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French GP: Charles Leclerc's edge against Max Verstappen and why Mercedes are set to challenge

Can Ferrari and Charles Leclerc build on title momentum? Watch French Grand Prix this weekend, with all sessions live on Sky Sports F1; Full schedule at bottom of article - qualifying on Saturday at 3pm, race on Sunday at 2pm

Image: Ferrari's Charles Leclerc (left) finished ahead of Max Verstappen (right) and Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian GP

Ferrari are confident they have wrestled back momentum against Red Bull as the F1 2022 season speeds onto the French Grand Prix, where Mercedes could also find themselves back in contention at the front.

Ferrari and Red Bull - and their star drivers Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen - have been the title protagonists so far this year and while Verstappen has built a solid points lead, Leclerc ended a seven-race drought to win last time out in Austria and re-energise his challenge.

Austria was also encouraging for the chasing team and driver because of the turnaround in pace, with Ferrari seemingly finally matching Red Bull's straight-line speed while also maintaining their edge in the corners.

That has raised the stakes for this weekend's French GP from Le Castellet, with all sessions live on Sky Sports F1 and the race on Sunday at 2pm.

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Charles Leclerc came out on top after another dramatic battle with his title rival Max Verstappen in Austria.

"We had a disadvantage compared to the Red Bull, no doubt, in terms of straight line speed, especially in DRS zones," explained Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto on his team's improvement.

"We worked a lot on it. We introduced a new rear wing, only on one car to start [for Leclerc in Canada] and then on both cars since the UK. And with that new rear wing, I think we simply reduced the gap.

"We have closed the gap we had in terms of speed. I think they still have got a slight advantage, but very little or negligible."

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Indeed, in Austria, Leclerc easily overtook Verstappen three times in the race - marking the first time this season the Dutchman had been passed and beaten on a Sunday - while the Ferrari car was also kinder on tyres.

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Charles Leclerc crosses the line first to win the Austrian GP, his first win not starting from pole!

"In the power limited [corners], we are very close," added Binotto. "Then it's only about the grip limited corners where we can make the difference."

At a track with long straights and high-speed corners, the next installment in this title battle promises to be another epic.

Why Mercedes could rejoin the fight this weekend

There is also every chance it is a three-team battle at the front rather than two - with Mercedes expected to be competitive again this weekend.

Although Mercedes have struggled with bouncing and outright pace this season, they have enjoyed their best weekends at smooth circuits similar to Paul Ricard. At Silverstone for the British GP, the track layout as well as vital upgrades saw Mercedes fight for the win for the first time in 2022.

The reigning eight-time world champions struggled somewhat in Austria - but still were in the battle for pole and scored big points on the Sunday - and have always been quick at the French GP, a race that has long been touted as an opportunity for Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

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Lewis Hamilton was proud of the team's efforts after securing a third-place finish following a difficult start to the weekend in Austria.

"It's a smooth circuit, a little like Silverstone, fast corners and on paper at least it looks like we should have good performance there," team boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1.

A title challenge may well be a bridge too far given their deficit, but can Mercedes compete for their first win of the season? Will we have a three-team, six-driver fight at the French GP?

Find out all the answers this weekend, live on Sky Sports.

Sky Sports F1's live French GP schedule

Thursday, July 21
2pm: Drivers' Press Conference

Friday, July 22
10.35am: F2 Practice
12.30pm: French GP Practice One (session starts 1pm)
3.45pm: French GP Practice Two (session starts 4pm)
5.25pm: F2 Qualifying
6.10pm: W Series Qualifying
7pm: The F1 Show

Saturday, July 23
11.45am: French GP Practice Three (session starts 12pm)
1.30pm: W Series Race
2.35pm: French GP Qualifying Build-up
3pm: French Grand Prix Qualifying
4.55pm: F2 Sprint Race
6pm: Ted's Qualifying Notebook

Sunday, July 24
8.30am: F2 Feature Race
12.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: French GP Build-up
2pm: The French Grand Prix
4pm: Chequered Flag: French GP Reaction
5pm: Ted's Notebook
5.30pm: French GP Highlights

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