Charles Leclerc’s advantage against Max Verstappen and why Mercedes are ready to challenge

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Monday 18 July 2022 06:15 BST

Ferrari are confident they have regained their momentum against Red Bull as the 2022 F1 season gathers pace towards the French Grand Prix, where Mercedes could also find themselves in contention up front.

Ferrari and Red Bull – and their star drivers Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen – have been the title contenders so far this year and while Verstappen built up a solid points lead, Leclerc ended a seven-race drought to win last time in Austria and re-energize his challenge.

Austria was also encouraging for the pursuit team and driver due to the change of pace, with Ferrari finally appearing to match Red Bull’s straight line speed while retaining their advantage in the corners.

It raised the stakes for this weekend’s French GP at Le Castellet, with all sessions live on Sky Sports F1 and the race on Sundays at 2pm.

“We had a disadvantage against Red Bull, no doubt, in terms of straight-line speed, especially in the DRS areas,” Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said of his team’s improvement. .

“We worked a lot on it. We introduced a new rear wing, on one car to start [for Leclerc in Canada] then on both cars from the UK. And with this new rear wing, I think we just closed the gap.

“We closed the gap we had in terms of speed. I think they still have a slight advantage, but very little or negligible.”

Indeed, in Austria, Leclerc easily passed Verstappen three times in the race – marking the first time this season the Dutchman was passed and beaten on a Sunday – while the Ferrari car was also softer on the tyres.

“In limited power [corners]we are very close,” added Binotto. “Then it’s only in corners with limited grip that we can make a difference.”

On a track with long straights and high-speed corners, the next installment of this title battle promises to be another epic.

Why Mercedes could join the fight this weekend

There’s also every chance it will be a three-team battle up front rather than two – with Mercedes set to be competitive again this weekend.

Although Mercedes have struggled to bounce back and accelerate this season, they have had their best weekends on flowing circuits similar to those at Paul Ricard. At Silverstone for the British GP, the track layout plus vital upgrades saw Mercedes battle for victory for the first time in 2022.

The eight-time reigning world champions struggled in Austria – but were still in the battle for pole and scored big points on Sunday – and were consistently quick at the French GP, a race that has long been featured as an opportunity for Mercedes. , Lewis Hamilton and George Russel.

“It’s a smooth circuit, a bit like Silverstone, fast corners and on paper at least it looks like we should have a good performance there,” said team boss Toto Wolff. Sky Sports F1.

A title challenge might just be a bridge too far given their deficit, but can Mercedes compete for their first win of the season? Will we have a three-team, six-driver fight at the French GP?

Find out all the answers this weekend, live on Sky Sports.

French GP schedule live from Sky Sports F1

Thursday July 21
2 p.m.: Drivers’ press conference

friday july 22
10:35 a.m.: F2 training
12:30 p.m.: French GP Practice One (start of the session at 1 p.m.)
3:45 p.m.: 2nd training session for the French GP (start of the session at 4:00 p.m.)
5:25 p.m.: F2 Qualifying
6:10 p.m.: Series W qualifying
7 p.m.: The F1 Motor Show

Saturday July 23
11:45 a.m.: 3rd test of the French GP (start of the session at 12 p.m.)
1:30 p.m.: W Series race
2:35 p.m.: Preparation for qualifying for the French GP
3 p.m.: French Grand Prix qualification
4:55 p.m.: F2 Sprint race
6 p.m.: Ted’s qualification notebook

Sunday July 24
8:30 a.m.: F2 Feature Race
12:30 p.m.: Grand Prix on Sunday: preparation for the French GP
2 p.m.: French Grand Prix
4 p.m.: Checkered flag: reaction from the French GP
5 p.m.: Ted’s notebook
5:30 p.m.: Highlights of the French GP

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