Max Verstappen cruised to victory in France after pole-sitter Charles Leclerc crashed out once again from the lead of the race. Behind Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton took a stunning second ahead of his teammate George Russell, making it a double podium for Mercedes. Sergio Pérez finished fourth ahead of the only finishing Ferrari of Carlos Sainz in fifth place. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso came sixth ahead of Lando Norris in seventh, home boy Esteban Ocon in eighth and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo in ninth. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll took home the final point after fending off his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who seemed like he would snatch the final points position away from the Canadian.
Leclerc’s retirement means he has now dropped points from pole position four times this season (Baku, Imola, Spain and France), and if he wants to remain in the Championship race, his chances now lie with Verstappen and whether he makes rookie errors or not.
A 63-point lead in the Championship battle has put the title entirely in the reigning World Champion’s favour, and it would take a Herculean effort from Leclerc and Ferrari to overturn the deficit.
Charles Leclerc got off well from pole holding off Max Verstappen as Lewis Hamilton, starting fourth, attacked Sergio Pérez and got past him. Further behind, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso put in a stunning move on George Russell, making up two places on the opening turn. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda spun off after contact with Esteban Ocon, which dropped the young Japanese driver to the back of the grid. Ocon was awarded a five-second penalty for the collision.
By the second lap, Leclerc had already built a one-second gap to Verstappen. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, having started last, was up to 13th.
By Lap 5, while Verstappen was trying to close down on Leclerc, the top two had left the rest of the grid behind, with Hamilton in third place, a good four seconds behind and trying to keep Pérez behind, who was right on his gearbox.
By Lap 10, while Leclerc was trying to fend off attack after attack from Verstappen, his teammate Carlos Sainz, who started at the back of the grid, had made up seven places to 12th.
By Lap 15, the heat and the track temperature had started to get to Verstappen, who backed off on his attack on Leclerc, which let him pull away a bit from the Dutchman.
Verstappen was the first in the top ten to come in for his pit-stop, coming in on Lap 17 and re-joining in seventh place on the hard tyre. As he was trying to catch up, Leclerc crashed into the barriers on Lap 18 at Turn 11, which ended his race. Immediately the Safety Car was deployed, resulting in free stops for most of the top ten.
The Safety Car went off track on Lap 20, with Verstappen leading from Hamilton and Pérez. Sainz, meanwhile, made up a place on McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo on the same lap as the Safety Car came in and made it a double move on the other McLaren of Lando Norris as well, climbing up to sixth. Haas’ Mick Schumacher and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou came together on Lap 23, with the collision dropping both of them right to the back of the grid; luckily, both could continue.
By Lap 34, Verstappen was cruising up front, building a lead of over six seconds from Hamilton. Sainz, meanwhile, the only remaining Ferrari, had caught up and was on the back of Pérez in fourth place. Sainz got past Pérez on Lap 42 and Russell used this opportunity to attack Pérez on the same lap as well. Both touched, and since it wasn’t a heavy impact, both managed to carry on, although Russell complained immediately to his team about Pérez rejoining by cutting the track.
The Virtual Safety Car came out on Lap 50 as Zhou Guaynu suffered a technical issue and had to retire from the race. The VSC left at the end of the same lap and Russell caught Pérez sleeping and climbed up into the final podium place.
While Perez tried to get back his place, Russell managed to hang onto the final place for the final couple of laps, holding off the Mexican. Up front, Verstappen easily cruised to victory following Leclerc’s retirement, while Hamilton took home a welcome second place. Russell scored his fourth podium for Mercedes, while Pérez finished fourth, ahead of Sainz, who managed to finish fifth after starting nineteenth.
With a comfortable win in France and Leclerc suffering retirement, Verstappen now leads Leclerc by 63 points in the Drivers’ Championship. Red Bull have now built their Championship lead to 82 points over Ferrari. If Ferrari don’t get on top of their issues within the next couple of races, the Constructors’ Championship might well be settled by October.
Red Bull will look to go into the summer break on a high next week, when racing heads to Hungary before the summer break.