It’s the second final race before the summer break and there are plenty of storylines at play. Ferrari are looking resurgent and want to retake the Championship lead, while Mercedes seem like they have finally taken steps to begin fighting for wins.
As we head to Paul Ricard, let’s look at a few possibilities this weekend.
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Mercedes looking to catch up
In the past few seasons, Mercedes going into the summer break without a win would have been something unthinkable. This season, though, the new regulations have put the Brackley-based team on the back foot. Right from the start of the season, Mercedes have not even been in the competition for wins, but the fact that they have scored six podiums till now, in a season where they have been woefully off the pace, shows where they stand.
While wins have been out of the question, Mercedes’ reliability has seen them regularly be in contention for podiums, with two teams ahead of them suffering reliability issues frequently. Even though they started the season well behind the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull, recent upgrades have brought Mercedes close to the top two teams. Since the Spanish Grand Prix, where they introduced significant upgrades, the Silver Arrows have been performing at a level more accustomed to their standards over the years.
Lewis Hamilton has shown solid race pace in the races that have followed after Mercedes’ upgrades. Apart from taking three back-to-back podiums, the seven-time World Champion was also in the fight for a win on genuine pace at Silverstone. While the races in Baku, Monaco and Montreal didn’t really help them understand their upgrades given the nature of the tracks, back on a more orthodox track in Austria, where Mercedes expected to struggle, Hamilton put in yet another stellar drive to take P3, while George Russell charged through the field from P14 to P4 following a first-lap collision that saw him get a penalty.
Heading to Paul Ricard, a track filled with medium- and high-speed corners, where Mercedes generally perform well, and given the upward trajectory they have been on since Spain, all things suggest a strong showing in France. The Silver Arrows have seen their race pace improve, and if they can show up on Saturday to maximise the qualifying, they should definitely be in the hunt with Red Bull and Ferrari.
Pole prediction: Max Verstappen / Charles Leclerc
Win prediction: Red Bull / Ferrari / Mercedes
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Ferrari back in the hunt
After the Canadian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen left Montreal with a 49-point lead over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in the Drivers’ Standings, while Red Bull lead Ferrari in the Constructors’ Standings by 76 points. Red Bull were beginning to run away with both the Championships, but back-to-back victories for the Scuderia have put them right back in the mix for both the trophies.
Carlos Sainz took home his first-ever Formula One win at Silverstone with Leclerc on the podium. In Austria, Leclerc was on the top step of the podium. Ferrari have been quick right from the start of the season and have been on par, if not quicker, than Red Bull most of the weekends. The reason for their struggles, though, have been their reliability, which even with their new-found momentum is still a worry. While Sainz has suffered four retirements till now, Leclerc has retired twice this season; the reliability issues along with the occasional strategy errors have cost Ferrari dearly. They seem to have finally found an answer to Red Bull, however, and while they have the pace to beat them, Sainz’s engine blow-out in Austria is something that will be playing on their mind.
If the Maranello-based team can get on top of their reliability woes once and for all, it will be difficult to stop them from making it three wins in a row, a first since 2019, when Leclerc won in Spa and Monza while Sebastian Vettel won in Singapore.
Tight midfield scrap
While the battle up top has been between Ferrari and Red Bull, the midfield battle has been seeing multiple teams involved to take home respectable points every weekend.
McLaren have had a relatively poor start to the season; by their standards, things haven’t gone the way they would have expected. This has put Alpine, who have been on a run of tremendous form, tied on points with McLaren for the fourth place.
While Alpine have been regularly scoring solid points for the last few races, Haas have also made significant grounds. The American team have now scored double points in back-to-back races and look like serious midfield contenders. Alfa Romeo are another who have regularly been in the points or on the fringes, and while reliability woes have hampered them, the Swiss team are indeed enjoying a strong season.
As the battle intensifies up top, expect Alpine and Alfa Romeo to have a strong weekend in France as well.
Podium dark horses: Alpine / Alfa Romeo
Race details: When and where to watch (India)
Circuit: Circuit Paul Ricard
Venue: Le Castellet, Var, France
Practice Session 1 time: 17:30 (IST), 22 July 2022
Practice Session 2 time: 20:30 (IST), 22 July 2022
Practice Session 3 time: 16:30 (IST), 23 July 2022
Qualifying time: 19:30 (IST), 23 July 2022
Main race time: 18:30 (IST), 24 July 2022
Where to watch: Star Sports Network | Disney+ Hotstar