Max Verstappen has won a very exciting Grand Prix of France. The Dutchman only managed to pass his great rival Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap, but took his third victory of the year at the Circuit Paul Ricard. Verstappen is therefore again a firmer leader in the world championship. Hamilton and Sergio Pérez were on the podium in second and third.
After two races on very atypical street circuits, the F1 circus was back on a ‘normal’, permanent track this weekend. The seventh race of the season brought the drivers to the Circuit Paul Ricard, which hosted the French Grand Prix for the seventeenth time. It was the third time that the track at Le Castellet was allowed to hold a race in the modern F1 era: in the previous editions of 2018 and 2019 Lewis Hamilton was the winner each time.
Hamilton and his Mercedes team were also the favorites for victory in France beforehand. Paul Ricard should suit their black machine better than the Monaco and Baku tracks, it was said. But that was not counting Max Verstappen.
The Red Bull driver showed all his speed in the practice sessions and continued that trend with his second pole position of the year on Saturday. The Mercedes’ of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were second and third at the start, Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez started fourth.
How did the start go?
Not as expected for Max Verstappen. The Dutchman with Limburg roots did get away well and cut into the first corner as leader, but Verstappen then lost control of his Red Bull and ended up just outside the track. As a result, he had to leave the first place to Hamilton. Verstappen was second behind the Briton: Bottas and Pérez followed.
How did the victory come about?
Through tactics. In the first set of pit stops, Hamilton lost the lead to Verstappen after the latter came in a lap earlier. During that one astonishing lap, Verstappen made up for so much time that he could just squeeze past Hamilton when he came out of the pit lane.
In the following laps Hamilton and Bottas put the pressure on the Dutchman, but Verstappen did not bow. All three drivers did complain about the condition of their tires, which raised the question whether one of them would dare to make a second pit stop.
Verstappen and Red Bull took the strategic risk in lap 32 of 53. The Dutchman got a set of medium tires to last until the end of the race and fell back to fourth place. Hamilton, Bottas and Pérez – who had made his only pit stop a lot later – chose to stick to one tire change.
In the end, Red Bull’s tactical choices turned out to be the right ones. Verstappen was passed by team mate Pérez and also squeezed past Bottas nine laps before the end. In the absolute final phase, Verstappen then approached less than a second from his major competitor Hamilton. In the penultimate lap, Verstappen passed and secured his third win of the year.
It was a double celebration for Red Bull, because thanks to the good tactics Pérez also ended up on the podium. The Mexican outwitted Bottas in the final phase and finished third behind Verstappen and Hamilton.
Behind the top four McLaren had a strong afternoon. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo only started eighth and tenth, but crossed the finish line in fifth and sixth. Home driver Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) and Fernando Alonso (driver with the French Alpine) gave the French fans something to cheer for with places seven and eight. The Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll completed the top ten.
Who distinguished himself?
Max Verstappen on Red Bull were obviously the big winners of the day. Red Bull aimed exactly right with the strategy for both drivers and was rewarded with a first and third place for Verstappen and Pérez. Verstappen is again a firmer leader in the World Championship for drivers, Red Bull also ends up in the World Championship for teams.
Behind the unapproachable Red Bulls and Mercedes’ knew McLarena blessed day. After a difficult start to the season, in which he was outclassed by stable mate Lando Norris, we finally got a glimpse of the Daniel Ricciardo that we have seen at work in recent years. The Australian started tenth and crossed the line in sixth after an excellent start and race. He finished again behind his very strong teammate Lando Norris, but McLaren can be very satisfied with places five and six.
Just behind the two McLarens made Pierre Gasly another great impression during his home race. His sixth place in qualifying was already impressive, but like the rest of midfield, he had no answer to the pace of the McLarens on Sunday. Seventh was the maximum achievable and for the all in all modest AlphaTauri that is again an excellent result.
Who didn’t have their day?
After the fourth race of the year in Spain, Lewis Hamilton on Mercedes the momentum firmly in their hands, but since then the world champions have been sitting in the corner where the blows fall. After the disastrous races in Monaco and Baku, second and fourth is obviously not too bad, but Mercedes was tactically trumped in France. And neither pilots will like that. Valtteri Bottas made it very clear during the race that he is frustrated that the team ignored his call for a second pit stop.
In front of Ferrari it was a day to soon forget. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc were allowed to start fifth and seventh in Le Castellet, but after the early pit stops the pace of both drivers dropped completely. The result: eleventh and sixteenth. After strong races in Monaco and Baku, the Scuderia again with both feet on the ground.
Esteban Ocon When he started his home race, he was allowed to celebrate that he had signed a new contract with Alpine, but on Sunday the Frenchman was not involved. Ocon started eleventh, but was never able to make a fist in the race and eventually finished only fourteenth. Teammate Fernando Alonso did an excellent job with the same material: he finished eighth. So next week should be better for Ocon.
How high was the spectacle value?
As with the previous two editions of this Grand Prix, there wasn’t too much going on on the track, but the tactical joust between Red Bull and Mercedes turned out to be by far the best Grand Prix in France since the race returned to the race track in 2018. calendar. Only in the absolute final phase was the winner crowned: more of that please!
What do we remember from this race?
That Red Bull is hitting Mercedes for the third race in a row. On a track where the world champions were the favorites beforehand, Verstappen and Red Bull took the victory after a tactical masterpiece.
Verstappen is therefore again stronger World Cup leader: he now has 12 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull also extends its lead in the World Cup for teams to 37 points. Work to be done for the world champions, that much is clear. A new opportunity will immediately follow next Sunday: then Mercedes can try to beat Red Bull on their home circuit during the Styrian GP.
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