Verstappen hands Red Bull redemption in French GP
By Mat Coch
Monday 21st June, 2021 - 12:49am
Max Verstappen has raced his way to victory in the Formula 1 French Grand Prix after recovering from a mid-race strategy change.
Leading the race, Red Bull hauled the pole sitter in for a second stop, handing track position to Hamilton and Mercedes to trigger a nail-biting crescendo to proceedings.
It was a strategy reminiscent of that employed by Mercedes to steal victory away at the Spanish Grand Prix, offering a degree of redemption for the Milton Keynes squad.
Indeed, Mercedes’ pocket was also picked for the final podium position, as Valtteri Bottas slipped behind Sergio Perez in the latter stages to hand Red Bull first and third.
An even start saw Verstappen lead the field into the first corner, only for a slide to send him off the road and open the door for Hamilton at Turn 2.
At the end of the opening lap, the Mercedes driver held a comfortable advantage over Verstappen, with Bottas third and Perez fourth.
Lando Norris had a poor opening tour, falling outside of the top 10 after starting from eighth.
The race quickly settled into a stable pattern, with little in the way of on-track battles save Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda moving their way forward from the rear of the grid and pit lane respectively.
Battling over eighth, Daniel Ricciardo found himself tucked up behind Fernando Alonso after six laps.
The Australian was within DRS range, but invariably too far back to make a move on the Alpine driver ahead.
That was until Lap 11, when Ricciardo moved by at the Mistral Chicane, diving up the inside and seizing the initiative and eighth place.
Two corners later, Norris mugged Alonso at De Beausset with an opportunistic move into the long right-hander.
The Spaniard quickly slipped further backwards, succumbing to Sebastian Vettel on Lap 13 at the chicane in the middle of the back straight.
Having cleared Alonso, Ricciardo quickly caught and despatched Charles Leclerc to take seventh.
Ferrari hauled its driver into the lane almost immediately, switching from the medium to hard compound tyres.
On Lap 17, Ricciardo stopped after receiving the call to “box to overtake [Pierre] Gasly.”
Next time around, Bottas received service in 2.5s to rejoin in fourth on the road behind Perez.
Sainz and Gasly stopped too, the pair losing out to Ricciardo who took advantage courtesy of the undercut.
Second placed Verstappen pitted on Lap 18 to cover off the threat offered by Bottas, the Red Bull driver maintaining his position ahead of the Finn on track.
That prompted Hamilton to take to the lane a lap later, the Mercedes driver ceding the lead to Perez who was the last of the front runners yet to pit.
The Mercedes driver then lost out to Verstappen as he rejoined the race, the Dutchman sweeping by on the run to the first corner.
A tense couple of laps followed as Hamilton found himself within DRS range of the effective race leader, but never close enough to make a move.
Perez finally stopped on Lap 24, handing the running back to Verstappen, Hamilton, and Bottas as he rejoined fourth.
Norris stopped on the same lap, leaving the McLaren driver with tyres nine laps fresher than his team-mate’s, who was running three places up the road as a result of the differing strategies.
Ricciardo’s march forward continued, quickly putting moves on Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi, and Leclerc to claim seventh place after 28 laps.
It was an effective fifth as the lead McLaren found himself trailing the two Aston Martins, neither of whom had pitted after starting the race on the hard compound tyres.
Norris was similarly rapid in his progress as he rose to ninth on Lap 29, battling his way through on Gasly before finding Leclerc easy prey.
Sainz received similar treatment from the young Brit as McLaren found its drivers seventh and eighth on track with its two cars ahead of both Ferraris.
On Lap 32, Verstappen took to the pits as he switched from a one-stop to two-stop strategy.
It followed a series of radio exchanges suggesting the tyres would not last the distance for the pole sitter.
That left Hamilton leading from Bottas and Perez, the latter on much fresher tyres than the leading duo.
On Lap 33, Norris swept by Ricciardo under braking for the Mistral Chicane, a move showing all the hallmarks of a pit wall instruction.
Mercedes did not react immediately to Red Bull’s strategy change, Verstappen in fourth trailing the leader by 18s with 19 laps to run.
The Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 34, nearly two seconds faster than the race leader managed on the same tour.
A lap later, Perez waved Verstappen through at De Beausset, his deficit to Hamilton having reduced to 14.2s.
Mercedes looked set to run the distance, using Bottas as a rear gunner to protect the seven-time world champion.
Having not reacted immediately to Verstappen, it’s hands were tied with insufficient time to make up the ground should it stop, not to mention having to deal with the one-stopping Perez who’d have also been in the mix.
Indeed, it was Perez who likely swayed Mercedes’ decision not to pit Hamilton a second time.
With 15 laps remaining, the gap from first to third was 8.9s, with just 7.2s between second-placed Bottas and Verstappen.
Complicating matters for both teams were radio issues to their leading drivers, the Red Bull pit wall unable to understand its world championship leader.
Ten laps from the end, Verstappen had closed to within DRS range of Bottas, the gap to Hamilton just 5.2s.
A mistake from the Finn at the Mistral Chicane allowed Verstappen to steal the place.
Bottas sent it too deep into the left-hander, leaving him off line and slow for the right-hander onto the second part of the back straight.
It’s there that Verstappen drew alongside, scything his way through at Signes.
The gap between the front two stood at 4.7s as they started Lap 46, the Red Bull’s electric pace having been slightly blunted.
Bottas’ day got worse as he fell into the clutches of Perez in the battle for third.
In the car, the 31-year-old was fuming, having told the team a one-stop strategy was not the way to go earlier in proceedings.
With five laps to run, the gap between first and second was 3.3s after Hamilton ran off the road to drop a second to his rival.
Perez stole third from Bottas on Lap 49, using the slipstream on the run to Signes to ease by the Mercedes.
Up ahead, just 2.5s split their respective team leaders with four laps to run, reducing to 1.6s a lap later.
By the end of Lap 51, the Red Bull driver was within DRS range with just 0.7s between them as they began the next lap.
Just half a lap later, Verstappen was through, using the slipstream and DRS to reclaim the lead of the race.
He quickly checked out, pulling more than a second clear of Hamilton to ease his way to victory.
It was Red Bull’s third win on the trot, the first time since 2013 it has achieved the feat, allowing Verstappen to extend his championship advantage to 12 points.
Perez sealed third from Bottas followed by Norris, Ricciardo, Gasly, Alonso, Vettel, and Stroll in the top 10.
In the constructors’ championship, Red Bull now holds a 37 point advantage over Mercedes while McLaren has regained third over Ferrari.
Formula 1 now heads immediate to the Red Bull Racing for the Styrian Grand Prix, practice for which begins on Friday.
Results: Formula 1 French Grand Prix
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||53|
|3||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||+8.811s|
|7||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+76.596s|
|9||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+79.666s|
|10||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+91.946s|
|12||63||George Russell||Williams||+1 lap|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+1 lap|
|14||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+1 lap|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|16||16||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+1 lap|
|17||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1 lap|
|18||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams||+1 lap|
|19||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas||+1 lap|
|20||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas||+1 lap|
|1||Red Bull Racing||215|