In the second one-hour session of the day run in sweltering, cloudless conditions at the Paul Ricard circuit, Alfa Romeo duo Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu led the pack out.
Bottas duly set the first place benchmark at 1m36.887s, with all the early running conducted on the medium compound tyres.
Zhou, Mick Schumacher and Esteban Ocon all set quicker times on their first FP2 fliers, with Fernando Alonso ending the opening five minutes on top thanks to a 1m35.531s on the yellow-walled rubber.
Just over five minutes later, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen surged ahead on a 1m35.386s, before he was quickly deposed by George Russell’s 1m34.810s.
The season’s big hitters – Ferrari and Red Bull – had yet to leave the pits at this stage, before Leclerc emerged just before the 15-minute mark and on his first flier moved to the head of the times with a 1m34.182s, which immediately put him 0.6s clear of the pack.
Verstappen came out a few minutes after Leclerc and, as he did in FP1 and has done in many practices so far in 2022, immediately took the top spot, setting a 1m34.172s having done two warm-up laps on his mediums.
That topped the times at the end of the session’s first 20 minutes, at which point Sainz, who had missed FP2’s first third as Ferrari changed his car’s floor, headed out straight on the soft tyres.
The Spaniard took the red-walled rubber to purple sectors in all three segments and took first place with a 1m33.322s, an improvement of 0.850s over Verstappen’s best effort on the mediums.
A few minutes later, Leclerc came back out and was now running the softs, which he used to jump ahead of Sainz on a 1m33.136s as he edged out his teammate in sectors one and three, while pretty matching him in the middle third to run 0.186s clear.
Sainz had pitted after his first softs flier and after Ferrari had made a few adjustments he returned to action on the same set of C2 softs.
Now running just past the session’s halfway point, Sainz recorded significant gains on Leclerc’s lap in all three sectors to blast back to the top spot with a 1m32.527s – getting a nice tow from Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri as he ran down the pit straight to close out his lap.
By this stage, Verstappen had come out again to run the softs for the first time, but encountering understeer through the technical section at the end of the first sector meant he lapped well off Ferrari’s leading pace.
Verstappen started off 0.247s adrift of Sainz having been wrestling his RB18 through Turns 3 and 4, but then shipped another quarter of a second to end up 0.550s behind on a 1m33.077s.
Running behind Verstappen, Leclerc had, like Sainz previously, also pitted before heading out for a second run on the softs.
Here he gained 0.1s on Sainz’s best time in sector one before losing time through the rest of the lap – albeit with personal best times – to end up 0.101s behind.
At this stage with just over 20 minutes to go, Lewis Hamilton slotted into fourth with his qualifying simulation effort on the softs – the seven time world champion making his first on-track appearance at this event after giving up his W13 to Nyck de Vries in FP1.
But Hamilton was shuffled back to fifth by teammate George Russell a few minutes later, with the Mercedes drivers finishing 0.764s and 0.990s behind Sainz respectively.
Lando Norris took sixth ahead of the lead home runner, Gasly, with Magnussen eighth and Daniel Ricciardo ninth in the second McLaren.
Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 ahead of Alonso and Bottas.
Several drivers had off-track moments, with Schumacher’s the wildest in the early stages when the Haas driver lost the rear of his car on turn-in for Le Beausset and span off across the large run-off area before stopping just short of the barriers, which meant he was able to retreat to the pits.
Russell ran heavily over the kerbs at the exit of Le Beausset a few moments later, but unlike Verstappen at the same spot in FP1 he quickly jinked left to try and avoid damaging his floor.
Magnussen later ran wide on the exit of the second corner and was likewise concerned the kerbs had damaged his car, while Russell also had to catch a late snap through the Turns 3/4 chicane and shot through the runoff claiming he could not “get to the bollard” far to the left in the runoff as required by the race director’s event requirements.