Formula 1

Max Verstappen leaves it late at Paul Ricard to Extend Championship Advantage

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Credit: Rudy Carezzevoli/ Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

After a washout of rain this morning and overnight, and with all the rubber each car has laid down at each session this weekend being washed away by that rain, this was sure to be a wild race at the the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France. In the end Max Verstappen made a big statement with a major overtake late in the race to hold onto the lead in the 2021 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship.

The race started with an even getaway for the top three. Carlos Sainz Jr. had a superior start to Sergio Pérez but was not able to seal the position. Into turn two Verstappen locked up and went wide seemingly for no reason as he was not under pressure from anyone behind, and in doing so, he gifted Lewis Hamilton the lead.

A lap later Hamilton almost powerslided round Turn Five and called into his team to check his back tyres as he could not find any grip. Further down the field, Daniel Ricciardo had a fantastic start, getting ahead of of his team-mate Lando Norris, and Sebastian Vettel made a beautiful move on Esteban Ocon for eleventh place. Nikita Mazepin nearly took out his Uralkali Haas F1 Team team-mate Mick Schumacher on Lap Five and Gasly began to complain about his car balance, calling it “a disaster”.

On Lap eight, Hamilton began to complain about his tyres, stating that they were getting hot, reporting front tyre graining, and believing that the tyres would not last as long as Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team expected them to. It seems Hamilton was correct as Mercedes announced to their Pit Crew that they were going to be minus two laps to their planned strategy.

Ricciardo finally found his way past the Alpine F1 Team car of Fernando Alonso into turn eight, and just three turns later, his team-mate Lando Norris found his way through too. Just a few laps later, Daniel then found his way past Charles Leclerc in the Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow, who a short time later decided to be the first driver into the pits.

The McLaren F1 Team, Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team and Red Bull Racing seemed to be managing their tyres much better than everyone else on the grid by this stage of the Race, as the only teams that were not struggling with graining on their tyres. Ricciado pitted to get on to the Hard Tyre before Gasly ahead so that he could undercut the Frenchman. He eventually managed to undercut both Gasly and Sainz.

The leader pitted on Lap nineteen, coming in to cover off from the undercut from his team-mate and Verstappen, but again Mercedes have miscalculated their strategy! Verstappen found his way past Hamilton into Turn One after a fantastic outlap. By Lap twenty-one, Pérez had not pitted and was in the lead from Verstappen in second, Hamilton third and Bottas fourth. The Mexican pitted on Lap twenty-four.

If you were just focusing on the race at the front of the grid, you would be missing out on all the fun that’s happening in the midfield as the McLarens, Ferraris and the Alpha Tauri of Gasly which has seen a mixture of overtakes throughout the entire race. By Lap thirty-two, McLaren had come out on top of that battle in seventh place behind the Aston Martins that were still yet to pit.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull decided to commit to a two-stop race! He’s the first car to do so and should the Mercedes cars have decided to do the same, both Red Bulls would have come out in front again. No immediate decision was made by Mercedes to pit, and with Verstappen lapping over a second quicker per lap than Hamilton, Red Bull put the Constructors Champions into a real conundrum.

Ten Laps to go and Verstappen has caught up to Bottas. Bottas Goes wide into Turn Eight focusing too hard on the approaching Dutchman behind meaning even without the help of DRS on the next straight, Max was able to get through into second place.

A very angry Bottas over the radio berated his team for not committing to a two stop race, something he stated they should do very early on. Bottas has a point, as after losing the position, Pérez closed up tight to him making it almost inevitable that he would lose his podium place, which he does on Lap 49. After what turned into an easy overtake, Verstappen now sets after Lewis.

Four Laps remaining and Verstappen has caught up to Hamilton. Max has a major pace advantage and is in DRS range by Lap fifty-two, where he so so easily overtakes Hamilton. After fifty-three thrilling Laps at a track where things aren’t typically so thrilling, Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix, winning Red Bull three straight races for the first time in the Turbo Hybrid era.

Another horriffic day for Mercedes strategy-wise, and the reigning champions will need to have a serious look at themselves with the next two races at Spielberg in Austria, a track where they historically have not been at their strongest, These next two races will be a serious opportunity for Red Bull and Max Verstappen to build up a big lead in the Championship, and that pass with just a lap and a half to go might end up being the turning-point of this season.

Norris’ great start to the season continued with a superb drive to fifth, while team-mate Ricciardo equalled his best result of the season in sixth, although only just as he was followed home by Gasly, Alonso and Vettel. Lance Stroll completed the points scorers, running very late before making his one and only stop and claiming a top ten finish despite having started nineteenth on the grid.

Ferrari’s promise turned into a nightmare as tyre struggles saw both Sainz and Leclerc drop down the order like a stone. Sainz lost out on points in eleventh, while Leclerc had an even worse day, being the only driver other than Verstappen to pit twice. He was eventually classified a lowly sixteenth.

George Russell had a quietly impressive run for Williams Racing, with the Briton claiming an excellent twelfth at the chequered flag, while Yuki Tsunoda took his AlphaTauri from the pit lane to thirteenth. Esteban Ocon‘s home race was not one for him to remember too fondly as he trailed home in fourteenth in the second Alpine.

It was also a disappointing day for Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN, who were hoping to score points for a third consecutive race. However, it was not to be, as Antonio Giovinazzi could only finish fifteenth and Kimi Räikkönen seventeenth. All twenty drivers finished, with Nicholas Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin bringing up the rear.

Verstappen’s win keeps him top of the Drivers’ Championship heading into next weekend’s first race of two at the Red Bull Ring, while Red Bull themselves extend their advantage at the top of the Constructors’ Championship. But it is still very early in the season, but France showed Verstappen versus Hamilton is likely to be a battle for the ages.

Pos#DriverNat.TeamLapsTime/GapPoints
133Max VerstappenNEDRed Bull Racing Honda531:27:25.77026*
244Lewis HamiltonGBRMercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team53+2.904s18
311Sergio PérezMEXRed Bull Racing Honda53+8.811s15
477Valtteri BottasFINMercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team53+14.618s12
54Lando NorrisGBRMcLaren F1 Team53+64.032s10
63Daniel RicciardoAUSMcLaren F1 Team53+75.857s8
710Pierre GaslyFRAScuderia AlphaTauri Honda53+76.596s6
814Fernando AlonsoESPAlpine F1 Team53+77.695s4
95Sebastian VettelGERAston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team53+79.666s2
1018Lance StrollCANAston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team53+91.946s1
1155Carlos Sainz Jr.ESPScuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow53+99.337s0
1263George RussellGBRWilliams F1 Team53+1 lap0
1322Yuki TsunodaJAPScuderia AlphaTauri Honda53+1 lap0
1431Esteban OconFRAAlpine F1 Team53+1 lap0
1599Antonio GiovinazziITAAlfa Romeo Racing ORLEN53+1 lap0
1616Charles LeclercMONScuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow53+1 lap0
177Kimi RäikkönenFINAlfa Romeo Racing ORLEN53+1 lap0
186Nicolas LatifiCANWilliams F1 Team53+1 lap0
1947Mick SchumacherGERUralkali Haas F1 Team53+1 lap0
209Nikita MazepinRUSUralkali Haas F1 Team53+1 lap0
Final Results
*Denotes Extra Point for Fastest Lap

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About author
Michael is a young writer from Drogheda in Ireland. He has watched Formula 1 since 2010 and fell in love with Formula 1 after the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011. He previously hosted a little known podcast called "The Commentary Box" for 4 years on Belfield FM. He is a newcomer to sports writing and cut his teeth in with Political Opinion pieces in his college newspaper. He won the 2021 SPARC Journalism Award for Best Political Piece and hopes to build on his achievements over time.
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