Written by Ishani Aziz, Edited by Tay Rui En
The Circuit Paul Ricard has been dubbed one of the worst races in the Formula One calendar, and is well on its way to being removed from the race calendar. This year’s French Grand Prix almost seemed aware of its reputation, and the race-day action almost made up for the circuit’s confusing and garish blue contour lines.
Race day certainly delivered an action packed 53 laps: ranging from DNFs and midfield scraps to a confusing front. The 2022 French Grand Prix was a welcome, but unexpected race.
DNFs of the day
Working our way upwards, the race debrief starts with those who didn’t finish. Several DNFs were dotted throughout the race. The first was Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri, which spun early on after contact with Esteban Ocon’s Alpine (for which Ocon served a five-second penalty). Second to go was of course Charles Leclerc which we’ll cover in a moment. Perhaps going unnoticed after a good stint from P20 to P14 was Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, whose contact with Williams’s Nicholas Latifi meant he retired later in the race around Lap 40. Latifi himself retired just several laps later. The last retirement was Zhou Guanyu in the Alfa Romeo, which suffered a power unit issue very late in the race.
Without a doubt, the most unfortunate race outcome was Charles Leclerc’s DNF. He had a brilliant start to the race, getting away well from Max Verstappen. By Lap 12 his tyres were getting hot and there was visible blistering on the front tyres. This worsened and coincided with a crucial mistake on the throttle pedal, leading to snap oversteer. Leclerc spun out in Lap 18 at Le Beausset into the TechPro barriers, ending his race with a rather haunting scream on the radio. Leclerc gave a brutally honest interview in which he admits; “I am losing too many points … it’s unacceptable, I need to get on top of those things”. With this being Leclerc’s third DNF of the season, he’s now lost a crushing 78 points in the F1-75. No doubt a sobering thought for the Tifosi.
Midfield mind games
The midfield seemed to be split in three on race day. First were the Alpines and McLaren’s, then the Haases and Alpha Tauris, and finally the Aston Martins and Williams. The first lot had the best fate, with the Alpine-McLaren sandwich. Fernando Alonso started well, passing Lando Norris early on and continuing to lead both McLaren’s during the race. In typical Alonso fashion, he held up McLarens just enough for his teammate Ocon to recover from his penalty and get behind Daniel Ricciardo. The Alonso-Norris-Ricciardo-Ocon train continued until the penultimate lap when Ocon secured P7 from Ricciardo. Ultimately the Alpines cleverly secured points to put them ahead of their midfield rival. Quite poetically, Alonso also broke the record for the most number of laps completed in F1 (surpassing a whopping 18,621 laps by Kimi Raikkonen).
The second set of midfielders were less fortunate. Haas pitted both their cars early, with Magnussen and Schumacher going in on Lap 9 and 10 respectively. Pitting under normal conditions and just shy of the first safety car meant that what was potentially a one-stop strategy went wrong. Regardless of that, both their drivers were unlucky given Magnussen’s contact with Latifi and Schumacher’s with the Alfa Romeo, resulting in neither car getting into the points. The Alpha Tauris suffered the same fate despite Gasly’s P12.
Equally regrettable was the finish for the Williams drivers with Latifi’s DNF, and Alex Albon’s P13. The only saving grace for Aston Martin was Stroll’s point for P10, while Vettel lost out, but only after a last-lap fight between the drivers resulting in contact between the cars. Sadly this marks the first time Vettel hasn’t scored at Paul Ricard.
Fights at the front
The race at the front was simultaneously extremely eventful and uneventful. Verstappen pitted early in Lap 17 with a 2.4-second stop, and quickly led the race after the restart on Lap 22 where he remained unchallenged until the end. Lewis Hamilton had a terrific start, snatching P2 from Sergio Perez and then having a relatively lonely race, but with a well-deserved P2 finish given the pace of the Mercedes. At the restart Hamilton was four seconds behind Verstappen, but this widened to 10 seconds by Lap 30 and to the chequered flag. Nevertheless his P2 marks the 50th time a podium was shared by Hamilton and Verstappen, and his 300th Grand Prix start.
It was George Russell however that delivered a beautiful and underrated performance on race day however. Russell applied consistent pressure on Perez, and was gaining on him by Lap 11. Russell also pitted after the restart and was closing in on Perez by Lap 42, eventually resulting in contact with Perez in turn 8 of Lap 42. The radio from both drivers seemed conflicted, with Russell claiming “He [Perez] slammed into me”, but Perez saying, “He [Russell] pushed me off”. It turned out to be Perez being overly cautious in trying to avoid contact, and no penalties were given. Russell kept relatively calm from there, wearing Perez down until the virtual safety car deployed after the Alfa Romeo’s retirement. In Lap 50, Russell cleverly slowed down to stay within his delta, then sped up just in time for when the VSC ended to overtake Perez successfully by Lap 51. After Carlos Sainz pitted to take his penalty, Russell secured a P3, making this the first time both Mercedes are on the podium in 2022.
The driver of the day arguably had a mixed one. On paper Carlos Sainz started P19 at the back of the grid thanks to his penalties, and finished P5 (his best finish in France to date). However, Sainz did make it up as high as P2 in a spectacular fight with Perez. That would have been the result for the Spaniard had it not been for the five-second penalty he served for his unsafe exit after the restart involving a Williams. Sainz made extremely quick work of the back of the grid, and was in the top 10 by Lap 14. Knowing he had to serve the penalty, he still overtook Russell on Lap 30, but was aiming to get the largest gap he could before he continued onwards to attack Perez. What followed was a rather confusing radio exchange in which Sainz exclaimed: “We cannot pass”, referring to Perez on Lap 40, to which Ferrari responded, “Plan D confirm”. Sainz was told to box but ignored the radio, committing to a masterful overtake on Perez, only to be interrupted mid-move by the team once again. Sainz aptly responded with: “Not now!”, successfully snatching P2 from Perez. Unfortunately the team insisted he pit immediately afterwards, and Sainz lost his progress, serving his penalty during a pitstop in Lap 43. He managed to climb back to P5 from P9, secured the fastest lap of the race, and was voted driver of the day by 40.4%.
Overall Paul Ricard has exceeded fan expectations (no matter how low they were), and provided some great action throughout the grid. Though realistically, it is time for Paul Ricard to go, but this was a great last hurrah for the French Grand Prix.