The Continental Circus heads to France this weekend (22-24 July) for the first round of the last double-header ahead of the holiday break. The Paul Ricard Circuit in Le Castellet will host the French F1 GP 2022 and twelfth battle of this extremely close World Championship.
Ferrari has responded with authority to Red Bull’s six consecutive victories with two wins in the latest two rounds. One thing at least is clear, the forces between the two main title contenders are now rebalancing.
Before such equality, we can expect an exciting fight without a clear favourite this weekend. The resurgence of La Scuderia is undeniable. Their single-seater, which was clearly outperformed by the blue car since Australia, has improved considerably in the last two appointments, raising its performance to match that of the Red Bull car. The F1-75 has particularly improved its top speed, an aspect that used to put it at a great disadvantage against the RB18.
Its reliability, however, continues to be its weakest point. This was demonstrated in Austria when Carlos Sainz had to abandon following a fault in his second engine and just when he was so close to claiming second place. The Spaniard has now decided to utilise his fourth engine of the season and endure the penalty to start from the bottom of the grid.
His partner Charles Leclerc has also suffered his share of technical problems which even jeopardised his Spielberg victory. A failure in the accelerator pedal, constantly activated during the last laps, almost ruined the third triumph of the season of the young Monegasque.
The Prancing Horse has its strength back, but it must remain alert before the possibility of a new contingency, and even more so considering the very high temperatures forecast for the French GP 2022, which will threaten the red car’s performance.
In addition, the red car will be negatively affected by the fluid configuration of the French track, which requires greater efficiency in the front axle of the vehicle. In Austria, for instance, a ‘start stop’ type circuit, where the rear axle reigns, the Italians were far superior to the RB18.
Red Bull and Verstappen: Favourites?
Similarly to Ferrari, Red Bull can not get excessively confident. Despite arriving at the French event as favourites, they have a few issues to worry about.
One of them is the excessive degradation of their rear tires in Austria, which ruled them out of the victory fight. In theory, the rear compounds shouldn’t suffer too much at Le Castellet which tends to be kinder to those, and less indulgent to the front ones.
The structure of the energy drink, however, has further problems to be concerned about. The improvements released in Austria gave the RB18 an extra 10 kg, which translates into a loss of 0.3s per lap. Red Bull will therefore be focusing its engineering efforts on slimming down its car during the summer holidays.
As far as its drivers go, Verstappen is still at the top of the standings. After giving up just five points against Leclerc in Spielberg, he now has 38 more than the Monegasque, who has ousted Checo Pérez from second place. Having suffered two retirements in the last three races, the Mexican driver has fallen to 57 points behind the leader. If he wants to keep his remote title chances alive, he must react now.
Mercedes: To continue approaching the top
Spurred on by Lewis Hamilton’s third consecutive podium finish of the season in Austria, Mercedes
faces the French F1 GP 2022 in great spirits. The porposing problems of the W13 seem to have completely disappeared, while its performance has improved considerably.
Besides, the Brackley-based team will bring a big update on his car (new nose). Although they are still third behind Red Bull and Ferrari, they are getting closer every day, and have their eyes on the third step of the podium this weekend.
Images of French F1 GP 2022: Scuderia Ferrari.