Max Verstappen took advantage of a perfect strategy to hunt down Lewis Hamilton and win the French Grand Prix. It was the first time in the Red Bull driver’s career that he claimed a race ‘grand slam’, taking pole position, the chequered flag and the extra point for fastest lap.
Mercedes were left to rue their mistakes at France’s Circuit Paul Ricard after Verstappen stormed back to easily pass both Valtteri Bottas and reigning world champion Hamilton, who was overtaken on the penultimate lap.
The seven-time world champion took control of the race after Verstappen ran off the track at the opening corner, but the Dutchman regained the lead on lap 20 when he stopped before Hamilton and used his fresh tyres to wipe out a 3.2 second deficit.
Hamilton then asked the Mercedes pit crew to make sure he performed the undercut on the second stop, but Red Bull got the jump on their rivals and called Verstappen in for a second time – and left Mercedes no choice but to leave Hamilton out on old tyres. In the end, the Brit could do nothing.
At a venue traditionally dominated by the Silver Arrows, Verstappen went on to secure his third win of the season and move 12 points clear of Hamilton in the world championship after seven races. Red Bull also extended their lead in the constructors’ championship to 37 points after Sergio Perez passed Bottas in the closing stages of the race to complete the podium.
Mercedes apologised to their driver for their erroneous choice of strategy, and Hamilton suggested the team were set to look into what happened.
“It is not gut-wrenching,” said the reigning world champion. “But I am sure if we looked at it with hindsight, we could have stopped earlier, gone on a two-stop strategy and it probably could have won the race.
“That would have done the job but a two-stopper was not on the cards at all for us today, so we will do some analysis and try to figure out why.”
Verstappen’s win in France took him to three wins, equal with Hamilton as the duo prepare for a tight world championship battle – and the 23-year-old was pleased with the decision to stop twice. He also acknowledged his impressive travelling support ahead of the two races in Austria.
“When we made the call to do a two-stop strategy, it paid off,” the championship leader said. “We had to work hard for it but it was very rewarding. The whole race we were fighting each other so it is going to be like this for the rest of the season.
“I’m looking forward to [Austria] because it’s like a home grand prix. We’ve had good results in the past but that doesn’t mean it will be a guarantee this year.
“I’m expecting it to be close again.”
Verstappen is a two-time winner in Austria, claiming victory in 2018 and 2019, and Red Bull have built up some momentum with three straight wins ahead of the trip to the Red Bull Ring for two races – a track where Mercedes tasted success on both occasions in 2020.
Despite their dominance on the circuit last time out, Hamilton is concerned about the threat of Verstappen and Red Bull.
“It is a power-hungry circuit with long straights so we could see something similar to this weekend,” Hamilton added.
“We have got three days to make adjustments and improvements and maybe if we maximise absolutely everything we can give them a run for their money.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris continued his impressive campaign by finishing fifth after starting in eighth on the grid, and the 21-year-old currently sits in fourth in the drivers’ standings, ahead of Bottas.
Norris’ partner Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth and will hope to continue his form in Austria, while Ferrari need to bounce back following their dismal performance in France. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc qualified in fifth and seventh for the Prancing Horses, but tyre degradation and poor strategies led to a forgettable 11th and 16th finish respectively.