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Verstappen blows out championship lead after Leclerc smash

Verstappen blows out championship lead after Leclerc smash

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen’s championship lead has blown out to 63 points with victory at the French Grand Prix yesterday (July 24) after Charles Leclerc crashed out from the lead in an embarrassing driver error.

Formula-One
By Michael Lamonato

Monday 25 July 2022, 09:13AM


Mechanics celebrate as Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen wins the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, yesterday (July 24). Photo: Eric Gaillard / AFP

Mechanics celebrate as Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen wins the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, yesterday (July 24). Photo: Eric Gaillard / AFP

Polesitter Leclerc held the lead off the line but had to spend the opening stint of the race defending actively against Verstappen, whose Red Bull Racing car was rapid in a straight line.

It took him 10 laps to break the assault, and shortly afterwards the Dutchman changed tack by diving into pits to commit to an alternative strategy.

It left Leclerc in the lead to manage his own pace, but on lap 18 his car snapped from beneath him through the fast turn 11, spinning him into the barrier.

It was a strange crash, particularly given the Monegasque was managing his pace at the time, but Leclerc admitted afterwards that it was a simple case of driver error.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “I need to get on top of those things.”

With Leclerc out of the picture, Verstappen inherited the lead without competition, and he was able to cruise to an easy 10-second victory to dramatically extend his title lead.

“I think we had a really good pace from the start,” he said. “I just did my race, lived up to the tyres.

“Of course unlucky on Charles. I hope he’s okay.”

Lewis Hamilton had moved into what became second place with a great start and endured a lonely race thereafter, his car not quick enough to stick with Verstappen but too fast for the rest of the field.

He took second place, Mercedes’s best finish of the year.

“What a great result considering we’ve been so far off [Red Bull Racing] this weekend,” he said.

George Russell completed Mercedes’s first double podium of the year after a gritty race with Sergio Perez for third.

The pair had made contact with 10 laps to go into the chicane, with Russell diving down Perez’s inside but pushing the Mexican, but the positions remained unchanged, forcing the Briton to find another way through.

It took a virtual safety car - for Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo stopping by the side of the track - for him to get his second chance. The Mercedes driver was more attentive when the full-course caution ended and jumped the Red Bull Racing car when racing resumed.

Perez wasn’t able to catch him, and Russell sealed his fourth rostrum of the season.

“The pace was strong,” he said. “Two podiums for Mercedes, it’s great.”

Perez finished a dissatisfied fourth, having been off the pace all weekend, but Carlos Sainz in fifth had more reason to be unhappy, having had a possible podium shot undone by yet another questionable Ferrari strategy.

The Spaniard had started 19th with an engine penalty but rose rapidly through the pack until he was battling Perez for third late in the race.

The team, however, was concerned his medium tyres wouldn’t last the distance and convinced him to pit just after he’d relieved Perez of his podium position and had started to pull away.

The stop dropped him to ninth, and though he was substantially quicker on fresh rubber, he could only recover to fifth, albeit with a bonus point for fastest lap.

Sainz refused to criticise the team afterwards, though he said he felt it was worth a shot at the podium to stay out.

Fernando Alonso topped the midfield for Alpine at the team’s home race, defeating Lando Norris to ensure the French marque moved ahead of McLaren in the constructors standings.

Esteban Ocon did likewise over Daniel Ricciardo in eighth and ninth, the Frenchman scoring his first ever points on home soil.

Lance Stroll beat Aston Martin teammate Sebastian Vettel to the final point of the race in 10th after a fraught late battle that almost had the German rear-end the Canadian out of the final corner.

Pierre Gasly finished 12th for AlphaTauri ahead of Thai driver Alex Albon, while Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher were the last to take the flag, finishing 14th and 15th respectively.

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