The first part of the 2022 season will end with a double-header that begins with a trip to the south of France, so here are some of the topics that have us excited ahead of the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard.
1. Ferrari is gaining momentum
Red Bull’s six-game winning streak had led some to argue that the fight for both championships was already over before we even reached mid-season. But that view ignored Ferrari and overlooked the threat they had posed in most of those six races.
It is true that Ferrari had failed to take a chance at that time, but that changed over the last two race weekends as Carlos Sainz won at Silverstone and Charles Leclerc took another victory in Austria to remind Red Bull that the Scuderia has not gone everywhere.
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The two teams have been very close for much of the season so far, and there’s no obvious reason to expect the situation to be any different heading to France, where Ferrari have had a hard time. struggled with tire wear a year ago, but learned some valuable lessons that helped them improve.
Leclerc is now second in the drivers’ championship and has closed the gap to Max Verstappen by 11 points – to 38 – in the last two races. Although you’d still prefer to be the championship leader, if Leclerc can salvage a few more points this weekend, the pressure could start to mount a bit on the defending champion.
2. Mercedes should become strong again
I’m sure you don’t need to mention it, but at Silverstone we had an absolutely epic race as Mercedes managed to threaten the top two teams, while Lewis Hamilton looked to be in the hunt for victory.
In the end, Hamilton had to settle for third, but the British driver’s decision over Leclerc and Sergio Perez on the final corner as all three gave him up in front of a home crowd of supporters will long be remembered.
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Luckily we don’t have to wait long for the chance to potentially see something similar, as Paul Ricard is a track that has some similarities to Silverstone, with high-speed corners and a smooth track surface that should play a part. in the hands of Mercedes. slightly more than Austria.
The top two teams will be worried, as Mercedes being in the mix and potentially taking points away from them adds unpredictability to the title fight. There is a chance that Hamilton or George Russell could take points off one of Red Bull or Ferrari, benefiting the other team and closing the standings or opening up even wider gaps.
3. French support for Alpine
A very strong double-points finish for Alpine in Austria saw the team draw with McLaren in the battle for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, with McLaren retaining the advantage thanks to Lando Norris’ podium at Imola.
But it looks like the momentum is with the French team, and heading into their home race they will be looking to get away from fourth-placed McLaren.
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The result in Austria was led by an excellent fifth-place finish from Esteban Ocon, who has continued his very strong season so far, but was supported by Fernando Alonso’s 10th-place finish from the back of the grid. And it was Alonso who gave Alpine more points than McLaren at Silverstone a week earlier, putting Norris in fifth place on that occasion on a track comparable to Paul Ricard.
The proud French backing will back their team at Le Castellet, and Ocon and Alonso’s performances so far this season provide plenty of reason to be optimistic as Alpine’s home race approaches.
4. Schumacher takes flight
Momentum seems to be the buzzword for the feature this week, and another driver who has plenty of it is Mick Schumacher. The young German has really found form in recent weeks, and while he’s had to wait 31 Grands Prix for his first points to finally arrive – courtesy of an eighth-place finish at Silverstone which also included a thrilling fight with Verstappen – he backed this in spectacular Austrian style.
A top-six finish for Schumacher at the Red Bull Ring was also part of a back-to-back Haas double score, dropping the team to seventh in the constructors’ championship, having been ninth before the Grand Prix of Great Britain. Brittany. . And rather than a pair of lucky results, they feel like a simple reward for the potential Haas has shown so far this season.
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And don’t forget, Paul Ricard was the scene of Schumacher’s first ‘appearance’ in Q2 last year. Okay he crashed out in Q1 whilst in the top 15 and the ensuing red flag saw him advance but unable to participate – but it was a more competitive performance despite the relative lack of pace of the 2021 Haas, so there’s every chance the race continues for a 2020 Formula 2 champion who is clearly gaining in confidence.
5. Silly Pilot Season Developments
Between leaving the Formula 1 paddock to leave Austria and settling in France, a lot has happened at McLaren. IndyCar star Colton Herta tested a 2021 car for the team at Portimao last week, then just after that test was completed they announced the signing of reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou to their program wider race.
Although there are still contractual issues to be worked out with Palou and no clarity on where he will be racing, the announcement stated that he will also be testing a 2021 car at some point, which only increases the expectations. speculation over Daniel Ricciardo’s future.
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Ricciardo came out and said he’s not going anywhere because he has a tight contract until the end of 2023. But it’s no secret he and the team aren’t happy with the how this season has gone so far.
Such speculation only leads to scrutiny of other seats and potential moves, with multiple world champions Alonso and Sebastian Vettel two yet to confirm their future plans – and seats still technically available in six of the teams. on the grid.