Verstappen extends title lead after Leclerc crash woe in French Grand Prix

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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

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