Charles Leclerc acknowledged it is more difficult to get over his own mistakes than those of his Ferrari team, and still wants to make the most of the remainder of the Formula One campaign.   Two early season victories gave Leclerc a 46-point lead over Red Bull's Max Verstappen after the first three races of the campaign, but just one win for him since has seen his Dutch rival open up an 80-point gap at the top of the drivers' championship.   On several occasions, Leclerc has been unable to see out a victory, with his engine failing twice and questionable strategies from Ferrari also appearing to cost him, while he also crashed out when leading the French Grand Prix last month.   Speaking to BBC Sport, Leclerc said he was happy that Ferrari were finally back fighting at the front, after seeing Red Bull and Mercedes dominate in recent years, but conceded further improvement is needed.   "First of all, it was amazing to see that we finally got back to fighting for wins," he said.   "On the other hand, we haven't managed to maximise all the potential we had. And this is not great. We still have the second part of the season to catch up, I hope, and I will push at the maximum. But the last few races have been a bit difficult."   Leclerc finished sixth in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, with Verstappen winning again heading into the mid-season break, with the next race in Belgium in late August.   "We want to do absolutely everything to get better in every single thing we do, and obviously looking at the first part of this season, there have been some strategy problems, there have been some reliability problems and there have been driving mistakes," Leclerc added.   "On reliability and strategy, we are working extremely hard to get better. And after a mistake, we always go through exactly the same process, which is to try and analyse from where the mistakes come, why did we take the wrong decision at a certain point of the race, in order to go forwards. As soon as we understand a mistake, then we can move on."

Leclerc outlined his process when he costs himself in a race.

"I'm extremely tough with myself," he added. "So it is much more difficult to deal with my own errors than whenever it is the team, even though we are obviously one team and we lose and we win together.

"I'm always harsher whenever it's me who does the mistake, and obviously France was one of those which hurt quite a bit.

"But whenever I go through this tough time, I go through the same process as I was saying before, trying to analyse what was wrong. And it's mostly mentally.

"To speak about it seems quite easy, but it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what was going on in your head at that moment. But I think this is a strength of mine and helps me to improve as a driver every time I make a mistake."

When asked about his aims for the rest of the season, Leclerc said: "To try and grow from the mistakes of the first half, but try and perform as well as the first half because the performance I've given, I'm extremely happy about. And this I want to keep.

"So there won't be any significant change. We just need to try and work as a team to put a weekend together for the nine remaining races and see where we end up."

Charles Leclerc has questioned Ferrari's strategy for the Hungarian Grand Prix after dubbing his sixth-place finish as a "disaster".

A decision to put on the hard-compound tyre brought an abrupt end to Leclerc's hopes of winning the race, conceding position to Red Bull's Max Verstappen – who now sits 80-points clear in the championship standings after another victory.

Performances from others on the grid had already shown that the hard compound tyre was not competitive in Sunday's race but Ferrari, having used the medium compound twice, elected to take the hard rather than push out a longer stint before taking the softs.

That decision proved to be the undoing of Ferrari's hopes in what was an afternoon to forget, with neither driver finishing in the podium spots despite starting second and third on the grid.

Leclerc, who took full responsibility for his crash in the French Grand Prix a week ago, was asked whether he could explain the team strategy and says questions will be asked during a debrief.

"We need to speak with the team and understand the thought behind putting on the hard because I felt very strong on the medium, everything was under control," he told Sky Sports.

"For some reason, I don’t know what, we needed to go on the hards. I said on the radio that I was very comfortable on the medium and I wanted to go for as long as possible on those tyres because the feeling was good.

"I don't know why we took we took a different decision. Honestly, the pace on my side I was pretty happy with.

"The only thing is that obviously everyone will remember the last part of the race which was a disaster for me, especially the hard, that's why I lost the race.

"I lost 20 seconds with the pit, another maybe six seconds on five laps on the hard because I was all over the place with this tyre and yeah, that's where we lost our race."

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz was equally disappointed and says he simply did not have a car capable of mounting a challenge.

"We clearly struggled as a team. Today, we're a bit puzzled because we expected to have good race pace coming from Friday, but it's clear that these lower temperatures, the track condition changes, there was something going on with the car and the tyres," he told Sky Sports.

"We were not fast. It's something to analyse, to look back, regroup, see what we did wrong for these kinds of conditions and come back after the summer break with a better package."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff defended Ferrari's tyre strategy and believes it was the only call they could have made.

"I think they had no option. They had only hard and soft left, for the soft it was too early, so it was only the hard," he said to Sky Sports.

"The mistake I think happened on Friday or Saturday, not to carry over a new medium."

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead even further with a stellar drive in Hungary to claim victory having started 10th on the grid.

The Red Bull capitalised on more woes for Ferrari to leave Verstappen heading into the break with an 80-point lead, while Mercedes enjoyed a second race in a row with both drivers finishing on the podium.

Ferrari, having started second and third on the grid, had a race to forget with both drivers finishing outside of the podium spots - with Carlos Sainz in fourth and Charles Leclerc coming home sixth.

At the start, pole-sitter George Russell was immediately put under pressure by the Ferraris behind him but maintained his advantage following the first corner, then opening a two-second window following an early virtual safety car after contact between Alex Albon and Lance Stroll.

With soft tyres losing speed, Russell pitted from the lead at the end of lap 16 and Sainz, on the medium, made an overcut attempt one lap later but remained behind the Mercedes.

Verstappen benefited during the first round of pit stops to continue his charge up the grid, taking fourth on lap 21, while Leclerc came out ahead of team-mate Sainz after his stop.

Still in the lead at the start of lap 28, Russell's performance meant Mercedes had led more laps in the race than they had in the entirety of the season prior to this weekend and Russell, though defending aggressively, was overtaken at turn one by Leclerc on lap 31.

Verstappen blinked first in the second round of pit stops and completed an undercut on Russell, then overtaking Leclerc twice, either side of a spin, with Ferrari unable to find the pace on the hard compound as another strategy decision cost the Monegasque, who inevitably had to take a third stop to swap to the softs.

Hamilton's strategy worked much better and saw him stand as the biggest threat to Verstappen's lead heading into the latter stages, overtaking Sainz at the start of lap 63 and then taking team-mate Russell on lap 65.

Late rain threatened to cause drama on the final lap but Verstappen was able to cruise home for a 28th career win - equalling Nigel Mansell's record of the most F1 wins for a single team.

Ferrari, meanwhile, will now be looking over their shoulder after the break with their advantage over Mercedes in the constructors' championship now standing at just 30 points.

Ferrari's frustrating calls

Plenty of scrutiny has been directed towards Ferrari for questionable calls made during the 2022 Formula One season and the Hungarian Grand Prix added further fuel to that particular fire.

Having seen Alpine's own woes on the hard compound, which saw both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso tumble down the field, Ferrari bemusingly still opted to put Leclerc on that tyre.

The poor performance of the compound was shown when Verstappen, who had overtaken Leclerc, spun to lose the position but was still able to chase down his title rival and reclaim the position without too much of a challenge.

Russell's run ends

Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix, Mercedes duo Russell and Hamilton were the only two drivers on the grid to have improved or maintained their starting position in every race this season.

Hamilton, starting seventh and finishing second, was able to maintain that sequence but Russell, on pole position, secured a third-place finish and saw his run of improvement come to an end.

However, that finish sealed back-to-back podium finishes for Russell at Mercedes, while it also marked the second race in a row with both Silver Arrows drivers on the rostrum.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 

2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +7.834

3. George Russell (Mercedes) +12.337

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +14.579

5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +15.688

6. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +16.047

7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +78.300

8. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) + One lap

9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) + One lap

10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) + One lap

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 258

2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 178

3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 173

4. George Russell (Mercedes) 158

5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 156

Constructors

1. Red Bull 431

2. Ferrari 334

3. Mercedes 304

4. Alpine 99

5. McLaren 95

Carlos Sainz is relishing the prospect of battling against front-row rival George Russell in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Russell stunned Ferrari's drivers with a stellar lap in the closing stages of qualifying to snatch the first pole position of his career, with Sainz lining up second on the grid and team-mate Charles Leclerc in third.

It sets up an interesting race in Hungary, the last before F1's summer break, with McLaren's Lando Norris in fourth while the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez begin in 10th and 11th respectively.

While Mercedes have an advantage at the start, their car continues to be a largely unknown quantity and Ferrari will fancy their chances of securing a win – with Sainz confirming the team will be pushing for that goal.

"I'm not very happy with the final result as I feel I could have done a better lap on the final attempt," he said after qualifying.

"However, I prefer to focus on the positives: we are in a good position for tomorrow, I've been comfortable in the car all weekend, and we keep making steps in the right direction.

"I'm confident we can carry the good pace of Friday into the race, so we'll definitely go for it.

"Congrats to George on his first pole. He did a very good lap today and I look forward to the battle tomorrow."

Leclerc is equally confident Ferrari can respond after a frustrating qualifying session, as he too looks to challenge team-mate Sainz and Russell for the win – which would provide a boost after last weekend's crash in France.

"The pace is there and we know we have some work to do," Leclerc said. "I'm confident we can come back stronger tomorrow."

George Russell was left with an "incredible feeling" after he upset the odds to claim his first pole position for Mercedes at the Hungarian Grand Prix as Red Bull endured a dismal day.

Carlos Sainz, seeming more comfortable in the Ferrari with every race, appeared destined for pole from his flying lap at the Hungaroring.

However, Russell, having complained of a lack of grip throughout the practice sessions, came almost from nowhere to put together a remarkable final lap and take top spot with a time of one minute and 17.377 seconds.

He prevented a Ferrari one-two after the Red Bulls had been removed completely from the equation. Sergio Perez failed to make it out of Q2, alleging he was blocked by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, and Max Verstappen then complained of a loss of power in the top-10 shoot-out. Championship leader Verstappen will start 10th, ahead of Perez in 11th.

Ferrari are still in a tremendous position to take advantage of Red Bull's woes, with Sainz set to start second ahead of Charles Leclerc in third.

"I'm over the moon. Absolutely buzzing," said Russell, whose team-mate Lewis Hamilton could only manage seventh amid an issue with his DRS. 

"The lap time kept on coming. I came across the line and saw we went P1 and that was an incredible feeling."

Asked if it means Mercedes are back, Russell replied: "I don't know to be honest, we need to look and understand where that came from, there's a few ideas we had.

"There's no points for qualifying. Generally we had good race pace, but the Ferraris looked very fast on Friday, but we are going to be absolutely going for it [tomorrow], but either way that was a pretty special day no doubt."

Leclerc and Sainz appeared relaxed despite missing out on locking out the front row.

Leclerc will have the McLaren of Lando Norris for company on the second row, with the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso behind them in fifth and sixth.

"Mostly we are focusing on ourselves," Ferrari's Leclerc said when asked about Red Bull's problems. "I've been struggling massively with the tyres. I struggled to put a lap together.

"I'm pretty sure we've got the pace in the car to come back at the front. I'm pretty sure we can come back tomorrow."

Sainz looked much more assured than his team-mate but echoed Leclerc's sentiments after losing critical time in the final part of his final flying lap.

"Definitely feeling better and better every race and every qualifying session," Sainz said. "I felt like I had the pace to do the pole position, it went away from us.

"We have the [race] pace; the start and the tyre management will play a key role. The Mercedes pace is a bit of an unknown."


PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. George Russell (Mercedes) 1:17.377
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.044
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.190
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.392
5. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +0.641
6. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.701
7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.765
8. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.780
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.002
10. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.446

Max Verstappen thinks it will be impossible for Red Bull to challenge Ferrari in dry conditions at the Hungarian Grand Prix. 

Reigning Formula One champion Verstappen could only manage fourth in the second free practice session on Friday, with Charles Leclerc almost three tenths of a second quicker. 

Rain is forecast for qualifying on Saturday and the Dutchman believes it will be essential for him to have any chance of pushing the Scuderia all the way. 

"A bit tricky as expected around here. Just trying to find a balance from high to low speed," said Verstappen. 

"Sometimes it worked a bit better, sometimes a bit more tricky but a bit of work to do. 

"I think [Ferrari] are a bit ahead of us. I think it will be hard for us to beat that. But I think overnight we will try to close the gap as much as we can and see what the weather will give us as well. 

"I think in the dry we can't compete, so maybe in the rain we can, who knows?" 

After the disappointment of crashing out from the French Grand Prix last weekend, Leclerc felt Ferrari were on "the right road" with their race simulations. 

"It's been a very productive day, changed quite a lot of things on the car on my side," said Leclerc. "FP1 was quite tricky, FP2 we took the right road so confident that we did the right work for Sunday. 

"It looks like it's going to rain [on Saturday] so we have to be on top of this and obviously put the tyres in the right window, which is always a difficult thing whenever it's raining. 

"This will be our main priority, but hopefully if we manage to put them in the right window, we will still have this advantage." 

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has paid tribute to former team-mate Sebastian Vettel following the announcement that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the season.

Leclerc spent two years alongside Vettel at Ferrari and conceded he was starstruck when they first met, but now considers the four-time world champion to be a friend.

The youngster crashed during the French Grand Prix, and revealed Vettel messaged him to offer his support.

It will be a strange feeling for Leclerc to return in 2023 without Vettel in the paddock, where he has been an ever-present since making his F1 bow in 2007.

"I arrived the first year and I was obviously super impressed and I think I was probably very weird to him because I was shy and didn't know what to say when I was with him," Leclerc said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"But now he's a friend and he always texts me, like he did after Sunday, and always tried to make me feel better whenever I'm going through a tough time.

"Obviously it's going to be strange to not see Seb inside the paddock. I've learned so much driving with him and he’s always been super nice with me."

Vettel confirmed on Thursday that this would be his last season in F1 and, if everything goes to plan, the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi will be his 300th on the grid.

Defending champion Max Verstappen also hailed Vettel's impact and backed his decision to retire.

"He has achieved so much in this sport that it's fully understandable for him to retire," he told a news conference.

"He's had an amazing career, he's won a lot of races, he's won a lot of championships as well. He's a great ambassador [for] the sport.

"To see him go, it's something that you could see coming, everyone is getting older and at some point, everyone is retiring. It's never nice when that moment arrives but these things happen.

"I think it's important now that he's going to enjoy his life with his family as F1 is such a short period of time in your life, you work so hard to achieve all these things that he has achieved, now it's time to enjoy."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has paid tribute to former team-mate Sebastian Vettel following the announcement that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the season.

Leclerc spent two years alongside Vettel at Ferrari and conceded he was starstruck when they first met, but now considers the four-time world champion to be a friend.

The youngster crashed during the French Grand Prix, and revealed Vettel messaged him to offer his support.

It will be a strange feeling for Leclerc to return in 2023 without Vettel in the paddock, where he has been an ever-present since making his F1 bow in 2007.

"I arrived the first year and I was obviously super impressed and I think I was probably very weird to him because I was shy and didn't know what to say when I was with him," Leclerc said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"But now he's a friend and he always texts me, like he did after Sunday, and always tried to make me feel better whenever I'm going through a tough time.

"Obviously it's going to be strange to not see Seb inside the paddock. I've learned so much driving with him and he’s always been super nice with me."

Vettel confirmed on Thursday that this would be his last season in F1 and, if everything goes to plan, the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi will be his 300th on the grid.

Defending champion Max Verstappen also hailed Vettel's impact and backed his decision to retire.

"He has achieved so much in this sport that it's fully understandable for him to retire," he told a news conference.

"He's had an amazing career, he's won a lot of races, he's won a lot of championships as well. He's a great ambassador [for] the sport.

"To see him go, it's something that you could see coming, everyone is getting older and at some point, everyone is retiring. It's never nice when that moment arrives but these things happen.

"I think it's important now that he's going to enjoy his life with his family as F1 is such a short period of time in your life, you work so hard to achieve all these things that he has achieved, now it's time to enjoy."

Lewis Hamilton can empathise with Charles Leclerc's struggles after the Ferrari driver surrendered another race victory from pole position at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Monegasque spun out midway while leading the pack at Circuit Paul Ricard, allowing rival Max Verstappen to notch up another win at his expense.

The Red Bull driver has taken advantage of Leclerc's errors before this term, as he seeks to make it a second consecutive drivers' championship crown, and now sits 63 points ahead of the latter.

Hamilton also capitalised on the Ferrari driver's misfortune to post his best finish of the season after a difficult campaign battling with a below-par Mercedes car since the start of the year.

But the seven-time world champion believes Leclerc will bounce back thanks to Ferrari's impressive form, adding that he understands the struggles his fellow driver is going through.

"It's been great to see the pace of the Ferrari this year," Hamilton stated. "I'm gutted for Charles, who's being doing a great job, as has Carlos [Sainz].

"It's not easy, though, having that pace and that performance and maintaining it. It's a tough job and I feel for the whole team because I know what that can feel like.

"But they're a great team, and they'll continue to keep their heads down."

Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix – the final race before the mid-season hiatus – Hamilton is feeling buoyant following a fourth podium finish in a row.

While he still feels Mercedes will not be able to mount a challenge to upend the latter half of the season between Red Bull and Ferrari, he is brimming with confidence on how their experiences can shape their approach to 2023.

"I know exactly what I want in the car for next year," he added. "Things that fundamentally can't change [this year], because it's too big to change here with a cost cap this year.

"So I'm able to – ahead of time – say these are the things I want in the next year's car.

"Those things are being taken into account and whilst we continue to try and dial this car in, of course bit by bit, as we go into these next weeks, the next couple of months, the full focus will probably be into next year's car."

Max Verstappen's path to a second Formula One drivers' championship appears clear following Ferrari's mishaps in France, with the Red Bull ace looking to extend his lead in Hungary.

Heading into the final race before F1's summer break, Verstappen holds a mammoth 63-point advantage over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the standings – while Red Bull lead their rivals by 82 points in the constructors' championship.

Ferrari's latest setback, which saw Leclerc retire from the lead for the third time this season, brought an end to what had been a positive stint for the Italian manufacturers – who had won back-to-back races before heading to the Circuit Paul Ricard.

While Leclerc has been the leading man for Ferrari this season, his crash in France was the latest mistake from the young driver – and it may now be Carlos Sainz that has the biggest part to play in chasing down Red Bull.

After a difficult start to the season, the Spaniard has found his rhythm with the car and weaved his way through the field in France to secure fifth place, having started 19th on the grid and impressed in qualifying.

Sainz boasts two fastest laps in 2022, both of which have come in the last four races (in Canada and France) – one more than he recorded in his previous 148 outings, and he's now eyeing consecutive fastest laps for the first time in his F1 career.

Ferrari's record in Hungary is also encouraging, with only McLaren (11) winning more races at the venue than Ferrari (7) – who last won at the Hungaroring in 2017. Red Bull, meanwhile, have won twice, in 2010 and 2014.

Red Bull's main strength this season has been straight-line speed, which may not fit with the Hungaroring's lack of straights – the track is comparable to Monaco, with several corners to string together.

It's on those sorts of corners where Ferrari have been the better outfit but, even with a win, they would require some serious reliability issues or incidents from Red Bull to rejuvenate their flagging title hopes.

Hamilton's charge reviving Mercedes

Mercedes' woes this season have been well documented and are not yet over, with the team extremely disappointed by their upgrade package failing to have the desired effect for the French Grand Prix last time out.

However, Lewis Hamilton is at least back at his best after registering four consecutive podium finishes heading into Hungary, while George Russell's appearance alongside his team-mate on the podium was the first time Mercedes have had both drivers in the top three this season.

The Hungaroring is a track Hamilton knows well, having secured eight victories at the venue – including all five of Mercedes' wins.

Now 12 races without a win, Mercedes are in the longest winless stretch of their F1 history, and Hamilton is still awaiting the triumph which would see him break Michael Schumacher's record of consecutive seasons with at least one victory – with both drivers currently on 15.

Ricciardo's moment of truth

Daniel Ricciardo's spell at McLaren has been disappointing for both driver and team but both are committed to each other for the long haul, with the Australian's contract running through 2023.

Speculation of an early termination appears to have cooled, with Ricciardo taking to social media to quash such rumours before issuing a strong message ahead of France – telling Sky Sports he'll deliver a win if McLaren can deliver a car.

That's something the Silverstone-based team are yet to do, however. Ricciardo's experience in France was another disappointing one, having come in ninth and, yet again, finished behind team-mate Lando Norris.

The young Brit is clearly the more comfortable driver, having registered 70 of McLaren's 89 points this season, and Ricciardo needs to start changing the game.

A positive race in Hungary would provide a significant boost ahead of what is a crucial sequence for the Australian after the summer break.

Lewis Hamilton has backed Max Verstappen to ease towards another Formula One world championship after the Red Bull driver extended his advantage with victory in France.

The defending champion came in ahead of Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate George Russell, capitalising on Charles Leclerc's error that saw him crash out while holding the lead in the race.

That marked the third time in 2022 that Leclerc's Ferrari has retired from the lead and leaves the Monegasque driver 63 points adrift with just one race remaining before F1's mid-season break.

Leclerc took responsibility for his latest setback and Hamilton offered his condolences to the 24-year-old by admitting he was "gutted" by his departure at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

Though he's urging Ferrari to keep up the fight, he admitted that he does not see any alternative outcome to Verstappen successfully defending his crown.

"It's been great to see the pace of Ferrari this year. I'm gutted for Charles, who's been doing a great job, as has Carlos [Sainz]," he told reporters.

"It's not easy though, having that pace and that performance and maintaining it.

"It's a tough job and I feel for the whole team because I know what that can feel like. But they're a great team, and they'll continue to keep their heads down.

"[There's] massive gaps, obviously pretty huge so that's pretty smooth sailing in that space [for Verstappen] generally.

"But a lot can still go wrong up ahead so I would just advise them to just continue to push."

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has clarified Charles Leclerc's concerns about the throttle following his crash from the lead at the French Grand Prix.

Leclerc was ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen when he lost the rear tyre and collided with the wall, suffering a third retirement of the season while in a leading position.

The Monegasque driver took responsibility for the incident with his post-race comments but had raised queries on the reason for the crash with remarks over the team radio, where he complained about the throttle.

Ferrari have suffered with throttle problems already this season and Leclerc's comments raised concerns they had emerged again in Sunday's race, but Binotto explained the reason for the comments from his driver.

"It was a mistake, it happens, as we have made reliability issues. I said to Charles, we make life a bit more difficult, but he's feeling better and we will enjoy more in the future," he told Sky Sports.

"It was a genuine driver error. The throttle, it was when he was in the barrier and tried to put it into reverse. 

"Without going into details, he felt that the torque of the engine was not responding to the throttle, but it was nothing to do with the mistake.

"There is always something to improve. Step by step, I think we are progressing and becoming better. Today, we've proved that we have a fast car and a very competitive one.

"We're looking now to Hungary. We can do a one-two there, why not? So we simply focus on the next result."

Ferrari also faced scrutiny behind the decision to call Carlos Sainz in for a second pit stop, with the initial radio call coming as he overtook Sergio Perez for third place, but Binotto remained adamant it was the correct call.

"We don't feel it was the right choice, we're pretty sure it was the right choice. At the time, he was short on life with wear on the tyres so it would have been really risky to go to the end," he explained.

"We don't think he would have had the pace to fight second because he had the five-second penalty. By stopping, he did the fastest lap which was certainly a point, so I think it was the safest and the right decision to take.

"I don't think it cost us a pace. If he had stayed out, I don't think he would have opened the gap to the guy behind, so we don't think he would have had sufficient time."

Max Verstappen extended his advantage at the top of the championship to 63 points with victory at the French Grand Prix after Charles Leclerc crashed while leading.

Leclerc's latest retirement may prove to be the final dent in his 2022 title ambitions, with Verstappen looking to be heading into clean air as he bids to win back-to-back F1 championships.

The Dutchman finished over 10 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton in what turned into a routine win, while George Russell took third to secure Mercedes' first double-podium of the season.

A strong start from Hamilton saw him leapfrog Sergio Perez on the opening lap and put Verstappen under pressure, though the reigning champion defended well to remain ahead of his pursuer.

The Red Bull's advantage in straight-line speed saw Verstappen stick right on the gearbox of Leclerc in the opening 10 laps, but he was unable to make a move, with the aggressive approach potentially harming the longevity of his tyres and altering the team's plans.

Verstappen was the first of the leading pack to pit at the end of lap 16, taking hard tyres, with Leclerc staying out and appearing to be on a one-stop strategy, but there was misery for the title hopeful just two laps later.

For the third time this season, Leclerc retired while leading a grand prix, smashing into the tyre wall. A safety car was deployed as Verstappen took the lead – with Ferrari's woes increasing as Carlos Sainz was issued a five-second penalty for an unsafe release after he pitted under the safety car.

Ferrari's instability continued to be evident towards the end of lap 41 when Sainz made an overtaking move on Perez to claim third place while his team called for him to pit, which then came at the end of the following lap – serving his penalty and coming out ninth.

Russell, having collided with Perez, was unhappy he was not given the third-place position back after the stewards decided no investigation was necessary, but the Mercedes man took advantage of a slow reaction from Perez after a virtual safety car restart to snatch the final podium spot.

Au revoir Paul Ricard

Though yet to be confirmed, it is widely expected that the French Grand Prix will be removed from the calendar next year, with the 2022 race bringing the end of Formula One's contract with the Circuit Paul Ricard.

F1 owners Liberty Media have made a clear push to grow the motorsport in the United States, with the introduction of Miami and Las Vegas, while there is a continued desire to add more modern street circuits to the schedule.

That has seen the likes of the Circuit Paul Ricard, Monza, Spa and even Monaco shrouded in speculation, though there may still be an avenue for each to feature moving forward with a rotation of venues.

Perfect plan falls apart

Ahead of this weekend, Leclerc was adamant he was still in the title battle, but he admitted the team would need a 'perfect' finish to the season – which came apart at the first hurdle with another retirement.

Now well adrift of Verstappen in the championship, Leclerc's title ambitions look to be dead in the water with 10 races remaining this season, and he took full responsibility for the incident in what was far from the weekend that Ferrari wanted.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +10.587
3. George Russell (Mercedes) +16.495
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +17.310
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +28.872
6. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +42.879
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +52.026
8. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +56.959
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +60.372
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +62.549

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 233
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 170
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 163
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 144
5. George Russell (Mercedes) 143

Constructors

1. Red Bull 396
2. Ferrari 314
3. Mercedes 270
4. Alpine 93
5. McLaren 89

Charles Leclerc accepted all the blame for an "unacceptable" crash at the French Grand Prix as Ferrari suffered the misery of seeing the race leader blow a chance of victory.

The 24-year-old from Monaco sent his car into a wall of tyres of Turn 11 at Circuit Paul Ricard on lap 18, having started on pole position.

He had been chasing a fourth win of the season and was set to narrow the gap to championship leader Max Verstappen.

Yet Verstappen took advantage of Leclerc's blunder to win the race and tighten his grip on first place in the drivers' standings.

A regretful Leclerc said: "I think I'm performing at the highest level of my career, but if I keep doing those mistakes then it's pointless to perform at a very high level.

"I'm losing too many points: seven in Imola, 25 here, because honestly we were probably the strongest car on track today.

"If we lost the championship by 32 points at the end of the season I will know where they are coming from, and it's unacceptable."

He said he would go away and look again at what went wrong, but Leclerc had little doubt it was all on him.

"I'll try to understand if there's nothing I don't know yet, but to me, it's a mistake," he said.

"It's just trying to push too much, and then I lost the rear. It's been a very difficult weekend for me, I struggled a lot with the balance of the car.

"When it's warm like this, it's very difficult to be consistent, and I've been [finding it] very difficult to put laps together, and I did a mistake at the wrong moment."

Lewis Hamilton says Red Bull and Ferrari "are in a league of their own" as Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen prepare to battle it out once again at the French Grand Prix.

Leclerc came out on top at the Austrian Grand Prix two weeks ago and will start Sunday's race at Circuit Paul Ricard in pole position for the seventh time this season.

The Ferrari driver has momentum on his side, but he still trails Red Bull rival Verstappen by 38 points heading into the 12th race of 2022.

Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez finished third in qualifying after recovering from some flat practice showings, while Mercedes driver Hamilton was a distant fourth.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton is still seeking his first win of the campaign, but that seems unlikely to arrive in his 300th grand prix on the basis of Saturday's qualifying.

"It's not that it is disheartening, but you do a lap and you are told it is 1.7 seconds off and you are like 'what?'" Hamilton said.

"And then you do a really good lap and you are 1.1 seconds off and you are like 'wow'. There is nothing I can do in my power to change that.

"Everyone is working as hard as they can. Each weekend we come with little bits to try and improve, but sometimes that doesn't make a difference and that is difficult.

"The top two teams are in their own league. I came here this weekend hoping we would be within three tenths of them, and we are a second back. 

"If it is anything like this it is going to be a while before we win, but it's not impossible."

 

The driver starting on pole has won the past three French GPs – Hamilton in 2018 and 2019 and Verstappen last year – though not since 1960 has it happened four times in a row.

Leclerc's 16th career pole was achieved in large thanks to a tow from team-mate Carlos Sainz, who will start at the back of the grid after a fourth engine change of the season.

Sainz provided a tow down the straights to help Leclerc edge Verstappen, but the latter does not believe the same tactic would have worked for Red Bull.

"No, because Ferrari gained only two to two-and-a-half tenths with the slipstream, Charles told me," Verstappen said. "It was also very logical that they did it.

"Obviously both me and Sergio Perez want to be in the best position possible. That's why I don't think we're doing that sort of thing. Neither of us had a grid penalty, either.

"It also seems logical to me. We are both still fighting for the title, so it is difficult to explain. It is up to Ferrari if they want to do that, but within our team we haven't talked about it."

Should Verstappen and Perez earn at least 12 points on Sunday, Red Bull will join Ferrari (9,015) and Mercedes (6,535.50) as the third team ever to reach the 6,000 points mark.

Perez has placed in the top two in six of the past seven finished races, two times more than his previous 186, and the Mexican is delighted with his starting position.

"It's been a good recovery. I've been nowhere the whole weekend. To be honest, I've been struggling a lot," he said.

"I think it's probably been my worst weekend up to qualifying, really, and finally we managed to recover well. Now we will try to beat those red cars. They were very strong today."

Page 1 of 6
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.