Lewis Hamilton hails 'incredible' result as Mercedes duo finish on podium behind Max Verstappen – The Telegraph

Heading into this weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard, Mercedes were being talked about as possible contenders for victory. The team had started to show promising pace at Silverstone and at points in Austria. The track in France should have suited their car’s characteristics.
Their performance in qualifying was confounding, with Lewis Hamilton nearly nine-tenths off the pace and George Russell 1.2 seconds away. They were no closer over one lap than they were at the opening race in Bahrain, when their problems were novel.  Team principal Toto Wolff said it was “just not good enough” and Hamilton sounded confused too.
Yet come Sunday evening and Mercedes left the French Grand Prix with a double podium and their best result of a difficult year, as the battle in front of them took another twist with winner Max Verstappen extending his championship lead over Charles Leclerc, who crashed out, to 63 points.
Hamilton called it an “incredible” result for the team and also praised the performance of Russell, who snatched a dramatic late podium from the Red Bull of Sergio Perez. There is no doubt there was progress throughout the weekend and though the improvement is there, it is lumpy.
The difference from Saturday to Sunday was vast, but at no point was Verstappen a realistic target for Hamilton once the seven-time champion took second behind the Red Bull driver after Leclerc’s crash from the lead.
“What a great result, considering we’ve been so far off these teams all weekend. George did an amazing job today.,” Hamilton, who had a further set-back with a broken drinks bottle, said.
Sometimes you just need to lie on the ground 😓 pic.twitter.com/wN2A9A8zbR
“I think whilst we didn’t have the pace of the lead cars, this is an incredible result for us. This is progress even though we’re not necessarily closing the gap in qualifying performance.”
Their pace in the race – and also Hamilton’s form – will give the team further hope after an up-and-down weekend. Earlier this month Hamilton said he believed, for the first time, that his team could win a race this year, but that still appears to be an enormous task.
He also played down their chances of competing at the next race in Hungary. There is still plenty of lap time that Mercedes need to find before they come close to being on the pace of the two championship leaders. 
It was Verstappen and Leclerc who again were by far the two quickest men over the weekend. When the lights went out, Verstappen  challenged pole-sitter Leclerc off the line. In the opening laps, he harried his rival around the Circuit Paul Ricard, staying within a second of the Ferrari for most of the first stint but unable to find a way through.
But the 2021 champion’s afternoon turned from a frustrating one to a comfortable cruise following his first stop after the Ferrari driver, who was yet to pit, lost the rear of his car and hit the barriers at Turn 11 at the end of lap 17.
Verstappen’s advantage over the Monegasque driver is now 63 points and, barring any mechanical issues or retirements, a Ferrari comeback in the final 10 races seems unlikely, as their errors and reliability concerns mount.
“It’s a great lead but a lot of things can happen and I want to stay focused and get a lot more good results,” Verstappen said after the race. “We still need more one-lap pace. Budapest [next week] will be a bit more of a struggle for us. It’s all about scoring points in every race even when it’s not your day.”
Making the most of their opponents’ misfortune is something Mercedes have done well this season and they did so again in France. Despite their improvement throughout the weekend, Hamilton dampened hopes that they will be at the front at the next race. 
Hamilton has been a master of the Hungaroring with eight wins there, including one in an unfavoured McLaren and his maiden Mercedes win in 2013.
“I think it’s going to be hard to beat the Ferraris and Red Bulls in Budapest. Hopefully we have some upgrades. You can see us in the race and we can lean on them a bit. Hopefully a bit closer,” he said after the race.
Although Mercedes ultimately benefited from Leclerc’s crash and Sainz starting from 19th on the grid, the fact that both Hamilton and Russell finished ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez should bring some cheer from an up-and-down weekend in France.
Russell had been off the pace of Hamilton here but showed smart driving by catching out Perez’s Red Bull at the end of the second Virtual Safety Car period to claim the final podium spot. It resulted in his fourth top-three finish of the season and it leaves him fifth in the championship, one point behind Sainz and 16 ahead of his team-mate.
Russell said the move was “straight-forward” and also “pretty sweet” but still had to keep Perez behind for the remaining laps. The two had earlier tussled at the chicane on the Mistral straight which led to Perez running off track. Russell was unhappy with the Mexican’s racing, believing the position was his.
This was Hamilton’s 300th grand prix and, although a second place will hardly count among the highlights of a man with seven world titles, 103 pole positions and 103 race victories, he was questioned whether he might want to, or indeed be able to, reach the total of 400 race starts.
“That’s a lot of races,” Hamilton said. “I firstly just want to be grateful to get to this point but I still feel fresh and that I have plenty of fuel left in the tank.
“I am enjoying what I am doing. I am also enjoying working with the sport more than ever, we have some great people leading the sport and having great conversations about the direction that we’re going in.
“Of course I want to get back to winning ways and that will take time.”
And there haven’t been many race weekends where you could smile if you support the Silver Arrows this season. 
Verstappen took control after Leclerc’s demise but the other two spots on the podium were filled by Mercedes men, Hamilton and Russell. Both were overjoyed with their efforts and well they might. 
That’s it from the blog today – thanks for joining. A fuller race report will appear above here shortly. 
I think we had really good pace on the start, I was putting pressure on Charles. We just tried to stay calm and close because we pitted a bit earlier. From there onwards you never know how the race is going to go. Unlucky for Charles, I hope he’s okay.
The tyres were wearing a lot, it was all about looking after the tyres until the end. 
I was just trying to get the most points possible. Some moves you see they are on and sometimes you back out and wait for the end of the race. That’s what we did. 
We still have a bit of work to do over a single lap especially, so we will just keep working. 
That was a tough race because my drinks bottle didn’t work. What a great result, considering we’ve been so far off these teams all weekend. George did an amazing job today. I think it’s going to be hard to beat the Ferraris and Red Bulls in Budapest. Hopefully we have some upgrades. You can see us in the race we can lean on them a bit. Hopefully a bit closer. 
It was a long race, a tough race. The pace was strong but we struggled with the warm up. Happy to take the chequered flag. I saw him [Perez] struggling when Sainz got past and we had the opportunity. He didn’t really leave me much space but glad I came home bringing home P3, two podiums for Mercedes, it’s great.   
And so he should be, really. Mercedes lacking pace but they still finished ahead of the Red Bull of Perez who had a curious weekend. 
Close battle on the last lap between Stroll and Vettel but the Canadian keeps the final point. 
Once Leclerc crashed out through driver error it was a formality for Verstappen. Hamilton second and Russell third. Perez fourth behind both Mercedes cars. 
Nobody can stop Verstappen now but can Russell hang on?
He doesn’t appear to have had a lap deleted for track limits. 
Sainz still holds the fastest lap point. Can Russell hang on?
He is told to stand by. Would be surprised. VSC is ending. 
Three laps to go. Russell nabs Perez right at that moment! Perez caught napping there. Double Mercedes podium?
YELLOW FLAGS. Zhou has stopped at the side of the track. It’s a virtual safety car.  
For the final podium spot. Mercedes’ pace has been okay today, really. Hamilton has been quicker than Perez. Russell looks quicker than him now. Verstappen has just been ahead on his own in this Red Bull. 
And no longer. As he gets the move done. Up into fifth. 22 further seconds to Alonso up the road. 
Sainz sets the fastest lap again. 
But that is probably the best he would have achieved. 
Sainz sets the fastest lap of the race.  Russell still harrying Perez. 
No further investigation for the Perez and Russell incident. Fair. 
Russell, Wolff and his engineer having a back and forth on the radio. "We can still do this on track," is what Wolff says to Russell. His engineer says that Russell was not ahead in the corner so it wasn’t really his to lose. 
"George, keep your head down, you can hunt him down," Wolff adds. 
Marginal incident. Hasn’t been flagged up as being under investigation and I think it should probably stay that way. Anyway, Russell is back on the rear of Perez with 10 laps to go. 
I think they touch and Russell goes straight on. Perez has scooted up the road again, though. 
Sainz eventually pits, serves his five second penalty and goes onto the mediums. 
Sainz seems to want to stop for fresh tyres to be able to make up the time to get Perez at the end. He is then told to stay out and he spends the next half of the lap battle so closely with Perez. Whilst that is happening  (probably on the straight) he is told to come in! He says "not now!" and then gets Perez at the start of the lap with the aid of DRS!
Sainz still has to take a five-second penalty though. 
Sainz struggling to get past Perez and has gone onto "plan D", whatever that is.
…to retire the car. 
Latifi ends up spinning into 16th place. Magnussen’s fault, I think. Got a bit too aggressive on the kerbs. 
We haven’t really seen much from Verstappen on the TV screens. 
Not really too much action on track at the moment. Gasly has just overtaken Magnussen. Sainz within DRS range of Russell, still.  Ocon closing in on Ricciardo. 
He’s doing well in this race, but is lapping a few tenths behind the Dutchman per lap. 
And he’s only about 3.3 seconds away from Hamilton. He will not be going to the end on these tyres. 
Probably just under a second in the first sector. And then a few tenths in the second sector. Sainz’s medium tyres are looking a little angry. 
And he finally gets past Russell in the second sector. He got a much better exit out of the chicane on the Mistral straight, perhaps getting a bit too defensive. Sainz into fourth. 
He’s just 1.7s behind team-mate Norris. You can’t help but think that Verstappen is coasting here. Hamilton doing a very good job. Perez isn’t really able to keep up with him too much. Really strong performance from Hamilton today again. 
Sainz still within DRS range of Russell but not close enough to make a move. 
But Sainz is now within a second of Russell for fourth. 
Hamilton has just set the fastest first sector of the race, three-tenths quicker than Verstappen. Problem is then that he loses that all in the next sector. 
Elsewhere, Verstappen leads Hamilton by 2.8s now. Perez closing in on Hamilton, albeit gradually but he has Russell for close company, the Briton within DRS range. 
Magnussen is shown having spun and Zhou comes into the pit lane for a front-wing change. 
Sainz under investigation for an unsafe release. I think that’s a clear-cut decision. 
He’s now up into sixth after getting Lando Norris. Chance of a Ferrari podium today?
He then gets compatriot Alonso and moves into fifth. Good pace. 
Verstappen gets the much better start off  the line and leads Hamilton away. Perez third, Russell fourth and Alonso fifth. It’ll be a few more laps before they get DRS. 
SC in this lap. 
Looks like his left rear floor was severely damaged and not worth carrying on. Seems the message from Leclerc was that he couldn’t get off the throttle after his crash. 
Perez third and Russell fourth. Sainz comes into the pits, it’s a slow stop and then he is released straight into the path of Alexander Albon, who has to slam the brakes on. It’s all falling apart again for Ferrari. 
Replays show that Leclerc lost the rear end, pushing too much and then went into the barriers. Another driver error it seems. He mentioned something about the throttle on the radio. 
"Noooooooo!" he screams on the radio afterwards. That is going to be a painful one. 
And is told to push now. He then sets the fastest first sector of the race. 
Mercedes double stack. 
He’s now in ninth. Good job. 
Verstappen pits! Onto a set of hard tyres. What does Leclerc do here? Probably stay out? Verstappen has come out behind Norris, so will have to negotiate traffic. 
A bit closer to the leaders, in any case. Verstappen has dropped back to 1.5s behind Leclerc now. 
He is asked what he thinks of it. "Copy," he says. 
It’s a similar story again this lap. And probably the next. 
But hasn’t really been able to do anything much without a Leclerc mistake. Perez has dropped off the back of Hamilton fairly rapidly. He was six-tenths slower the last time around. Tyres complaining?
Already? I don’t think it was pick-up. Not at this point in the race. Sainz up to 12th on the hard tyres after getting Magnussen. Verstappen loses some time in the final sector. Hamilton does his fastest lap of the race but it’s still eight tenths slower than the leader. 
Magnussen comes in and changes to the hards. 
He looks to be hanging on already. Hamilton is lapping roughly a second slower than the leaders. I wonder what Perez could do were he to be released into clean air?
He is very, very close in the second sector towards Signes. They went side by side but Leclerc kept the spot after a bit of a mistake under braking. Sketchy times for Leclerc here. Hamilton still holding off Perez. 
A 1:38.088 which was a few tenths quicker than Verstappen. Verstappen still looks in better shape at this early stage. 
Sainz now up to 14th after not making too much progress on the opening lap.  Hamilton under a lot of pressure from Perez for third. 
He took five tenths out of him on the last lap…
He’s close on the back straight but can’t – or at least doesn’t – force a move. Hamilton is way off the pace in third, and has Perez close behind him.
Ocon gets a five-second time penalty for causing a collision. 
Looked like it was an incident with Ocon that spun Tsunoda around. Hamilton has kept third and Perez fourth. Russell in sixth which is where he has started but Alonso aced his first lap and is up into fifth ahead of Norris and Ricciardo. Ocon is ninth despite that incident. 
Very good start from Leclerc who comfortably leads Verstappen into the first corner. Think they had roughly equivalent starts there? Verstappen is close enough to get a bit of a tow on the Mistral straight but not enough to have a look. There’s a spinner at the back as Tsunoda goes around at the chicane. 
Everyone is starting on the medium tyres but Bottas (11th), Gasly (14th) and Sainz (19th). 
Predictions? Ferrari’s better tyre degradation helped them in Austria. And it could be the same here. 
I think it’s definitely there for the taking. It’s going to be a really challenging afternoon with the tyre degradation. It’s going to be really tricky to see if a one stop is possible or if a two stop is faster. Everything is on the table.  
1. LEC 2. VER
3. PER 4. HAM
5. NOR 6. RUS
7. ALO 8. TSU
9. RIC 10. OCO
11. BOT 12. VET
13. ALB 14. GAS
15. STR 16. ZHO
17. MSC 18. LAT
19. SAI 20. MAG
20 minutes until lights out. Track temperature has apparently gone up to more than 60 degrees, but I am not sure that is right. 
The stands look fairly packed and plenty of tricolour flying in the breeze today. 
It looks worse than it is because Lando is fifth and Daniel is ninth. It was only one and a half tenths and for me Lando is a future world champion and for Daniel to be one and a half tenths off that it is okay. It seems that he is making progress… it would be helpful if he could edge out Lando heading forwards and then maybe things will get better. Daniel mentally: it seems that he’s really fiery and getting more positive again. 
His new engine parts mean that he starts from the back of the grid today. Wonder where he will end up today? I think top four is possible. 
 Think, realistically, that he is going to be supporting Leclerc for the rest of the season, much like he did in qualifying. 
Track temperatures are not actually as high as they have been all weekend: 43.1 with the air temperature a little bit under 30 degrees. 
That is, assuming that he actually takes the start. I wrote a piece about how difficult it is to compare Hamilton to some of F1 greats given the vastly different eras they are racing in. But still, his longevity is an underrated quality. Read the full piece here. 
Welcome to our coverage for the 2022 French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard. As has been mentioned many times, this does not tend to be the greatest circuit for racing, but last year we had a decent duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. This year perhaps the best we can hope for is a duel between polesitter Charles Leclerc and Verstappen, who starts behind him in second on the grid. 
The season is at a critical stage for the championship, or at least for Leclerc’s championship hopes. He has been taking a few bites out of Verstappen’s championship lead but without any really significant blows. The 38-point advantage the Dutchman has is still significant with 11 races to go. Fingers crossed for a repeat of last year and not 2019. 
It was not a very good day for Mercedes, though. The team brought some updates here this weekend but, after encouragement in the last month or so, they have regressed back to their 2022-season mean. Lewis Hamilton managed to take a spot on the second row but was nearly nine-tenths off Leclerc’s ultimate pace. It was worse for George Russell, who was several tenths behind Hamilton and behind even McLaren’s Lando Norris. 
Lewis Hamilton seemed a little confused as to how it all happened, though was happy with his lap. 
“I came here thinking last race we were three or four tenths off and I thought maybe this weekend we would maybe be two or three tenths off and we have been a second [off] all weekend.
“To get to [within] nine tenths I was happy with my lap and with my performance but they [Red Bull and Ferrari] are in their own place.”
Team principal Toto Wolff criticised the team’s qualifying performance whilst praising Hamilton’s lap. “I think we knew that once we got the new tyres on and we are driving the car in anger that we would be there in third and fourth, like we have been all season. But it’s just not good enough,” he told Sky Sports after qualifying. 
“In the end the overall package is just not quick enough and we can see that.”
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