Sainz and Leclerc shine in FP2 under the French sun

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP), Scuderia Ferrari 22.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Practice
© XPB 

Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were in impressive form in second practice for the French Grand Prix on Friday afternoon, the pair holding half a second in hand over Max Verstappen and George Russell.

Lewis Hamilton, back in action after his morning off, finished fifth fastest in the second Mercedes ahead of Lando Norris in the McLaren.

Although a number of drivers had minor moments that saw then lock up or understeer and run wide, there were no major incidents during the session and no need of red flag stoppages at any point.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) McLaren MCL36. 22.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Practice

Conditions remained seriously hot and sunny as practice resumed at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc looking to extend his run at the top of the timesheet over Red Bull rival Max Verstappen. Back in action after sitting out FP1 were Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas, while Carlos Sainz' weekend was already compromised by the ten place grid penalty for a new Control Electronics Unit after his big car fire at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix.

Bottas and his team mate Zhou Guanyu were first to head out on mediums, but there was no immediate move for Verstappen whose car was still up on the stands in the Red Bull garage. His team mate Sergio Perez was also in no rush to get started, and both Ferrari drivers were similarly happy to languish in the air conditioned environs.

Bottas set the first time of 1:36.887s but this was soon bettered by Zhou and then by both Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher. George Russell also put in a early flier to go top before being bumped down by Alpine pair Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon who trimmed the top time to 1:35.531s which remained the quickest time until Magnussen found an extra tenth and a half just before the 12 minute mark.

Russell then pushed on with a lap of 1:34.810s which was almost six tenths faster than the Haas, just before Schumacher got caught out by the head wind and suffered a huge lock-up sending him wide at turn 11, flat spotting his tyres in the process meaning they wouldn't be available for the long run simulations later in the session.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB18. 22.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Practice

By now, Leclerc had roused himself and taken to the circuit, wasting no time in taking charge at the top with a time of 1:34.182s. Perez had also made his bow in the session but was only sixth fastest on his first run, leaving just Verstappen and Sainz to set a time. Verstappen soon obliged and duly took the top spot albeit by just one hundredth of a second. Sainz was then the first man out on the soft tyres which enabled him to thump in a lap of 1:33.322s to go eight and a half tenths clear of Verstappen and Leclerc. Perez improved to fourth ahead of Russell with his second run, with Verstappen and Leclerc immediately heading back to pit lane after their initial exertions.

Other drivers were also moving to a soft stint, with Lance Stroll duly up to fourth place as a result before being quickly bumped down a spot by his Aston Martin team mate Sebastian Vettel. Both of them proved too fast for Ocon to catch when it came to the Frenchman's turn to post a time on the red-walled tyres, but Alonso was able to go quicker and claim fourth for himself. Next up was Leclerc, and his time of 1:33.136s was 0.186s faster than Sainz to briefly take charge again - before the Spaniard powered back with a cracking time of 1:32.527s.

In advance of the Red Bulls and Mercedes showing what they could do on the compound, Magnussen was able to go third ahead of Verstappen while Alexander ALbon survived a lively tankslapper in the Williams as he held on to ninth. Pierre Gasly then put AlphaTauri fourth ahead of the first soft-tyre run by McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo. Finally it was time for Verstappen to show would he could do in full qualifying trim, and it was good enough to split the Ferraris although still a worrying half a second slower than Sainz as he complained about "a lot of understeer in the first sector". Leclerc then responded, going quicker than Verstappen but himself still a tenth off his team mate. Despite the heat, both Ferrari drivers had set their best times by far on their second push laps.

After his morning off, Hamilton was finally finding his feet and slotted into fourth just under a second slower than Sainz. Russell was late to set his soft compound time, but made the wait worthwhile by usurping Hamilton in fourth by two tenths with Lando Norris now in sixth ahead of Gasly. He was followed by Magnussen, who was already back on pit lane having understeered at turn 1 and run wide into turn 2 across the kerbs, giving him an uncomfortable ride and leaving the team keen to check the VF-22 for floor and wing damage. With Verstappen aborting his next run, the last driver to set a time on the softs was Perez who had loitered in the garage for set-up changes: his first time on the faster compound was only good enough to boost him from P18 to tenth just behind Ricciardo, and still a second and a half slower than Sainz.

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW44. 22.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Practice

The teams were keen to hoard their remaining sets of soft tyres and so it was back to mediums and even hard tyres for the final 15 minutes of the one-hour session, as teams analysed how the various compounds held up in the heat as they plotted their race day strategies for Sunday. The Mercedes pit wall was on the radio to Russell to pronounce they were seeing quite high degradation on Leclerc's F1-75 despite the Monegasque driver's medium tyres being only 11 laps old at this point, while Red Bull looked to have the best race pace despite Ferrari's single lap speed advantage.

As a result there were no further significant changes to the order at the top, with Ferrari securing a confident 1-2 grip on the timesheets some way ahead of Verstappen, Russell, Hamilton and Norris. Rounding out the top ten were Gasly, Magnussen, Ricciardo and Perez. The drivers ended their day with practice starts before heading back to some overnight data crunching back in their air conditioned facilities in the paddock.

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