Race Report: Verstappen beats Hamilton for French GP win

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CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2nd position, Gianpiero Lambiase, Race Engineer, Red Bull Racing, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, and Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 3rd position, on the podium during the French GP at Circuit Paul Ricard on Sunday June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen took the win at the Formula 1 French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit. It wasn’t a forgone conclusion, despite his pole position, because Red Bull hasn’t fared well at Paul Ricard but this year’s Honda engine and the chassis has been a game-changer.

Still…Mercedes seemed to have long-run pace and there were questions about the first race with the new less-bendy rear wings and higher tires pressures leaving some to wonder if Red Bull had the race pace to win.

As it turns out, Max lost the lead at the start but the team did a brilliant job of managing the strategy of not only Max but his teammate, Sergio Perez.

Win

A big win for Red Bull Racing who executed some very good strategy, even rolling the dice with a change to a 2-stopper to take the win. The undercut was very powerful in France and the team used that to leap-frog Lewis for the lead but they kept Perez out and that had Mercedes calculating the permutations to no avail as Max stopped again for newer tires and then hunted down both Mercs to take the lead and win on the penultimate lap. A repayment for the Bahrain GP and Barcelona earlier this year.

A win for Max Verstappen who lost the lead, undercut his way back into the lead but then changed to a 2-stopper and managed to hunt down Lewis for the win on the penultimate lap of the race. He increases his lead in the driver’s championship and it makes you wonder if Red Bull, at this point, are capable of beating Mercedes at all the races.

A win for Sergio Perez who was used to galvanize Mercedes and their strategy situation. The split strategy kept Mercedes a bit in check and Checo drove a terrific race to execute the strategy, maximize the points and gain a podium.

A win for Lando Norris and McLaren for a 5th place result just ahead of his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, for a big points haul agains their closest rival, Ferrari. Dan had looked good all weekend but Lando came charging back on fresher tires in a strategy that was a bit adventurous. He executed perfectly and with Dan, punched Ferrari in the nose this weekend.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A521. French Grand Prix, Sunday 20th June 2021. Paul Ricard, France.

A win for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso who seems to be getting more comfortable in that car each week. Fernando dragged his Alpine to 8th place with his teammate, Esteban Ocon, down in 13th. Much-needed points for the team at their home race.

A win for Pierre Gasly who was in the mix all weekend and finished 7th just behind the McLaren’s. His teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, started from pit lane but the team did a good job with strategy and he drove well to get up to P13.

A win for Aston Martin who looked to be struggling at Paul Ricard this weekend but very long first stints left Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll getting both cars up into the points.

Also a win for Williams driver George Russell who took his difficult car up to 12th.

Fail

A fail for Mercedes who boxed Valtteri Bottas first, instead of Lewis Hamilton, and this left the champ unprotected against the undercut which proved very powerful this weekend. As such, Bottas was calling, early on, for a change to “plan B”, a 2-stopper, but the team ignored the call and one might argue that was to protect Lewis. In the end, Mercedes had no choice but to retain track position despite Red Bull gambling on the 2-stopper and it didn’t pay off.

A fail for Ferrari with Carlos Sainz in 11th and Charles Leclerc down in 16th. Ferrari left a lot of points on the table and McLaren’s points haul did serious damage for the Italian team’s quest to be third in the constructor’s championship.

WTH

What happened to Ferrari’s pace? Did the bendy-wing and/or tire pressure change impact them more than Red Bull? It’s one thing to be track specific but they were way off the pace at Paul Ricard.

I’ll have to go back and look at the data but at the time of writing this, I am not sure what happened to Esteban Ocon. He looked quicker than P14 all weekend long.

Pirelli Key Moments:

  • Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix thanks to an unusual two-stop strategy, going from P Zero Yellow medium to P Zero White hard to medium again. Verstappen was the only frontrunner to stop twice today, taking the lead again just a lap before the chequered flag.
  • Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton claimed the lead after the first corner but when Verstappen made his second stop, he elected to stay out on a one-stop medium-hard strategy: the tactics used by the majority of the field. The only other two-stopper was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, classified 16th.
  • The majority of the drivers, including of course the entire top 10 on the grid, chose to start on the medium tyre. Both Aston Martin drivers as well as both Alfa Romeo drivers, plus Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas driver Nikita Mazepin were the only drivers to start on the hard tyre, with nobody using the soft during the race.
  • With the top eight finishers all having started on the medium tyre, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel was the highest placed driver to run an alternative starting strategy. He ran a 37-lap stint opening stint on the hard tyre, before switching to the medium and eventually finishing ninth ahead of his team mate, on the same run plan.
  • Temperatures were considerably cooler than they had been over the previous couple of days, with rain on Sunday morning that dried out in time for the race but washed the surface clean of residual rubber. While ambient temperatures remained around 27 degrees centigrade, track temperature was down to about 37 degrees: nearly 15 degrees cooler than free practice and qualifying.

French GP Results:

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda53101h27m25.77s1m36.404s226
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes5338+2.904s1m37.41s118
3Sergio PérezRed Bull-Honda535+8.811s1m36.693s115
4Valtteri BottasMercedes530+14.618s1m36.96s112
5Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes530+1m04.032s1m37.425s110
6Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes530+1m15.857s1m38.324s18
7Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda530+1m16.596s1m38.103s16
8Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault530+1m17.695s1m37.646s14
9Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes530+1m19.666s1m37.138s12
10Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes530+1m31.946s1m37.828s11
11Carlos Sainz Jr.Ferrari530+1m39.337s1m38.931s10
12George RussellWilliams-Mercedes520+1 lap1m38.314s10
13Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda520+1 lap1m38.98s10
14Esteban OconAlpine-Renault520+1 lap1m38.645s10
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari520+1 lap1m38.702s10
16Charles LeclercFerrari520+1 lap1m37.681s20
17Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari520+1 lap1m37.992s10
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes520+1 lap1m38.313s10
19Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari520+1 lap1m38.847s10
20Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari520+1 lap1m39.317s10
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Chris R

Unless there’s such a thing as ‘DRS semi-open’, The Sky Sports commentators could help F1 become more energy efficient by saying ‘DRS open’ instead of ‘DRS wide-open’, thus saving that extra bit of electric energy needed to amplify and broadcast that additional word.

Xean Drury

It was a good race on a bad track.