Sooner or later it had to happen. After the hangover in Monaco and pole in Baku, Ferrari returned to battle for third place in the Constructors’ World Championship together with McLaren, Alpine and AlphaTauri in free practice for the French Grand Prix.
The Paul Ricard circuit, made up of corners unsuitable to enhance the qualities of the SF21s, brought the Reds back behind Red Bull and Mercedes in a conspicuous, if not clear, way. The gap that separates Ferrari from the top teams does not seem to be terrible, but it is well present and is calculated in tenths.
Today’s day saw the Ferraris improve considerably between the first and second free practice sessions. During the morning the track presented a very low grip in the areas where the asphalt was redone. This is also an aspect that should not be underestimated.
Then, with the track tires, all the single-seaters improved their performance, including Ferrari. Charles Leclerc got the fifth time, beaten only by Fernando Alonso as regards the drivers fighting for the top of the group center.
Charles’s best time was set in 1’33 “550, 678 thousandths slower than Verstappen, author of the best time of the session and 215 thousandths slower than the Asturian at the wheel of the Alpine.
“Let’s say that the results are more in line than we saw in Baku and we expected it,” said Leclerc at the end of the second free practice session. “In Munich and Baku we had 2 weekends that went much better than expected, here at Paul Ricard we are more in line with our value”.
“In Free Practice 2 we didn’t go badly. We still have a lot of work to do, but we recovered well compared to Free Practice 1. The SF21 gave better sensations and we are happy.”
Do not underestimate the ability of Ferraris to quickly put Soft tires up to temperature and in the right window of use. Today both Leclerc and Sainz set their best times on their third attempt on the same tires, still the softer compounds brought to France by Pirelli.
This means not having exploited the “prime” of the rubber, that is the moment and the best state of the same. Also for this reason, the fifth place signed by the Monegasque is anything but a bad result. Qualifying tomorrow could be a very important part of the weekend for the Prancing Horse.