Max Verstappen eased to his seventh victory of the season at the French Grand Prix after title rival Charles Leclerc crashed out of the race from the lead after just 18 laps. Mercedes meanwhile scored a first double podium since last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton finishing his 300th grand prix in second place, while George Russell passed Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez following a late Virtual Safety Car period.
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 metres 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.
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 tyres 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 Pérez 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 tyres, 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 Pérez, headed for the pit lane. It was a slow 5.6s stop for the Mexican, but as Hamilton powered away from his pit box, Pérez 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 Pérez 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.
Sainz was now fourth, just 2.5s behind Pérez, and on lap 41, the Ferrari driver closed up to Pérez and attacked through Signes. Pérez resisted but the Ferrari driver had too much pace and in the final corner he managed to get past to steal P3.
With Pérez visibly struggling on his fading tyres, 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 Pérez 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 tyres. 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 neutralised 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.
2022 FIA Formula 1 French Grand Prix – Race
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 53 1:30’02.112
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1:30’12.699 10.587
3 George Russell Mercedes 53 1:30’18.607 16.495
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 53 1:30’19.422 17.310
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 53 1:30’30.984 28.872
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine 53 1:30’44.991 42.879
7 Lando Norris McLaren 53 1:30’54.138 52.026
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine 53 1:30’59.071 56.959
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 53 1:31’02.484 1’00.372
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 53 1:31’04.661 1’02.549
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 53 1:31’06.606 1’04.494
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 53 1:31’07.560 1’05.448
13 Alexander Albon Williams 53 1:31’10.677 1’08.565
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 53 1:31’18.778 1’16.666
15 Mick Schumacher Haas 53 1:31’22.506 1’20.394
16 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 47 – 6 laps
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 40 – 13 laps
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas 37 – 16 laps
19 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 17 – 36 laps
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 17 – 36 laps