Carlos Sainz leads Ferrari 1-2 in French GP practice - but is then hit with 10-place penalty

·17 min read
Carlos Sainz - GETTY IMAGES
Carlos Sainz - GETTY IMAGES

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz may have finished second practice as the fastest driver, but he faces a struggle to challenge for the podium due to a 10-place penalty for Sunday’s French Grand Prix.

The grid drop for the fitting of an additional control electronics component will mean he will start in the midfield even with an exceptional performance in qualifying on Saturday.

The penalty comes two weeks after his Austrian Grand Prix ended with his car engulfed in flames and is another setback in a season that has been littered with them, some of his own making and some of his team’s.

Since his maiden grand prix win at Silverstone earlier this month he has fallen even further behind in the standings. The Spaniard now trails championship leader Max Verstappen by 75 points and team-mate Leclerc by 37.

Although you should not read too much into times for Friday’s practice sessions, Ferrari appeared to continue their strong run of form in first and second practice.

Red Bull, meanwhile, seemed to struggle compared to their rivals. Verstappen complained of oversteer in the first sector and his best lap was good enough for third, half a second off the pace.

Max Verstappen in his Red Bull - AFP
Max Verstappen in his Red Bull - AFP

Mercedes, who will hope to contend for the podium if not more on Sunday, looked a little down on the pace of the front-runners once more. George Russell finished the second practice session in fourth, seven-tenths off Sainz’s fastest lap.

Lewis Hamilton, who finished fifth in FP2, sat out the first practice session to make way for Mercedes reserve driver and reigning Formula E champion Nyck de Vries.

Mercedes-contracted De Vries was the 2019 Formula Two champion but has yet to find a seat at the highest level of motorsport.

After his outing, the Dutchman, who finished in ninth and around 0.5sec off the sister car of George Russell, said that “nothing compares” to driving an F1 car.

“I guess no real driving comes close to the sensations a Formula One car gives you. That is a very unique feeling and very pleasant and pure joy,” he said.

When asked whether he felt his rare outing felt like an audition, De Vries said it was a tricky balance to live up to the expectations of jumping into Lewis Hamilton’s car and doing the job that the team wants.

“You want to show a little bit of yourself and not put a foot wrong. That is a challenge to manage but that is what makes it exciting, in those moments you get an opportunity.”

French Grand Prix second practice, classification

  1. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari 1:32.527

  2. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari +0.101

  3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull +0.550

  4. George Russell, Mercedes +0.764

  5. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes +0.990

  6. Lando Norris, McLaren +1.080

  7. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri+1.379

  8. Kevin Magnussen, Haas +1.401

  9. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren +1.457

  10. Sergio Perez, Red Bull +1.533

  11. Fernando Alonso, Alpine +1.732

  12. Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo +1.737

  13. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin +1.893

  14. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri +2.013

  15. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin +2.068

  16. Alexander Albon, Williams +2.126

  17. Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo +2.127

  18. Esteban Ocon, Alpine +2.133

  19. Mick Schumacher, Haas +2.668

  20. Nicholas Latifi, Williams +2.885

French Grand Prix, Friday practice: as it happened

05:26 PM

Thanks for joining me

You can join me tomorrow for all the action from qualifying. I think it will be a lot closer than FP2. It had better be...

05:03 PM

FP2 - Classification

  1. SAI 1:32.527

  2. LEC +0.101

  3. VER +0.550

  4. RUS +0.764

  5. HAM +0.990

  6. NOR +1.080

  7. GAS +1.379

  8. MAG +1.401

  9. RIC +1.457

  10. PER +1.533

  11. ALO +1.732

  12. BOT +1.737

  13. VET +1.893

  14. TSU +2.013

  15. STR +2.068

  16. ALB +2.126

  17. ZHO +2.127

  18. OCO +2.133

  19. MSC +2.668

  20. LAT  +2.885

05:01 PM

FP2 ends - Sainz leads Ferrari 1-2

Russell appears to have hit a bollard out on track somewhere. Verstappen did that last year at the start of the race, didn't he? Not really sure what to make of the order here. Some big gaps between team-mates, Ferrari and Mercedes aside.

04:59 PM

FP2 - Into the closing moments

The order will not change. What of that Mercedes pace? Again, hard to know. Will have a better idea after FP3, obviously.

04:55 PM

FP2 - Current order

  1. SAI

  2. LEC

  3. VER

  4. RUS

  5. HAM

  6. NOR

  7. GAS

  8. MAG

  9. RIC

  10. PER

  11. ALO

  12. BOT

  13. VET

  14. TSU

  15. STR

  16. ALB

  17. ZHO

  18. OCO

  19. MSC

  20. LAT

04:53 PM

FP2 - Not many laps by the Red Bull pairing

Just 20 in total so far and nine for Perez. Hamilton has done 17, for reference.

04:52 PM

Watch: Gasly turns the air (red, white and) blue

04:49 PM

FP2 - That Alpine 1-2 from earlier hasn't really held up

Fernando Alonso is the lead car from the team in 11th, with Ocon down in 18th. 18 laps for Ocon but none of them especially fast.

Into the final 10 minutes now. 

04:43 PM

FP2 - 17 minutes remain

Lando Norris in sixth with a good lap, within a tenth of Hamilton. Daniel Ricciardo, his team-mate, in ninth half a second back. Not so great for the Australian but encouraging signs (and they are only signs) for McLaren.

04:40 PM

FP2 - Russell's lap was good enough for fourth

A couple of tenths or so quicker than Hamilton. Hamilton, remember, didn't run in FP1 earlier on.

04:39 PM

FP2 - Let's watch out for Russell now

He's on a hot lap now.

Magnussen goes over the kerbs quite aggressively and returns to the pits.

04:38 PM

FP2 - Current Top 10 and gaps

  1. SAI 1:32.527

  2. LEC +0.101

  3. VER +0.550

  4. HAM +0.990

  5. MAG +1.401

  6. GAS +1.438

  7. RIC +1.457

  8. ALO +1.732

  9. BOT +1.737

  10. VET +1.893

04:36 PM

FP2 - Leclerc now second

Decent lap, but a tenth off Sainz. Verstappen complains of a lot of understeer in the first sector.

04:36 PM

FP2 - What does Verstappen do?

He's not setting the timing screens alight - Leclerc had just gone fastest in S1 - but it's enough for second, albeit half a second off Sainz. Soft tyres seeming to have extra life in them here this weekend.

Leclerc looking for improvement on his next hot lap and looking good for it...

04:33 PM

FP2 - Gasly into fourth

Just a smidgen behind Magnussen.. Verstappen now out for his soft tyre run.

04:32 PM

FP2 - Sainz improves again to go fastest

By a fair margin this time, too. 0.609s. Magnussen had just gone to third for Haas, though with the fair margin of 1.401s from Sainz. Still, within a second of Leclerc and faster than Ricciardo.

04:30 PM

FP2 - Leclerc sneaks into top spot

He is about two tenths up on his team-mate. Verstappen yet to do a soft tyre run.

Sainz on a third push lap on this set of soft tyres.

04:27 PM

FP2 - A bit more soft tyre running now, so the lap times will tumble

And the order will change rapidly. Sainz still leads Verstappen, though.

04:23 PM

FP2 - Sainz the first of the runners to go onto the softs

And he immediately goes to the top of the timesheets by 0.850s over Max Verstappen.

04:22 PM

FP2 - Scrap my earlier update, it was MSC who spun off

Hamilton has nine laps on the clock now which puts him 12th.

04:20 PM

FP2 - Verstappen goes fastest

By a very, very small margin: just 0.010s over Leclerc.

Gasly, meanwhile, a bit of a go at Albon on the team radio for blocking him.

04:15 PM

FP2 - Another fancy helmet for this weekend

04:14 PM

FP2 - Gasly into second

And Leclerc into first, 0.628s ahead of second-placed man Russell.

04:13 PM

FP2 - Magnussen spins

He does very, very well to keep it out of the barriers but his tyres are absolutely ruined. He will be ducking into the pits at the end of this lap, surely.

04:12 PM

FP2 - An early Top 10

  1. RUS

  2. MAG

  3. ALO

  4. OCO

  5. GAS

  6. MSC

  7. NOR

  8. ZHO

  9. BOT

  10. LAT

Russell into the 1:34s early on in the session.

04:11 PM

FP2 - Sainz's difficult season continues

Still, at least he has won a race this year. And plenty of chance for him to get through the field on Sunday.

04:08 PM

FP2 - A nice slow-mo of Hamilton sliding through a corner

His first lap time on the mediums (which almost everyone is on) is a 1:36.369, which is about eight-tenths off current leader Alonso's time. It's an Alpine 1-2 currently.

04:05 PM

FP2 - 55 mins remain

Lewis Hamilton out of the pits for his first lap of the day. Ocon currently leads the times with a 1:35.600.

04:04 PM

GREEN LIGHT: FP2 begins

60 minutes to go and the Alfa Romeos are keen and raring to get going. Max Verstappen has some work going on on his car at the moment.

03:38 PM

Hello again

Second practice gets under way in a little over 20 minutes. It's still hot out there but not ridiculously so. Lewis Hamilton will be back in his Mercedes after Nyck de Vries deputised for him in FP1.

02:24 PM

We will be back for second practice at about 3.30pm UK time.

Thanks for joining me.

02:03 PM

FP1 - Classification

  1. LEC 1:33.930

  2. VER +0.091

  3. SAI +0.338

  4. RUS +0.951

  5. GAS +1.049

  6. PER +1.244

  7. NOR +1.302

  8. ALB +1.484

  9. DEV +1.496

  10. RIC +1.730

  11. ZHO +1.746

  12. STR +1.880

  13. OCO +1.898

  14. VET +1.921

  15. ALO +1.945

  16. MSC +2.092

  17. MAG +2.174

  18. TSU +2.197

  19. KUB +2.402

  20. LAT +3.113

02:00 PM

FP1 ends - Leclerc fastest

He ends just under a tenth of a second ahead of Verstappen. Full order incoming.

01:55 PM

FP1 - Five mins remain, Leclerc still fastest

Decent lap by Pierre Gasly. Into fifth, a little more than a second off Leclerc's fastest time. Not entirely sure that the Mercedes pace looks all that encouraging but not really worth taking too much notice from first practice, almost ever.

01:52 PM

Watch: Sergio Perez spins

He has fallen off the pace a bit in recent races.

01:50 PM

FP1 - Mick Schumacher made it into Q2 here last year

Albeit it was his crash that red flagged the session. He has been in decent form recently, picking up two points finishes in the last two races. He's in 15th at the moment, though his latest lap does not move up him the order. A little ahead of team-mate Magnussen, at least.

01:47 PM

FP1 - Russell improves to fourth

Still 0.860s off the top time... make that 0.951 as Leclerc has just gone fastest of all with a 1:33.930, the first man to break the 1:34 'barrier'.

Mercedes driver George Russell of Britain steers his car during the first practice for the French Formula One Grand Prix at Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Friday, July 22, 2022 - AP
Mercedes driver George Russell of Britain steers his car during the first practice for the French Formula One Grand Prix at Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Friday, July 22, 2022 - AP

01:45 PM

FP1 - It is always good to see Robert Kubica in an F1 car

He's down in 20th and last at the moment, though, 3.779s off the pace.

01:42 PM

FP1 - Updated Top 10

  1. VER 1:34.021

  2. LEC +0.083

  3. SAI +0.247

  4. RUS +1.098

  5. PER +1.153

  6. ALB +1.393

  7. DEV +1.405

  8. VET +1.830

  9. ALO +1.854

  10. STR +1.870

01:40 PM

FP1 - Verstappen takes a big chunk of kerb

Informs his team that he did so. Didn't look horrific.

Meanwhile, Leclerc slots into second, 0.083s behind Verstappen.

01:38 PM

FP1 - Verstappen on a good lap here

Quickest after the first sector and 0.373s after two sectors. A yellow flag somewhere does not scupper his attempt... runs a bit wide in the start of the third sector, though. Will his tyres hang on? He crosses the line quickest overall 0.247s faster than Sainz. Lost about a tenth in the final sector, which was not even his fastest of the day.

01:35 PM

FP1 - 25 mins remain

And just as Verstappen improves, so does Sainz... to go fastest of all. Not by much over his Dutch rival, just 0.078s. Russell and De Vries also improve to go third and fourth, though roughly a second and 1.1s off.

Perez somehow notices that he's lobbed a tear off and it's stuck on his rear-right suspension. Eagle eyes.

01:31 PM

FP1 - Verstappen improves again

He sets a 1:34.346 to move 1.216s quicker than team-mate Perez.

01:30 PM

A very French flavour to Gasly's helmet this weekend

Well, not flavour but you know what I mean.

01:28 PM

FP1 - Top 12 and gaps

  1. VER 1:34.991

  2. PER +0.571

  3. LEC +0.830

  4. RUS +0.860

  5. SAI +1.051

  6. GAS +1.158

  7. DEV +1.331

  8. RIC +1.775

  9. ALO +1.814

  10. LAT +2.080

  11. NOR +2.165

  12. ALB +2.202

01:22 PM

FP1 - Russell on the radio

"Some bottoming through 10 but all good," he says. He's currently fourth 0.860s off Verstappen's ultimate pace, but his time was set on the medium tyres, top two times were set on the soft tyres.

01:19 PM

FP1 - It was a spin, actually, for Perez at turn four

He will surely need to pit to change his tyres? And in he comes... sounded like there might have been a slight debate about that on the radio...

01:18 PM

FP1 - YELLOW FLAGS

Nothing really to worry about, Perez has run wide and made a bit of a mess of his tyres.

01:16 PM

FP1 - Verstappen told to box if the car balance is not right

In he comes. Leclerc complains of "inconsistent" turbo on 'mode charge'.

01:14 PM

FP1 - De Vries improves to fourth

His time of 1:36.322 puts him fourth.

01:13 PM

FP1 - Top 10 and gaps

  1. VER 1:34.991

  2. PER +1.171

  3. RIC +1.775

  4. NOR +2.165

  5. LEC +2.429

  6. RUS +2.497

  7. VET +2.876

  8. DEV +2.910

  9. MAG +2.974

  10. MAG +2.974

01:10 PM

FP1 - De Vries runs a bit wide over the kerbs

It looked like the sort of thing that could damage the floor.

01:08 PM

FP1 - Only 11 drivers to have set a lap time so far

But everyone has been out on track.  The top two drivers - Verstappen and Leclerc - set their times on soft tyres.

01:06 PM

FP1 - 54 mins remain

Verstappen currently the fastest man on track at this early stage, ahead of Leclerc and Norris. It's a 1:35.727.

01:01 PM

GREEN LIGHT: FP1 begins

De Vries out there quite early for Mercedes, as you would expect.

12:56 PM

Some updates from the top three teams this weekend

A list detailing Red Bull's upgrades for this weekend - FIA
A list detailing Red Bull's upgrades for this weekend - FIA
A list detailing the Ferrari's upgrades for this race - FIA
A list detailing the Ferrari's upgrades for this race - FIA
A list detailing Mercedes upgrades for this race - FIA
A list detailing Mercedes upgrades for this race - FIA

The session will begin in just a few minutes.

12:48 PM

A couple of replacement drivers in for this session

At Alfa Romeo, Robert Kubica replaces Valtteri Bottas and Nyck de Vries replaces Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.

12:44 PM

A lot of these bucket hats about here at Paul Ricard

What a great - and fashionable - way to keep your head and face out of the sun.

12:33 PM

Current track conditions

 Enzo Fittipaldi of Brazil and Charouz Racing System (22) drives on track during practice ahead of Round 9:Le Castellet of the Formula 2 Championship at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 22, 2022 in Le Castellet, France
Enzo Fittipaldi of Brazil and Charouz Racing System (22) drives on track during practice ahead of Round 9:Le Castellet of the Formula 2 Championship at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 22, 2022 in Le Castellet, France

Air temperature: 29.7C
Track temperature: 52.7
Wind speed: 1.6m/s
Humidity; 46 per cent

It seems a bit warmer than that, actually. Likely the temperatures will before and throughout the session. Think it will be firmly in the mid-30s come FP2. Only a few clouds in the sky.

12:22 PM

Current constructor standings

12:14 PM

Current driver standings: Top 10

11:05 AM

Good afternoon

Welcome again to our coverage of the 2022 French Grand Prix from the Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet. After a couple of crackers at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring in the last month or so we return to a track where the racing has not been, in general, all that good.

The 2019 edition of this race will live long in the memory for how bad it was, which is ironic. The year before was not exactly a classic, either. In 2021 the race returned after a coronavirus-enforced hiatus. That was actually entertaining, though it owed its excitement to the duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

What are the chances of a decent race this year? I wouldn't count on it, but the searing temperatures and clear skies might increase the chances of high degradation and perhaps an interesting race. We can only hope. In any case, it looks like this track and maybe even the French Grand Prix entirely will drop off the Formula One calendar. Will that be a great loss? Probably not.

Anyway, as well as the races being decent in the last month, the championship fight has come to life a little, with Charles Leclerc chipping away at Verstappen's lead. Heading into the race the deficit to the Dutchman is now 38. It's still a healthy advantage and so big an advantage that Leclerc really needs to head into the summer break with it further eaten away. The Ferrari showed decent race pace (surprisingly so, perhaps) in Austria and we can only hope for that now. It's hard to shake the feeling that the Red Bull is the quickest overall, though.

And what about Mercedes? Can they put in a performance where they contend for the victory again? This race has been earmarked as one where they might be able to get the best from their package for a little while, but doing that and beating two teams who have been quicker over the season is a big step.