F1: Max Verstappen cruises to French Grand Prix victory ahead of Lewis Hamilton after Charles Leclerc crash

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Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix  (Getty Images)
Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix (Getty Images)

Max Verstappen took a big step towards the 2022 Formula One title with victory in the French Grand Prix after Charles Leclerc crashed out from first place.

Leclerc got off the line well and fought Verstappen through the opening laps as Red Bull’s speed down the straights seriously threatened a Ferrari setup that favoured pace through Le Castellet’s corners.

The baking heat and lack of relative power in the DRS system made overtaking more diffcult than anticipated as the balance between one and two-stop strategies began to nudge towards the latter.

Lewis Hamilton grabbed third place off Sergio Perez at the start and he too held off the Red Bull’s early charge before settling into a solid groove in his 300th F1 race.

Indeed, just as in Austria a week ago, Verstappen found his promise evaporating in the south of France sun - until, not for the first time this season, he found a gift-wrapped victory waiting just around the corner.

Leclerc lost his rear-end at Le Beausset and spun into the wall, letting out a blood-curdling scream over team radio as he cursed a ruinous exit from the race and, as some may now predict, the championship battle.

That left Hamilton following Verstappen at the end of the subsequent safety car period, Sergio Perez challenging the Brit from third with George Russell fourth.

Carlos Sainz, starting 19th due to engine penalties and showing fine pace despite the traffic, had forced himself into the podium picture before being handed a five-second time penalty for an unsafe release in the safety car pit scramble.

A bumpy excursion off at Turn 2 left Hamilton almost six seconds off the lead as Verstappen looked all set for the race win and a 68-point lead atop the title standings, and Perez fancied his chances of completing a Red Bull 1-2.

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari is winched away from his French Grand Prix crash (AFP via Getty Images)
Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari is winched away from his French Grand Prix crash (AFP via Getty Images)

In fact, Hamilton pulled clear and Sainz overtook Perez before Russell was rebuffed in a very late dive that the Mexican defended well and evidently irked his young rival.

Russell need not have been too angry as Ferrari eventually pitted Sainz after multiple exchanges of indecision over team radio, elevating him to fourth place as the battle with Perez continued.

A virtual safety car for Zhou Guanyu stopping on track with a late retirement neutralised the fight before one last push from Russell, which he completed with gusto immediately off the restart in the final sector to secure a valuable double-podium finish for Mercedes as Verstappen cruised home.

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