerc retired. Ferrari have now fallen 82 points behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship. This leaves the Scuderia in a critical stage. 82 points is a tall order if they want to make a comeback in this championship. Ferrari need Sainz and Leclerc to perform consistently well and to beat the Red Bull drivers in each and every one of the remaining 10 races this season. They simply cannot afford a repeat of the Spanish GP, the Austrian GP, the Azerbaijan GP, or this French GP.
Although this race was disappointing, however, it brought promise as well. Both the Ferrari drivers had fantastic pace and were able to get the better of the Red Bulls. Let’s look at Charles Leclerc’s performance before his crash. He got off to a good start and built an early lead of over a second to Verstappen. However, Verstappen pulled himself back into contention. And that is when the battle of the titans began. In this situation, Verstappen was faster in the straights and was using the 2nd sector to reel Leclerc in every lap. But Leclerc, who was running a higher-downforce setup, was pulling away in the tricky and technical 3rd sector.
By Lap 6 however, Verstappen was able to challenge Leclerc for the lead. Leclerc managed to defend into La Beausset corner. After that, however, Leclerc started pulling away again. Verstappen, after hitting tire struggles, came into the pits at the end of Lap 16. Leclerc’s tires were also worn, but Ferrari didn’t react to Red Bull and let Leclerc stay out. That proved to be a costly decision since it’s a lot easier to make mistakes when the tires are too worn.
While Leclerc did manage to get the better of Verstappen, Carlos Sainz’s performance was far more promising. Sainz started the 2022 French GP in P19 due to penalties because the team replaced engine components in his car. Sainz’s goal for this race was to limit the damage from the grid penalty by scoring points. In the first 5 laps of the race, Sainz made mincemeat of the bottom 7 cars. At this point, he was already in P13.
In the next 10 laps, he overtook Magnussen and the Aston Martins to reach P10. Now Sainz could set his sights on scoring more points and breaking through the higher midfield. Before Leclerc retired and brought the Safety Car out, Sainz overtook Ricciardo. When Leclerc crashed the whole field pitted under the Safety Car. And when Sainz came out of the pit box, he nearly crashed into a Williams, which left him with a 5-second time penalty for an unsafe release. After the pitstop, Sainz used the fresh Medium tires to make moves. In less than 5 laps, he re-overtook Ricciardo and then overtook Norris and Alonso to take P5. It was spectacular.
It was now time to chase the big boys. Russell, Hamilton, Perez and Verstappen were now the only drivers ahead. Sainz took a good 5 or 6 laps to get into attacking range behind Russell. Then on Lap 30, Sainz made a courageous move around the outside of Signes corner to overtake the Mercedes. After that, Sainz did take a while to reduce the 2.5-second gap to Perez. On Lap 41, the phenomenal battle took place. Perez once again displayed his mastery of defence. Throughout the 3rd sector, Sainz struggled to make the overtake. But through the final two corners, Sainz just managed to get the better of Perez. That was also when Ferrari relayed an ill-timed radio message for Sainz to pit. Wait, what?! Oh yeah, Ferrari wanted Sainz to pit this late in the race.
Ferrari’s Strategy Team Strikes Again!
Sainz was on course to take a fantastic podium when Ferrari snatched it out of his hands. I think what Ferrari wanted to do was put Sainz on fresh rubber and get his 5-second penalty out of the way. However, this was a huge mistake. Sainz came out of the pits in 9th place behind midfield traffic after serving his penalty. I strongly believe that Ferrari threw away that podium like a bouquet at a wedding, and it landed in their competitors’ hands.
Perez’s pace deteriorated, meaning Sainz could have created a 5-second gap and came in 3rd place or 4th place. Instead, Sainz had to make overtakes once again, and could only recover to P5. He finished the race 12 seconds behind Russell in P3, which is quite a small gap considering Sainz made an extra pitstop and served that time penalty in the pits. Ferrari should’ve let Sainz stay out because Sainz could’ve scored more crucial points. His tires would’ve held up because he clearly had fresher tires and a pace advantage on Perez behind. While Sainz had a great race and finished P5 despite starting P19, he definitely had the potential to do even better.
Is This Leclerc’s Armageddon?
Charles Leclerc is having a crisis right now. This crash could be disastrous for Leclerc. A wave of posts rushed through social media after the crash. And a vast number of them were comparing Leclerc’s situation to Sebastian Vettel’s troubles in 2018. Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the 2018 German Grand Prix. It was a driver error that saw him crash into the barriers under slippery conditions. It was devastating since he had been leading and was on course to win his home race. That crash was a landmark because it was the downfall of Vettel. The 4-time World Champion was leading the 2018 championship, but after that race, Lewis Hamilton rose and snatched the championship.
Many think that the 2022 French GP was a similar incident for Leclerc. There are many speculations that this could be the beginning of a downward spiral for Leclerc. I believe that this is primarily because of some of Leclerc’s answers in interviews and his reactions after the crash. First of all, you could hear the pain in his voice when he screamed on the radio immediately after crashing. And then, in an interview he gave after retiring from the race Leclerc said that if he kept ‘making mistakes like this’ he deserves ‘not to win the championship’. When asked about how he’s going to prepare for the next race (which is the Hungarian GP), Leclerc said “I’m going to close myself at home and only go out when I have [ to catch ] the plane to go to Budapest.” That’s how heartbroken he was.
I disagree with all of these speculations and comparisons. In this championship, Leclerc wasn’t leading coming into this race. His aim was not to maintain a lead but to chase the lead. On top of that, in 2018, Vettel’s downfall was a series of mistakes. This year, so far, this was Leclerc’s only mistake that resulted in retirement. He made a mistake in Imola in the wet, but he still managed to carry on and finish P6. In France, it was 0 points for him. The other two DNFs were due to engine failures, which is the main reason why he was already behind in the standings. Although there are clear differences between Leclerc and Vettel’s situations, there’s definitely potential for a downward spiral given how Leclerc is feeling after the crash.
A Bittersweet Home GP For Ocon, Disappointment For Gasly
Esteban Ocon finished the 2022 French GP celebrating a successful race in his home country. He finished the French Grand Prix in points-paying positions for the first time in his Formula 1 career. However, it wasn’t completely perfect.
“It’s been a good race definitely,” said Ocon. “It’s a bit unfortunate the incident with Yuki, because we probably could have had a fight with Lando towards the end of the race. But other than that, it’s good to score points with both cars.” Ocon was referring to a Lap 1 incident he had with Yuki Tsunoda. On the opening lap, Ocon and Tsunoda were battling. Tsunoda tried to overtake Ocon around the outside of the chicane of Turns 8 and 9.
However, Ocon lost control of his car and hit Tsunoda’s car multiple times, which resulted in Tsunoda spinning out and having to retire from the race later due to damage. The incident was quite messy. As he went through Turn 8, Ocon struggled for grip and hit Tsunoda multiple times while losing control of the car’s rear end. It looked more like bumper cars than Formula 1. Ocon got a 5-second time penalty for causing a collision. That meant he couldn’t challenge Norris or Alonso for P6 or 7, since he’d lost time serving that time penalty. Overall, it was a good home race for him, considering how him and his teammate scored points.
Ocon isn’t the only French driver on the grid. Pierre Gasly is also French, but he didn’t share the same success as Esteban Ocon. Gasly is racing for AlphaTauri. And this year, AlphaTauri have had a dismal year. They’re hanging onto the lower midfield by a thread, and the 2022 French GP was a disaster. Yuki Tsunoda, who was on course to score some solid points, was forced to retire because of Esteban Ocon. And Pierre Gasly struggled throughout the race as he had to race a suboptimal car for 1 and a half hours.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m obviously disappointed not to make it to the points. We tried everything we could inside the car but we were just too slow,” he said. “I’m just disappointed; I wanted to show a better performance in front of my home crowd. I tried my best but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to score points.” AlphaTauri brought upgrades to their car this weekend, but it doesn’t seem like the upgrades worked.
Gasly spoke about how they “expected to make a bigger step forwards. There was a really positive Friday, now I feel there was a big step down on Saturday and again today, I just struggled so much, a lot of sliding everywhere, just literally didn’t have the pace and the grip to do much.” It’s safe to say that the fans and the team expected more from Gasly given the upgrades and their pace in Practice on Friday. Hopefully, AlphaTauri can recover from this and score points at the upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix.