Formula 1 Racing

Verstappen wins as Leclerc’s crash halts Ferrari’s fightback · RaceFans

Race start, Paul Ricard, 2022

Whether it’s cycling or Formula 1, not everything can always go to plan when you’re racing.

Across the opening two days in Paul Ricard, Ferrari and their two drivers – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr – had executed their weekend’s strategy to perfection.

Taking the tactical hit of a power unit penalty, Sainz was the consummate domestique for his team mate on Saturday, towing Leclerc to pole position with a slipstream that the riders of the Tour de France racing some 700 kilometres away in Paris would have been proud of.

After snapping a win-less streak of almost three months at Silverstone, Ferrari were beginning to look like they would chip away at Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s imposing championship lead heading into the summer break. In Austria and Great Britain, Leclerc had edged closer towards his key rival.

But by Sunday evening, Leclerc’s championship hopes looked more remote than ever.

Leclerc led away while Hamilton pinched third from Perez

Lining up on the scorching, 51C asphalt with Verstappen and Red Bull wingman Sergio Perez alongside him, Leclerc knew just how vulnerable he was on the 500-metre run to the first corner. But when the lights went out, both he and Verstappen leapt off the line together like two sprinters launching a breakaway from the chasing pack.

Perez behind reacted equally as well, but wheelspin in the second phase of the start robbed his momentum and allowed second-row starter Lewis Hamilton to breeze past him and fill Verstappen’s mirrors on the approach to the braking zone. Fernando Alonso scooped up two places on George Russell and Lando Norris through sheer stubbornness, planting his Alpine to the inside approaching turn one and refusing to yield.

Leclerc led Verstappen, Hamilton and Perez as the pack entered the segmented Mistral Straight for the first time, already splintering into various groups. In the middle of the pack Esteban Ocon pulled well alongside Yuki Tsunoda approaching the chicane but appeared to lose grip at the apex, sliding into the unfortunate AlphaTauri and sending him spinning. Ocon, one of two local drivers in the field, was punished with a five-second time penalty for his error.

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Crossing the line to begin the second lap, the top five were evenly spread out, a second apart. After starting last, Kevin Magnussen was remarkably ahead of his team mate in 13th having somehow gained seven places in one lap. Sainz, who shared the back row…

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