French GP 'best race of the year' for Mercedes, says Shovlin

By Sports Desk July 24, 2022

Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin declared the French Grand Prix as the team's "best race of the year" after a first double podium of 2022.

Lewis Hamilton immediately overtook Red Bull's Sergio Perez at the start of the race and rose to second following the retirement of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc – securing his fourth consecutive podium and marking his 300th career race in style.

Meanwhile, George Russell enjoyed a thrilling battle with Perez in the closing stages and leapt ahead after a late virtual safety car, though he felt he should have been handed the position earlier in the race after a collision with the Mexican.

Mercedes' performances on race day has consistently been better than free practice and qualifying, with Hamilton and Russell the only drivers on the grid to have improved on their start position in every race they have completed in 2022.

At the Circuit Paul Ricard, that trend continued as the team bounced back after a disappointing qualifying session where they were well off the pace of their rivals, but Shovlin believes the performance in Sunday's race was testament to how far they have come.

"That was our best race of the year and really pleasing to see both drivers racing at the front," he said.

"We know that we've got a long road ahead of us but compared to where we were a couple of months ago in Monaco and Baku, it's really satisfying to see the team and drivers having a bit of fun again. 

"The weekend hasn't been easy, our qualifying positions weren't far off expectation, but the gaps to Charles and Max were eye-opening. 

"We'd hoped that the car would be kind on the tyres today, the conditions were very tough given the circuit and the temperature but degradation was good and whilst we are lacking a bit of pace, we at least seemed a bit stronger towards the end of the stints."

The teams are straight back into it as the Hungarian Grand Prix takes place next week, with Shovlin suggesting Mercedes will push for further improvement ahead of the summer break.

"We've only got a couple of days to try and regroup and prepare for Budapest," he added. "Hard work has got us to a level where we can fight for a place on the podium but we want to be fighting for the top step.

"We've got one race to go before the summer break so we will be pushing hard to try and finish the first half of the season on a high note."

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    But Mercedes struggled again, with Hamilton qualifying seventh and George Russell eighth – the seven-time world champion over a second adrift of Verstappen’s pole lap.

    The Dutchman and Red Bull have dominated the sport over the last two seasons and Hamilton admits the gap that still exists between the two teams is a major concern.

    “We as a team really need to when we go back and do the debrief – I hope the team already realise – but a second gap is huge. And it is real,” Hamilton said.

    “To be two years in and still be a second down to the Red Bulls is not a good showing and we need to make sure we work hard over the winter to get back at least half that gap before next year.

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    Verstappen topped every practice session but Norris and Piastri had closed the gap in P3 to hint at a fight for pole at Suzuka.

    But it never materialised thanks to Verstappen’s incredible pace on new tyres in the final session.

    McLaren impressed again – especially Piastri who had never even been to Japan before this week.

    “It’s been a very good day for us. A P2 and a P3 – a great job by Oscar today and as usual, by Max – but a good day,” Norris said.

    “I was pretty happy with my laps. It’s a tricky circuit; not easy to put everything together but it’s so quick around here and the smallest mistake can take a big amount of lap time.

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    But Verstappen was dominant in the final qualifying session on brand new tyres, blowing away the competition from the two McLarens.

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    Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez finished fifth, over seven tenths adrift of the pace-setter.

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    Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to an end in Singapore last weekend.

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    Qualifying gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

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