Max Verstappen wins the French Grand Prix after a close battle with Lewis Hamilton
After securing a mighty pole position by .258 seconds over favourites Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in Saturday’s Qualifying, Max Verstappen looked all set to conquer Paul Ricard Circuit in the 53-lap race on Sunday.
He however threw the lead away at Turn 1 unable to brake and ran wide over the high-grip run-off surface rejoining behind Hamilton in P2. Mercedes were now in with a shot at dictating the race’s pace and strategy. The order for the first 14 laps was Hamilton leading from championship leader Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris making up the top 10 places.
The Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc fell back puzzlingly as McLaren, their rivals for third place in the Constructors championship, enjoyed a double helping of points with Norris and Ricciardo finishing in P5 and P6 respectively. Alonso showed that he still had it with a strong showing for Alpine at their home grand prix finishing P8.
Mercedes-powered Aston Martin saw a big points haul with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll finishing in P9 and P10. But the battle for supremacy at this stage of the race was between the top four. Hamilton from Verstappen and Bottas from Perez. It was a question of ‘who-dares-wins’ and soon on Lap 18 Bottas and Verstappen were called in for fresh rubber.
When Hamilton’s engineers countered the undercut strategy, they shockingly lost the lead to Verstappen by a few car lengths exiting the pit lane! A masterstroke by the Red Bull pit-wall to pit the Dutchman again for a second time on Lap 32 left both Mercedes cars now vulnerable to a fresh-tyre assault by Verstappen who was setting the track alight, lapping two seconds quicker than anybody. He flew past both Bottas and Hamilton with DRS overtakes as a fitting payback for Barcelona, extending his lead in the championship by 12 points.
Defending champions Mercedes AMG Petronas have a genuine title threat on their hands this season from a genuinely fast Red Bull Honda. They head to Red Bull’s home race now for the next two rounds in Austria, where straight-line speed can make all the difference.
The silver arrows need to find answers to stop the relentless Max attack!
Round 8: Austria. On Sunday, June 27. At 6.30 pm. LIVE on Disney+ Hotstar
(The writer, an F1 enthusiast, covers the 2021 FIA Formula One Championship exclusively for Indulge.)