Lewis Hamilton fell further behind Max Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship after the French Grand Prix, with the Briton finishing second behind the Dutchman at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team gambled on pitting only once on Sunday while Verstappen pitted twice, and the fresher rubber for the Red Bull Racing driver gave him the pace needed to catch Hamilton and pass him for the lead on the penultimate lap.
Hamilton led initially after Verstappen made a mistake heading into turn two on lap one, but opted to pit two laps later than his rival, with the Red Bull driver edging ahead into turn one. Red Bull ten gambled on a second pit stop, which left Mercedes on the back foot and powerless to defend in the closing laps.
Despite losing the win, Hamilton was pleased with the result in France as the team worked through problems that had affected their Friday, although he acknowledges there is work to be done in order to fight back against Red Bull and take the challenge to Verstappen across the upcoming races.
“Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today,” said Hamilton. “The Red Bulls had better straight line speed all weekend but considering that we had such a difficult Friday, I’m really happy with this result.
“Of course, we didn’t win and we had the lead but I had no tyres left at the end so unfortunately we lost the position, but it was still a good race.
“We’ve got to find some pace, that’s for sure. Most of the time we lost today was on the straights, so we’ve got to dig deep, try and figure out where that is, and whether it’s power or drag but overall, we’ve still got a good package.
“We didn’t know how strong the undercut was going to be but what was really surprising was just how we ran out of that front tyre so early on but obviously they had a good strategy and it worked really well for them.”
“Our predictions in terms of tyre life didn’t quite match the reality” – Valtteri Bottas
Team-mate Valtteri Bottas also suffered with his tyres in the closing laps, with the Finn being heard over the radio to heavily criticise the decision to stick to a one-stop strategy rather than pit again.
Bottas had been showing good pace all weekend long, but the closing stages were a nightmare for him as he fell back from team-mate Hamilton and fell under the clutches of Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez, who caught and passed him for the final spot on the podium.
He also did not get the chance of pitting for fresh rubber in the closing laps after officials put Pérez under investigation, and he wanted to try and stay within five seconds of the Mexican so to be in a position to inherit the podium. However, the stewards deemed no action was needed, and Bottas ultimately ended the day fourth.
“I gave it everything I could to try and finish on the podium, we thought with the cooler temperatures the tyres would hold on for longer but they didn’t, our predictions in terms of tyre life didn’t quite match the reality,” said Bottas.
“I was one of the first to stop for the Hard tyre, my front-left tyre wear was quite high and the last stint wasn’t fun at all today, the last 10 laps with the Hard tyre were terrible – I had no front tyres left.
“We didn’t pit for fresh tyres at the end to set the fastest lap because Sergio was under investigation, so we wanted to stay out. A disappointing race, especially because my overall pace this weekend was good but at least I got some points.”