FP3: Verstappen puts Red Bull back on top at Paul Ricard

Jon Wilde
Max Verstappen's Red Bull in free practice for the French GP. Paul Ricard July 2022.

Max Verstappen's Red Bull in free practice for the French Grand Prix. Paul Ricard July 2022.

Red Bull responded to Ferrari’s blistering Friday pace as Max Verstappen proved the class act of FP3 for the French Grand Prix.

Fastest for much of the session with an early lap on medium tyres, the Dutchman was briefly knocked off top spot by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who will start from the back of the grid for the race at Paul Ricard due to an engine penalty.

Charles Leclerc, winner of the Austrian Grand Prix last time out, had been second fastest to Sainz in FP2, nearly half a second ahead of Verstappen, but he could manage only third on Saturday as Verstappen established himself as favourite for pole position.

On another gloriously sunny, scorching midsummer day in southern France, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell headed out with noticeably different rear wings on their W13s, the younger of the Britons opting for a straighter design with less downforce as Mercedes strived to improve on what had been a disappointing opening day performance-wise.

Verstappen and Perez were among the first to set hot laps with the medium tyres and Hamilton’s initial effort, on the softs with his wavy ‘barn door’ rear wing, was the best part of two seconds down on his 2021 title rival – “1.7? Jeez,” was his incredulous reaction over team radio.

Sainz and Leclerc began on the soft and hard tyres respectively, their initial flying lap times a second apart, the latter then spinning at Turn 12, while his team-mate also had a brief off-road moment just as news was confirmed that the Spaniard will start on the back row of the grid due to his engine penalty – along with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen for similar reasons in another Ferrari-powered car.

As the session ticked down to its final third, Hamilton found some pace with a purple first sector on the way to P3, now less than half a second down on Verstappen even with a lock-up. Leclerc, now with the soft tyres, leapfrogged Sainz to go second, a tenth slower than the Red Bull.

Verstappen’s early time was still standing up as the benchmark but only until Sainz set a 1:32.626 as the Red Bulls emerged on the soft tyres for the first time in the session. As soon as he did, it was two purple sectors and a green for the World Champion to return to the top of the timesheet.

At the other end of the scale, there were more issues for Aston Martin as Sebastian Vettel’s session was curtailed by floor damage, he and team-mate Lance Stroll filling the last two places on the leaderboard as Williams’ upgrades showed promise – both Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi showing the potential to reach Q2 later on at the very least.


1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:32.272
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.354s
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.637s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.983s
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1.021s
6 George Russell Mercedes 1.104s
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.233s
8 Alex Albon Williams 1.286s
9 Lando Norris McLaren 1.397s
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.479s
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.516s
12 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1.569s
13 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1.597s
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Racing 1.600s
15 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Racing 1.639s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1.759s
17 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.850s
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 1.950s
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.963s
20 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 2.264s