A busy pit lane saw double-stack pit stops and cars everywhere as the teams rushed to swap tyres and take advantage of the slowdown. In the chaos, Ferrari let their remaining driver out into the path of Alexander Albon, forcing the Williams to slam on the brakes to avoid crashing. Sainz, who had jumped up to P8 from his back row, would receive a five-second penalty for his team's mistake, making his already tricky day even more challenging.
Although Sainz had the penalty hanging over him, the speed on his Medium tyres made him the fastest man on track. He passed most of the midfield, who were now using the Hard Pirelli compound, with a flurry of overtakes and soon caught up to the front four. Verstappen and Hamilton had sprinted ahead, but Perez and Russell looked vulnerable to the fast Ferrari.
Russell was the first for Sainz to tackle. A pass on the outside of the flowing Signes right-hander netted the Spaniard P4, and he soon closed onto the back of Perez – and a possible podium place. However, because Perez and Russell were on the hard tyres while Sainz's Mediums could start degrading, Ferrari began preparing to pit their Spaniard. Nevertheless, Sainz had attacked hard in the final sector, forcing Perez to go off the racing line. Sainz carried phenomenal speed around the outside of the penultimate corner to give him the inside line on the final turn, and he was through to third.
There was no rest for Perez, either, who now had Russell trying to pass. The two almost came to blows at the Nord chicane; Russell's divebomb forced Perez to use the escape road to avoid contact, and he kept ahead for now. The battle between the two would soon again become the fight for third, too, as a puzzling strategy call from Ferrari had them call Sainz into the pits to swap his tyres, despite overtaking into P3 and edging forwards. He emerged P9 and would have to pass the midfield again to eventually finish a relatively disappointing P5.
Sainz's loss would prove to be a silverware gain for either Perez or Russell, as the two spent the remainder of the race nose-to-tail and wheel-to-wheel fighting for P3. The critical hit for Russell would come thanks to a Virtual Safety Car after Guanyu Zhou's Alfa Romeo pulled to the side of the track. When the race returned to green flag conditions, Russell caught out Perez's slow reactions to put his foot down and steal a third-place finish with three laps remaining.
After Leclerc's retirement, you'd be forgiven for forgetting Verstappen was still in the race with his lonely run in first place. He crossed the line 10-seconds ahead of Hamilton, who took Mercedes' first P2 finish of 2022. Russell made it a double podium for the Silver Arrows after his cunning racing. F1 will return this weekend, where Ferrari will hope to fire back, but it again looks like Verstappen's championship to lose.