Lewis Hamilton has opened up on his emotions following the controversial end to the 2021 Formula One season, admitting his "worst fears came alive" in Abu Dhabi.

The Mercedes driver was at the tail-end of a fierce battle with Red Bull's Max Verstappen for the championship in last year's finale, knowing a record eighth world title would be clinched if he finished ahead of his rival.

On lap 53, Hamilton led but drama would soon erupt as Williams' Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barrier at the exit of turn 14 and the safety car was deployed.

Under FIA guidelines, lapped cars are allowed to overtake behind the safety car but that guidance was not followed by race director Michael Masi, who instead only allowed the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to move through.

Verstappen, having pitted, then completed an overtake of a defenceless Hamilton at the restart to clinch his maiden title.

The controversy that followed rumbled on for months, with Masi departing his role prior to the start of the 2022 season, and Hamilton has now spoken about his feelings regarding the incident.

"You see things start to unfold and my worst fears came alive," he told Vanity Fair.

"I was like, there's no way they're going to cheat me out of this. There's no way. That won't happen. Surely not.

"I don't know if I can really put into words the feeling that I had. I do remember just sitting there just in disbelief. 

"And realizing I've got to undo my belts, I've got to get out of there, I've got to climb out of this thing, I've got to find the strength. I had no strength.  And it was one of the toughest moments, I would say, that I've had in a long, long time.

"I knew what had happened. I knew what decisions had been made and why. Yes, I knew that something wasn't right."

Ahead of the 2022 season, questions were raised whether Hamilton would return to the grid, and he admits that he considered retirement.

"I, for sure, considered whether I wanted to continue," he confirmed.

Hamilton did return, racing alongside new teammate George Russell, but has not been able to compete for the crown, instead encountering numerous issues with Mercedes unable to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari at the start of the season.

Better fortune was found ahead of F1's summer break, with back-to-back podium finishes for both drivers, but Hamilton remains 112 points adrift of Verstappen in the standings.

The Denver Broncos have announced that seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has joined the team's ownership group.

The Broncos released a statement on Tuesday from Rob Walton on behalf of the Walton-Penner family ownership group, saying: "We're delighted to welcome seven-time Formula One world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton to our ownership group.

"He is a champion competitor who knows what it takes to lead a winning team and a fierce advocate for global equality, including in his own sport.

"With over 100 race wins, Lewis is considered the most successful F1 driver of all time. His resilient spirit and standard of excellence will be an asset to the ownership group and the Broncos organisation."

Hamilton's 103 race victories are the most in F1 history, and his seven titles are tied with Michael Schumacher for the most all-time. He is winless so far this season and sits in sixth place in the drivers' standings.

He wrote on his Twitter page: "Excited to join an incredible group of owners and become a part of the @Broncos story!!

"Honoured to work with a world class team and serve as an example of the value of more diverse leadership across all sports."

Russell Wilson, the Broncos' new quarterback for the 2022 season, wrote: "Congrats @LewisHamilton. Winning is a Habit! #LetsRide"

An agreement was reached in June for the sale of the Broncos in a deal worth $4.65billion, a record for an American sports franchise. NFL owners are expected to approve the sale this month.

Ownership of the Broncos will be transferred to the Walton-Penner family ownership group, headed by Walmart heir Rob Walton.

It sets a new benchmark for the price of professional sports franchises in the United States by over $2billion, topping the purchase of the New York Mets ($2.4billion) by hedge fund manager Steve Cohen in 2020.

Lewis Hamilton is confident Mercedes are "closing the gap" on their rivals following another impressive drive from the Briton at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Hamilton, starting seventh, benefited from a strong strategy by his team to work his way through the order, overtaking Ferrari's Carlos Sainz for third and then leapfrogging his team-mate George Russell.

The result secured back-to-back podium finishes for Hamilton who, surprisingly, has achieved more top-three finishes this season than title hopeful Charles Leclerc, who has seen his bid to take Max Verstappen's crown crumble.

Ferrari's main challenge in the final nine races of the season after the upcoming break may now come from Mercedes, who sit just 30 points behind in the constructors' championship, and Hamilton believes there is a solid platform to build on.

"I was definitely struggling at the beginning of the race and wasn't sure if I was going to be able to catch the guys up but bit by bit, I was more comfortable with the balance and had a really good start as well," he said on the grid.

"I really want to acknowledge my team who have pushed and never given up in this tough year so far.

"To be on the podium, for both cars to be on the podium twice, it is pretty special for us and really unlucky for George today.

"The other guys still have a bit of an edge but we are clearly closing the gap and this is just an amazing way to go into the break knowing that we have this performance. 

"Hopefully we can bring some more into the second part of the season and start fighting with the guys up front."

Russell started the race in pole position after his surprising Q3 session on Saturday but was unable to stay ahead and admitted he thought the race was there to win in the early stages.

"When it started spitting and we were on the soft tyres at the start I thought we were on," he said. 

"Towards the end on the mediums with the slightly heavier rain I really struggled."

Having secured back-to-back third-place finishes, Russell also praised the improvements shown by his team after what was a poor start to the 2022 season.

"Amazing job by the team. Pole position yesterday and a double podium - we're definitely making progress, so really proud of the work we've done," he added.

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead even further with a stellar drive in Hungary to claim victory having started 10th on the grid.

The Red Bull capitalised on more woes for Ferrari to leave Verstappen heading into the break with an 80-point lead, while Mercedes enjoyed a second race in a row with both drivers finishing on the podium.

Ferrari, having started second and third on the grid, had a race to forget with both drivers finishing outside of the podium spots - with Carlos Sainz in fourth and Charles Leclerc coming home sixth.

At the start, pole-sitter George Russell was immediately put under pressure by the Ferraris behind him but maintained his advantage following the first corner, then opening a two-second window following an early virtual safety car after contact between Alex Albon and Lance Stroll.

With soft tyres losing speed, Russell pitted from the lead at the end of lap 16 and Sainz, on the medium, made an overcut attempt one lap later but remained behind the Mercedes.

Verstappen benefited during the first round of pit stops to continue his charge up the grid, taking fourth on lap 21, while Leclerc came out ahead of team-mate Sainz after his stop.

Still in the lead at the start of lap 28, Russell's performance meant Mercedes had led more laps in the race than they had in the entirety of the season prior to this weekend and Russell, though defending aggressively, was overtaken at turn one by Leclerc on lap 31.

Verstappen blinked first in the second round of pit stops and completed an undercut on Russell, then overtaking Leclerc twice, either side of a spin, with Ferrari unable to find the pace on the hard compound as another strategy decision cost the Monegasque, who inevitably had to take a third stop to swap to the softs.

Hamilton's strategy worked much better and saw him stand as the biggest threat to Verstappen's lead heading into the latter stages, overtaking Sainz at the start of lap 63 and then taking team-mate Russell on lap 65.

Late rain threatened to cause drama on the final lap but Verstappen was able to cruise home for a 28th career win - equalling Nigel Mansell's record of the most F1 wins for a single team.

Ferrari, meanwhile, will now be looking over their shoulder after the break with their advantage over Mercedes in the constructors' championship now standing at just 30 points.

Ferrari's frustrating calls

Plenty of scrutiny has been directed towards Ferrari for questionable calls made during the 2022 Formula One season and the Hungarian Grand Prix added further fuel to that particular fire.

Having seen Alpine's own woes on the hard compound, which saw both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso tumble down the field, Ferrari bemusingly still opted to put Leclerc on that tyre.

The poor performance of the compound was shown when Verstappen, who had overtaken Leclerc, spun to lose the position but was still able to chase down his title rival and reclaim the position without too much of a challenge.

Russell's run ends

Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix, Mercedes duo Russell and Hamilton were the only two drivers on the grid to have improved or maintained their starting position in every race this season.

Hamilton, starting seventh and finishing second, was able to maintain that sequence but Russell, on pole position, secured a third-place finish and saw his run of improvement come to an end.

However, that finish sealed back-to-back podium finishes for Russell at Mercedes, while it also marked the second race in a row with both Silver Arrows drivers on the rostrum.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 

2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +7.834

3. George Russell (Mercedes) +12.337

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +14.579

5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +15.688

6. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +16.047

7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +78.300

8. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) + One lap

9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) + One lap

10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) + One lap

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 258

2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 178

3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 173

4. George Russell (Mercedes) 158

5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 156

Constructors

1. Red Bull 431

2. Ferrari 334

3. Mercedes 304

4. Alpine 99

5. McLaren 95

Lewis Hamilton said he has "lost an ally" as he paid tribute to Sebastian Vettel, who will retire at the end of the Formula One season.

Vettel, now racing for Aston Martin, confirmed on Thursday that he would be calling time on his illustrious career.

The German is a four-time world champion, winning all of those titles in consecutive seasons between 2010 and 2013.

That success proceeded Hamilton's dominance of F1, with the Briton winning six of his seven world titles from 2014 onwards.

Two years Vettel's senior, Hamilton is sad to see the 35-year-old call it a day.

"My first feeling is that it is sad he is stopping," Hamilton told reporters ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"The journey I have experienced in this sport, often feeling relatively lonely, Seb has been one of the few people that has made it not feel that way. He stood by me through a lot of things.

"We talk about legends, I don't really like that title but he is one of the greatest people we have seen in this sport and we need more people like him. I am sad because I have lost an ally."

Only Hamilton (103) and F1 great Michael Schumacher (91) have won more races in the format than Vettel (53).

Hamilton also believes Vettel has used his platform for good, saying: "There's no lack of bravery in Sebastian. He has been one of the very, very few drivers in racing history that has stood for much more than himself.

"He's used his voice in things that I've fought for and stood by me, he's taken the knee, he's gone on his own journey and stood on the grid and fought for things that he believed in, and for the greater good.

"I think he's just a really beautiful human being and I'm really grateful to have been here in a time that he was racing.

"Watching his World Championships was impressive. I'm sad to have arrived today and seen the news, but I know whatever he goes and does beyond this is going to be even better."

Hamilton's sentiment was echoed by Fernando Alonso, who competed closely with Vettel during the latter's dominant streak.

The Spaniard said: "Not the news that I want. There were some rumours last year that maybe he stops, but this year it came true.

"An amazing driver, a legend of our sport. I spent so much time and battles with him over my career with him. So I will miss him, and not only as a driver, I think he has very strong values and is a very good human being. I wish him the best and we will miss him."

Lewis Hamilton can empathise with Charles Leclerc's struggles after the Ferrari driver surrendered another race victory from pole position at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Monegasque spun out midway while leading the pack at Circuit Paul Ricard, allowing rival Max Verstappen to notch up another win at his expense.

The Red Bull driver has taken advantage of Leclerc's errors before this term, as he seeks to make it a second consecutive drivers' championship crown, and now sits 63 points ahead of the latter.

Hamilton also capitalised on the Ferrari driver's misfortune to post his best finish of the season after a difficult campaign battling with a below-par Mercedes car since the start of the year.

But the seven-time world champion believes Leclerc will bounce back thanks to Ferrari's impressive form, adding that he understands the struggles his fellow driver is going through.

"It's been great to see the pace of the Ferrari this year," Hamilton stated. "I'm gutted for Charles, who's being doing a great job, as has Carlos [Sainz].

"It's not easy, though, having that pace and that performance and maintaining it. It's a tough job and I feel for the whole team because I know what that can feel like.

"But they're a great team, and they'll continue to keep their heads down."

Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix – the final race before the mid-season hiatus – Hamilton is feeling buoyant following a fourth podium finish in a row.

While he still feels Mercedes will not be able to mount a challenge to upend the latter half of the season between Red Bull and Ferrari, he is brimming with confidence on how their experiences can shape their approach to 2023.

"I know exactly what I want in the car for next year," he added. "Things that fundamentally can't change [this year], because it's too big to change here with a cost cap this year.

"So I'm able to – ahead of time – say these are the things I want in the next year's car.

"Those things are being taken into account and whilst we continue to try and dial this car in, of course bit by bit, as we go into these next weeks, the next couple of months, the full focus will probably be into next year's car."

Max Verstappen's path to a second Formula One drivers' championship appears clear following Ferrari's mishaps in France, with the Red Bull ace looking to extend his lead in Hungary.

Heading into the final race before F1's summer break, Verstappen holds a mammoth 63-point advantage over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the standings – while Red Bull lead their rivals by 82 points in the constructors' championship.

Ferrari's latest setback, which saw Leclerc retire from the lead for the third time this season, brought an end to what had been a positive stint for the Italian manufacturers – who had won back-to-back races before heading to the Circuit Paul Ricard.

While Leclerc has been the leading man for Ferrari this season, his crash in France was the latest mistake from the young driver – and it may now be Carlos Sainz that has the biggest part to play in chasing down Red Bull.

After a difficult start to the season, the Spaniard has found his rhythm with the car and weaved his way through the field in France to secure fifth place, having started 19th on the grid and impressed in qualifying.

Sainz boasts two fastest laps in 2022, both of which have come in the last four races (in Canada and France) – one more than he recorded in his previous 148 outings, and he's now eyeing consecutive fastest laps for the first time in his F1 career.

Ferrari's record in Hungary is also encouraging, with only McLaren (11) winning more races at the venue than Ferrari (7) – who last won at the Hungaroring in 2017. Red Bull, meanwhile, have won twice, in 2010 and 2014.

Red Bull's main strength this season has been straight-line speed, which may not fit with the Hungaroring's lack of straights – the track is comparable to Monaco, with several corners to string together.

It's on those sorts of corners where Ferrari have been the better outfit but, even with a win, they would require some serious reliability issues or incidents from Red Bull to rejuvenate their flagging title hopes.

Hamilton's charge reviving Mercedes

Mercedes' woes this season have been well documented and are not yet over, with the team extremely disappointed by their upgrade package failing to have the desired effect for the French Grand Prix last time out.

However, Lewis Hamilton is at least back at his best after registering four consecutive podium finishes heading into Hungary, while George Russell's appearance alongside his team-mate on the podium was the first time Mercedes have had both drivers in the top three this season.

The Hungaroring is a track Hamilton knows well, having secured eight victories at the venue – including all five of Mercedes' wins.

Now 12 races without a win, Mercedes are in the longest winless stretch of their F1 history, and Hamilton is still awaiting the triumph which would see him break Michael Schumacher's record of consecutive seasons with at least one victory – with both drivers currently on 15.

Ricciardo's moment of truth

Daniel Ricciardo's spell at McLaren has been disappointing for both driver and team but both are committed to each other for the long haul, with the Australian's contract running through 2023.

Speculation of an early termination appears to have cooled, with Ricciardo taking to social media to quash such rumours before issuing a strong message ahead of France – telling Sky Sports he'll deliver a win if McLaren can deliver a car.

That's something the Silverstone-based team are yet to do, however. Ricciardo's experience in France was another disappointing one, having come in ninth and, yet again, finished behind team-mate Lando Norris.

The young Brit is clearly the more comfortable driver, having registered 70 of McLaren's 89 points this season, and Ricciardo needs to start changing the game.

A positive race in Hungary would provide a significant boost ahead of what is a crucial sequence for the Australian after the summer break.

Lewis Hamilton has backed Max Verstappen to ease towards another Formula One world championship after the Red Bull driver extended his advantage with victory in France.

The defending champion came in ahead of Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate George Russell, capitalising on Charles Leclerc's error that saw him crash out while holding the lead in the race.

That marked the third time in 2022 that Leclerc's Ferrari has retired from the lead and leaves the Monegasque driver 63 points adrift with just one race remaining before F1's mid-season break.

Leclerc took responsibility for his latest setback and Hamilton offered his condolences to the 24-year-old by admitting he was "gutted" by his departure at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

Though he's urging Ferrari to keep up the fight, he admitted that he does not see any alternative outcome to Verstappen successfully defending his crown.

"It's been great to see the pace of Ferrari this year. I'm gutted for Charles, who's been doing a great job, as has Carlos [Sainz]," he told reporters.

"It's not easy though, having that pace and that performance and maintaining it.

"It's a tough job and I feel for the whole team because I know what that can feel like. But they're a great team, and they'll continue to keep their heads down.

"[There's] massive gaps, obviously pretty huge so that's pretty smooth sailing in that space [for Verstappen] generally.

"But a lot can still go wrong up ahead so I would just advise them to just continue to push."

Lewis Hamilton has indicated that he intends to extend his Formula One career beyond the end of next season.

The seven-time world champion is under contract with Mercedes until the conclusion of the 2023 campaign.

Hamilton marked the 300th race of his F1 career by finishing second behind Max Verstappen at the French Grand Prix; the Dutchman extending his lead at the top of the Drivers' Championship to 63 points.

While Hamilton's wait for a first race win of 2022 goes on, the 37-year-old made it four successive podium finishes after a slow start to the campaign.

And he revealed his excitement at the ongoing project with Mercedes when asked whether he saw himself racing beyond the expiration of his current deal. 

"That's a lot of races! I firstly just want to be grateful to get to this point," the seven-time world champion said. "But I still feel fresh and still feel like I've got plenty of fuel left in the tank.

"So, I'm really, really proud and enjoying arriving every day, and working with this incredible group of people.

"I'm also enjoying working with the sport more than ever. We've got some great people leading the sport and having great conversations about the direction we're going as a sport, so I'm enjoying it more than ever.

"I would say in that space, of course, I want to get back to winning ways and that's going to take time, but I'm sure we'll sit down at some stage and talk about the future.

"But again, just with our team, I always want to continue to be building. It’s one thing having races, but it's also continuing the work that we do outside and doing more, which I think Mercedes and us can always do more, and we will."

Lewis Hamilton dubbed a second-place finish at the French Grand Prix as a "great result" while revealing he encountered issues with his drinks bottle during the 300th Formula One race of his career.

The seven-time champion leapfrogged Red Bull's Sergio Perez at the start to take third place, then rising to second after Ferrari's Charles Leclerc crashed out while in the lead.

It caps off another weekend of resurgence for Hamilton, who has encountered numerous problems across the 2022 season, with the podium representing his fourth in a row.

"What a great result, considering we've been so far off these guys all weekend," he said on the grid after the race.

"Reliability is one thing that my team has been amazing at, so a huge congratulations to the team back at the factory and the team here, without them we couldn't get this podium, and George [Russell] did an amazing job today as well."

Hamilton may not have had problems with the car, but he did reveal a different sort of issue during one of the hottest races of the season as his drinks bottle was broken.

"I didn't see my weight just now but I imagine [I lost] about three kilos. It's enough, I'm looking forward to downing the rest of this drink!"

Hamilton's stellar drive came on the back of what has been a disappointing build-up for Mercedes, with a new package introduced for the French Grand Prix that did not result in what the team would have expected.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff highlighted that Hamilton has remained positive throughout the variety of challenges presented this season, including the issues in France prior to Sunday's race.

"Sometimes we've been talking about what would happen if we were not winning again, how we could recover, and we had some really difficult times at the beginning of the year," he told Sky Sports.

"In a way, we've all set into the situation that we've been handed and he is absolutely on it, he keeps pushing the team, not just driving the car, he has a positive mindset.

"Even if the day is really grim, like yesterday and we are tenths off, he never stops pushing."

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

Lewis Hamilton says Red Bull and Ferrari "are in a league of their own" as Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen prepare to battle it out once again at the French Grand Prix.

Leclerc came out on top at the Austrian Grand Prix two weeks ago and will start Sunday's race at Circuit Paul Ricard in pole position for the seventh time this season.

The Ferrari driver has momentum on his side, but he still trails Red Bull rival Verstappen by 38 points heading into the 12th race of 2022.

Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez finished third in qualifying after recovering from some flat practice showings, while Mercedes driver Hamilton was a distant fourth.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton is still seeking his first win of the campaign, but that seems unlikely to arrive in his 300th grand prix on the basis of Saturday's qualifying.

"It's not that it is disheartening, but you do a lap and you are told it is 1.7 seconds off and you are like 'what?'" Hamilton said.

"And then you do a really good lap and you are 1.1 seconds off and you are like 'wow'. There is nothing I can do in my power to change that.

"Everyone is working as hard as they can. Each weekend we come with little bits to try and improve, but sometimes that doesn't make a difference and that is difficult.

"The top two teams are in their own league. I came here this weekend hoping we would be within three tenths of them, and we are a second back. 

"If it is anything like this it is going to be a while before we win, but it's not impossible."

 

The driver starting on pole has won the past three French GPs – Hamilton in 2018 and 2019 and Verstappen last year – though not since 1960 has it happened four times in a row.

Leclerc's 16th career pole was achieved in large thanks to a tow from team-mate Carlos Sainz, who will start at the back of the grid after a fourth engine change of the season.

Sainz provided a tow down the straights to help Leclerc edge Verstappen, but the latter does not believe the same tactic would have worked for Red Bull.

"No, because Ferrari gained only two to two-and-a-half tenths with the slipstream, Charles told me," Verstappen said. "It was also very logical that they did it.

"Obviously both me and Sergio Perez want to be in the best position possible. That's why I don't think we're doing that sort of thing. Neither of us had a grid penalty, either.

"It also seems logical to me. We are both still fighting for the title, so it is difficult to explain. It is up to Ferrari if they want to do that, but within our team we haven't talked about it."

Should Verstappen and Perez earn at least 12 points on Sunday, Red Bull will join Ferrari (9,015) and Mercedes (6,535.50) as the third team ever to reach the 6,000 points mark.

Perez has placed in the top two in six of the past seven finished races, two times more than his previous 186, and the Mexican is delighted with his starting position.

"It's been a good recovery. I've been nowhere the whole weekend. To be honest, I've been struggling a lot," he said.

"I think it's probably been my worst weekend up to qualifying, really, and finally we managed to recover well. Now we will try to beat those red cars. They were very strong today."

Lewis Hamilton is confident he will be in the mix for a first win of the season at Sunday's French Grand Prix, claiming Mercedes' struggles will make their next victory all the more satisfying.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton sits sixth in the 2022 drivers' standings, having failed to post a race win since losing the 2021 title to Max Verstappen in contentious circumstances.

The Mercedes star has been in improved form of late, however, recording three successive podiums after a run of seven outings without a top-three finish.

Having been badly affected by issues with the Silver Arrows' W13 car earlier this season, the 37-year-old is hopeful of a landmark success at Le Castellet on Sunday, in what will be his 300th Formula One race.

Asked if he had a realistic chance of victory in France, Hamilton said: "I hope so, that's what we're all working towards.

"I'm working towards getting that win so I do believe at some stage we will be able to compete with these guys, whether it's this weekend or in five races' time. The journey is the important part.

"I think we started off not where we wanted to be. We've made progress, and we've started to hit a patch of consistency. I'm really proud of the process. We've sharpened our tools in other areas, so when we do get back to where we deserve to be, I think we'll appreciate it that much more."

Hamilton has named Fernando Alonso as the toughest opponent of his career to date, as he professed his hope the 40-year-old, who has put together a run of six successive top-10 finishes with Alpine, will continue in Formula One for years to come.

"I think it's difficult to say who has necessarily been the strongest competitor because every time you're with someone, you're in a different place in your life," Hamilton said.

"I remember the task of being alongside Fernando when I was 22. I was so young mentally and, of course, OK in terms of skill, but it's a lot of pressure to go up against a great like Fernando.

"I would say on pure pace, Fernando [is the toughest]. We had some good battles.

"I wish we could have more. Hopefully he will continue to race, so hopefully we'll have more in the future."

Lewis Hamilton will step aside for the first practice session at the French Grand Prix this week to give Nyck de Vries his opportunity for Mercedes.

The Silver Arrows have confirmed that Dutchman De Vries will get his opportunity to get behind the wheel of the W13 at the Circuit Paul Ricard on Friday.

It is a mandatory Formula One ruling that rookie drivers get two practice sessions per season.

Mercedes tweeted on Friday: "This weekend @nyckdevries will be taking the wheel of W13 for FP1.

"Lewis has chosen this weekend to fulfil the first of two young driver sessions required by all teams this season. George [Russell] has selected one later in the year."

Hamilton secured three consecutive third-placed finishes before the mid-season break.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is hopeful the team can make further strides ahead of round 12 in France.

He said: "Third and fourth in Austria was a satisfying result for the whole team, particularly given the position we were in on Friday evening.

"The team worked miracles to have two complete race cars ready for the Sprint and Grand Prix. Twenty-seven points on Sunday were a good reward for that effort.

"We scored three podiums in the first seven races, and we have now achieved four in the last four. I'm pleased with the momentum we are building, and it reflects the mammoth effort of the team.

"Our understanding of the W13 is growing with every lap and it's encouraging to see that reflected in our development and results.

"While we were quicker in Austria, we still weren't quick enough to challenge at the front. We need to keep chasing those final few tenths and bringing new developments to the cars, including this weekend in France.

"Paul Ricard is a very different track and challenge. It has smooth tarmac and a wide range of corner types, along with long straights. The aim will be to make further inroads on the gap to the front and hopefully be back on the podium.

"Nyck is replacing Lewis in first practice this weekend, as part of the allocated sessions for young drivers this year. So, we're looking forward to seeing how he gets on."

Formula One's former race director Michael Masi has left motorsport's world governing body, the FIA.

The Australian was stood down by the organisation from his position in February following his controversial actions during the 2021 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Masi incorrectly applied safety car rules during the closing stages, effectively helping to hand the race win – and with it, the drivers' championship – to Max Verstappen over rival Lewis Hamilton.

The FIA, which put the mistake down to "human error", initially said it would offer Masi an alternative position after the rotating duo of Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich took his place for the 2022 season.

But now it has been announced by the FIA that Masi, who took the race director position following Charlie Whiting's death on the eve of the 2019 season, will move on from the organisation.

"The FIA confirms that Michael Masi has decided to leave the FIA and relocate to Australia to be closer to his family and take on new challenges," read an official statement.

"He oversaw a three-year period as FIA Formula One race director and safety delegate following the sudden passing of Charlie Whiting in 2019, carrying out the numerous functions he was tasked with in a professional and dedicated manner.

"The FIA thanks him for his commitment and wishes him the best for the future."

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