Max Verstappen, with a smile, said he hopes that Mercedes do not join the conversation for victory at Paul Ricard.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team and Ferrari have been the consistent contenders for race wins so far in 2022, collecting all eleven on offer between them so far.
But the reigning Constructors’ Champions Mercedes have shown signs of recovery in recent rounds, Verstappen’s 2021 title rival Lewis Hamilton on a streak of three podium finishes in succession.
Hamilton is also a two-time winner at Paul Ricard with Mercedes, so the Silver Arrows are widely being tipped as a potential dark horse to open their account for 2022 with a French Grand Prix victory.
Asked by media personnel if he felt that Mercedes are a threat at Paul Ricard, Verstappen replied: “Maybe they are, I hope not,” followed by laughter.
Verstappen is, though, definitely expecting another close battle with Ferrari.
All the signs initially looked positive for Red Bull at their home race last time out, Verstappen claiming pole in Austria and then recording a comfortable P1 in sprint qualifying.
Come race day though the situation completely changed, Verstappen powerless to stop Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari, who scored his first win since the Australian GP and cut Verstappen’s Championship lead down to 38 points.
Carlos Sainz was looking on course to make it a Ferrari one-two, but an engine failure dumped him out of the race just as he was preparing to attack Verstappen.
It is Verstappen’s belief that Red Bull made some “wrong calls” in Austria, not helped by the more restrictive sprint qualifying schedule.
So, he hopes that the team can return to “normal form” again in France and contend for the victory.
“I do think that we made a few wrong calls in Austria in hindsight,” said the Dutchman.
“But of course with a sprint weekend format it’s very hard to change that after FP1 and I think we learnt a lot from it.
“I think our top speed was still alright, but when you are losing in the corners a bit more than you would like, then it’s always going to be a tough day and that’s what happened on Sunday.
“So I hope that with the things we learnt we are back to our normal form, which even when we are in normal form I think it’s still going to be very tight for a race win, so I expect the same here.”
Decision time looming at Red Bull
With Max Verstappen holding a 57-point advantage over Sergio Perez, it's likely that Red Bull will throw their weight behind the reigning champion soon.