French GP: Charles Leclerc pips Max Verstappen to fastest time in Practice One
Charles Leclerc surges to top of timesheet late in opening practice session at Paul Ricard to edge Max Verstappen; watch the French GP all live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend, with Practice Two starting at 4pm
Last Updated: 22/07/22 3:43pm
Charles Leclerc maintained his momentum in the world championship battle to beat title rival Max Verstappen to the fastest time in Practice One at the French Grand Prix.
Leclerc registered a time of 1:33.930 for Ferrari at Le Castellet's Paul Ricard Circuit to outpace Verstappen's Red Bull by less than a tenth of a second, building on the momentum he created by winning in Austria two weeks ago.
Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz, who is facing a grid penalty in Sunday's race after taking a new Control Electronics following his engine failure in Austria, was third.
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Almost a full second back from Leclerc in fourth was George Russell for Mercedes, who were without Lewis Hamilton for the opening session as Nyck de Vries deputised for the seven-time world champion to fulfil the team's young driver testing obligations.
Pierre Gasly took a surprise fifth for AlphaTauri as he impressed at his home race, while the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez was sixth after narrowly avoiding the wall after a dramatic spin at Turn 3.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren, with Alex Albon delivering an encouraging eighth for Williams.
Leclerc's performance offered further encouragement to Ferrari after the Monegasque ended a seven-race winless streak last time out in Austria to reduce Verstappen's world championship lead to 38 points.
However, while Ferrari once more displayed impressive pace, there were reminders of the reliability problems that have plagued the Italian team's season.
Leclerc only just hung on for victory in Austria as a throttle issue troubled him in the closing stages, and he was quickly on team radio on Friday to complain of a throttle-related issue.
There was also confirmation midway through Friday's first session that Sainz would be taking a 10-place grid penalty on Sunday, which could be increased if the Spaniard opts to replace further engine parts.
Red Bull were not without issues either, as Verstappen required tape on the body of his car in the closing stages, following a close inspection from the team's chief technical officer Adrian Newey.
There was some cause for optimism for Verstappen as it was only a poor - and clearly improvable - final sector that saw him beaten by Leclerc.
Wolff: Merc performance 'underwhelming'
Expectations had been high for Mercedes coming into Friday, with the smooth nature and layout of the Paul Ricard Circuit expected to suit the Silver Arrows, who have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks.
However, with Hamilton watching from the garage, Russell could only manage a time just short of a second slower than Leclerc, while De Vries was a further half-second back in ninth.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 immediately after the session, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff admitted he had been disappointed by the car's lack of pace.
"(It was) not where we want to be," Wolff said. "We're trying lots of parts but we're just lacking pace at the moment in the free practice session.
"We have a few aerodynamic modifications on the floor, on the side edges - little things that should make it better.
"It's just early days but the performance in FP1 was a bit underwhelming. We don't seem to extract enough out of it, so we're going to do some compares and see what it gives us in the afternoon."
Hamilton will return to his car for Practice Two, which is live on Sky Sports F1 at 4pm.