Currently reading: Verstappen wins, just: French F1 Grand Prix talking points
Verstappen bags maximum points as Hamilton finishes second in latest F1 race; championship gap widens in Red Bull driver’s favour
News
3 mins read
21 June 2021

Max Verstappen stretched his lead at the top of the F1 world championship with a tense win at Paul Ricard in France, overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap.

Unlike in Spain earlier in the year, it was Red Bull who played the tactical masterstroke here, opting for a two-stopper and allowing Verstappen, on fresher tyres, to pass Hamilton right at the death.

It means Verstappen now sits 12 points clear at the top of the drivers’ championship, with Red Bull sitting even prettier in the constructors’ table, being 37 points ahead of Mercedes.

Sergio Perez finished third ahead of an increasingly frustrated Valtteri Bottas (whose radio messages are getting as swear-laden as Yuki Tsunoda’s), with McLaren’s Lando Norris having another impressive afternoon in fifth. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top six.

Perez was the key

It was all looking good for Hamilton at the start. Verstappen made a mistake into T2 on the first lap, allowing the Mercedes driver past, from where the Briton could control the pace. And he was looking good, eking out a 1.6sec gap after nine laps.

But tyres were becoming an issue, graining at the front much more than the teams thought they would. As a result, Red Bull switched from what everyone supposed was going to be a one-stopper and brought Verstappen in early on lap 19. Hamilton pitted one lap later, but he emerged behind the Dutchman, and from there, it felt like the race was Red Bull’s to lose.

The key in this tactical battle was Red Bull’s Perez. Unlike at Barcelona, Perez was very much in play, nursing his tyres and running deeper before his first stop. It meant Mercedes became wary of switching Hamilton onto a two-stopper, as the Brit would have to pass both Perez and Verstappen to retake the lead.

Hamilton nearly made it

As it was, Hamilton very nearly scored another famous victory, because thanks to some impressive tyre management after his stop, he managed to keep Verstappen honest. Once the Red Bull driver had come in for his second set of tyres, he caught and passed Bottas easily, but then didn’t gain on Hamilton as quickly as would have been expected. It was only on lap 48 that the gap started to close significantly - and after that, the result looked inevitable.

However, if Bottas had managed to hold up Verstappen, even just for a lap, then it might have given Hamilton that crucial extra breathing space. As it was, Hamilton had to defend four DRS zones. Verstappen needed only two to make his overtake stick.

New wing tests

Advertisement

Read our review

Car review

Mercedes’ first proper electric car hits a competitive mark dynamically and might exceed rivals for comfort and refinement. Big appeal for the eco-conscious and tech-savvy; maybe a touch less for the interested driver

Back to top

After the controversy of Red Bull’s supposedly ‘flexible’ rear wings, this was the GP where tougher tests were introduced: an FIA technical directive doubled the forces applied during ‘push down’ and ‘pull back’ tests. But given the one-three finish Red Bull enjoyed, there was no huge reset. Instead, it’s Mercedes who look to be on the back foot, even if they did get impressively close to pulling off another famous against-the-odds win.

But with two races in the next two weekends, and both at Red Bull’s home track in Austria, the reigning world champions have got some work to do, in double-quick time. The promised epic title race is definitely not underdelivering.

READ MORE

Autocar meets… Max Verstappen

Formula 1 circuit guide 2021

How Robert Kubica returned to racing against the odds

Join the debate

Comments
3
Add a comment…
si73 21 June 2021
I wonder, if Verstappen hadn't made a mistake at the begining, would it have been all over from there? As he certainly seemed to have the pace, I reckon that he would have stretched out a bigger lead than Hamilton achieved to have kept him ahead thought the pit stop phase. That mistake made the race far more enjoyable than I think it otherwise would have been. There's no denying the Redbulls pace, they are much quicker this year.
Norris once again drove a great race, lots of overtakes and great pace. Great to see Riccardo up there as well. Amazing to think that McLaren were around 50 seconds behind Mercedes and Redbull, over minute between Norris and Verstappen.
405line 21 June 2021

I did predict this would be the case when Red bull have Perez and Merc have Bottas, I still think that Lewis will still win it this year, by a few points, but well done to Redbull.

Peter Cavellini 21 June 2021

Might be a better season after all?, at last a team has managed to put a Car and drivers together that can challenge Mercedes, a largely uneventful GP,not many incidents to talk of, it was a surprise that Verstappen managed to get back out on second Tyre change, obviously the strategy worked, call it sandbagging if you must, but it worked, whether the next two races go the way of Redbull isn't all that clear cut, so, so far this season, it's hardly been dull boring F1.