Fresh from beating Verstappen last time out in Austria to revive his F1 title hopes, Leclerc edged the Red Bull driver to the fastest time by just 0.091s on soft tyres to head Friday’s first practice session at Paul Ricard. 

The 2022 title protagonists look set to renew their battle this weekend in France, with reigning world champion Verstappen currently leading the championship by 38 points. 

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Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who will serve a minimum 10-place grid penalty in France for exceeding power unit components, was 0.338s off the pace in third. 

George Russell put his Mercedes fourth, though the Briton was nearly a second down on Leclerc’s benchmark. 

After reporting an early engine problem in his AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly ended FP1 with the fifth-fastest time as he started his home grand prix on a positive note. 

Sergio Perez survived a big spin on his way to finishing sixth in the order for Red Bull, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alex Albon, who popped his Williams inside the top 10. 

Nyck de Vries was ninth-quickest and half a second behind Russell as he replaced Lewis Hamilton in FP1 as part of the requirement for teams to give rookie drivers practice outings this year. 

Hamilton picked this weekend’s race to give FP1 to reigning Formula E champion de Vries, who also took part in a practice session for Williams at the Spanish Grand Prix in May. 

Daniel Ricciardo completed the top 10 for McLaren after reaffirming his commitment to the team ahead of the weekend. 

Alfa Romeo reserve driver Robert Kubica also deputised for Valtteri Bottas during first practice, with the experienced Pole ending the session 19th, ahead of only Nicholas Latifi’s Williams.