Perez, Bottas, Norris round out top five after hot day at the Paul Ricard Circuit
By Bowen Assman
Max Verstappen won his third race of the season (and extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 12 points) over rival Lewis Hamilton, on a race marked by pit stop strategy.
After starting on pole, Max Verstappen lost the lead after going wide into turn two, enabling Hamilton to take first. However, the day was about pit strategy, with Red Bull deciding to pit both their drivers twice, while Mercedes gambled by coming in only once with Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton. Verstappen eventually caught Hamilton on the penultimate lap, and used his DRS to take the lead for good.
Both teams were struggling throughout with tire wear, as the track got to 35+ degrees.
Verstappen’s second pit stop came on Lap 33, as it seemed that Christian Horner learned his lesson from the Spanish GP earlier this year when Mercedes pitted twice to Red Bull’s one. The Dutchman was absolutely flying now that he was on fresh medium tires, and passed Bottas on Lap 43 before edging closer to Hamilton every subsequent lap, taking two seconds out of the lead per lap. Finally, he passed Hamilton, as the Briton was unable to replicate Bahrain, where he furiously fended off a hotter Verstappen.
“The two-stop pit stop (strategy) paid off,” said Verstappen after the race. “The whole race we were fighting each other. I think it will be like this for the rest of the season.”
“Congratulations to Max, he did a great job,” said Hamilton. “I am happy with the result, unfortunately I lost the position but it was still a great race. We have got to dig deep and find some pace.”
Behind, Bottas started out the gates hot; after having qualified third on Saturday, he held onto his position at the end of the first lap. But it was all in vain with the quicker Sergio Pérez behind him, as the Mexican eventually caught and passed the Finn to give Red Bull their first double podium finish of 2021. Safe to say Bottas was not happy with the Mercedes pit strategy:
The race had no DNFs for the first time this season. The McLaren team had a strong race, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finishing fifth and sixth, moving up from their qualifying positions of eighth and tenth. It helped strengthen the team’s position in the Drivers Championship at third, with 110 points, 16 up on Ferrari.
The Italian team had a poor day in the heat, with Carlos Sainz faltering to 11th after qualifying fifth. Charles Leclerc was forced to pit twice, as he too fell greatly from seventh to 16th. The Monegasque driver also had an encounter with former Ferrari man Kimi Raikkonen on lap 50, the driver he replaced in 2018.
Strong performance by Stroll
In arguably the strongest ride of the day, Canadian Lance Stroll was magnificent, finishing in the points at tenth for the second time in three races. He had to start last on the grid after a dicey qualifying session that saw him unable to complete a lap time. His performance today was indicative of the good performance of Aston Martin’s Mercedes engine, as his teammate Sebastian Vettel took ninth. Nicholas Latifi, the other Canadian in the field, finished 18th.
The Alpines were average, with Fernando Alonso taking eighth and Esteban Ocon a distant 14th.
Yuki Tsunoda was impressive as he finished in 13th after starting last and from the pits after an unscheduled gearbox change, clearly solidifying himself as the strongest rookie this year.
Verstappen claimed an extra point by getting the fastest lap, as his lead is now 12 points on Hamilton for the drivers’ championship.
It is a quick turnaround with race #8 of the calendar taking place next week in Austria, for Red Bull’s ‘home race’ at the Styrian Grand Prix.
See the full French Grand Prix results below: