Red Bull’s superior strategy paid off as they pipped out the favorites Mercedes to take their third win on the trot.
A thrilling French Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen put in a tremendous drive to make a two-stop strategy work, take his third win of the season and increase his lead in the drivers’ championship to 12 points. The race, though, started off in the worst possible way for the Dutchman as he got caught up by the wind in the very first lap at turn two, went wide and gifted the lead to his championship rival Lewis Hamilton. Further down the grid, Alpine driver Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel made up places by the second lap as Vettel went P11 starting P12 and Alonso crept up a place to P8. Hamilton out in front tried to build a healthy lead to Verstappen, and by lap 13, he was almost two and a half seconds in front of the Dutchman. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a super start, with the Australian putting in some of his trademark overtakes on two-time world champion Fernando Alonso to take P8 from the Alpine driver.
Verstappen made his first pit stop on lap 19, and many thought that would be his only stop since a one-stop was the ideal strategy for the race. The undercut worked perfectly for Red Bull as, Hamilton who pitted a lap later, came out in third behind Verstappen. With Verstappen’s teammate and race leader Pérez pitting on lap 24, Verstappen went about trying to build a gap between himself and Hamilton but the Brit kept close behind him, right on his tail, within DRS range. Red Bull surprised everyone at Paul Ricard, on lap 32, when they called in Verstappen for a second stop, with 21 laps to go. The Dutchman emerged fourth, 18 seconds behind Hamilton who was in the lead now. Red Bull’s strategy caught out their title rivals and seemed to have made up for Max’s error on lap 1 as the following few laps saw Verstappen, on the mediums, fly through the circuit. Mercedes, who had pitted both drivers on the hards, were hoping for a miracle from Hamilton and Bottas to hold back Verstappen.
Apart from the top three, McLaren’s Lando Norris was having a stunning race and was comfortably sitting in P5 ahead of his teammate who also showed impressive pace throughout the race. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz’s fantastic Saturday turned into a miserable Sunday as the Scuderia failed to find any pace and were comfortably overtaken by the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso’s Alpine. Sebastian Vettel was the last to pit, as the German starting on the hard tyres, put in an impressive long first stint and made sure he rejoined fighting for the points. Vettel’s teammate Lance Stroll was also having a super race as the young Canadian starting from P19, put in a long first stint on the hards was just on the fringes of the points after his first stop. Yuki Tsunoda, whose qualifying crash left him starting from the pit lane, due to changes of parts on his car, had a good race, charging through the field and languished just outside the points.
Back in front, Verstappen overtook a frustrated Valtteri Bottas, who himself was furious with his team for not going ahead with his plan of a two-stopper which could have earned him a podium. With nine laps to go, Verstappen had his sight set on Hamilton and wasted no time in going ahead, getting it done. Although Hamilton tried his best to hold up Verstappen, on the penultimate lap, the Red Bull driver overtook Hamilton with comfortable ease. The Mercedes driver was a sitting duck, as Verstappen on the fresher tyre was much quicker, but what hurt Mercedes more was Perez overtaking Bottas for third, making the Finn’s afternoon just that much more terrible and taking away precious points from the German team.
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Behind the top four, Lando Norris’ super drive earned him fifth position just ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, a result McLaren would be more than delighted with, especially given how intense their third place battle with Ferrari is turning out to be. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly showcased strong pace throughout the race to finish seventh ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who had a strong race himself. Aston Martin once again made their strategy work to see both cars finish in the points, after both Vettel and Stroll started outside the top ten. Ferrari wrapped up a weekend they would like to forget, as Sainz finished P11 and Leclerc P16, with the Scuderia lacking race pace.
As we head to two back-to-back races in Austria, Red Bull heads home with a 37 point lead over Mercedes in the constructors’ championship, and Verstappen increased his lead in the drivers’ championship to 12 points. With Red Bull beginning to catch Mercedes’ in tracks that the German team should be leading in, the championship fight intensifies. After losing out under similar circumstances in Spain, Red Bull’s strategy made sure they left France the happier team.