FRENCH GP – Max Verstappen chases down Sir Lewis Hamilton for victory in a race of strategy

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Max Verstappen has taken victory in the French Grand Prix after hunting down and passing Sir Lewis Hamilton with two laps to go. The Red Bull driver made a late switch to a two-stop race and went to a two-stop strategy giving him fresh tyres and pulled off a move at Signes sweeping around the outside.

Verstappen’s victory proved that Red Bull can beat Mercedes at high speed circuits setting up for an incredible four races in six weeks before the summer break. But both cars appeared to be equally matched on track in terms of race pace and that could have been decided either way.

Hamilton had looked to lead most of the race after the Dutchman went wide on the opening lap, then controlled the race up until Verstappen undercut him in the final laps of the race.

The race became one about tyre degradation as temperatures were cooler than expected which created a race of strategy, Verstappen giving up track position when he was the only driver to go to a two stop. He chased down Hamilton who then had 1.4-second lead and then passed him at the start of the final lap.

It was one where Mercedes crucial mistake was not following Verstappen onto a two-stop strategy, but at the time it appeared that Red Bull was gifting victory Mercedes and Hamilton the lead twice. The first on the opening lap when he slid off in Verriere and the second being the switch to a two stop.

For Red Bull, it’s the first time since Abu Dhabi-Austin-Interlagos in 2013 that they have won three races in a row, Verstappen’s championship lead being cut to twelve points with four races before the summer break and the half way point in the season.

Paul Ricard in the south of France is notorious for producing dull races but this one was a stunner as the battle between Verstappen and Hamilton swung back and forth. Proving that this season could be on of intrigue and unpredictable, where Red Bull are able to fight Mercedes.

Mercedes other mistake was deciding to pit Valtteri Bottas first and then bringing Hamilton in on the next lap at the same time as Verstappen. It appears as if Hamilton would have been able to control the race from there and taken victory.

Instead, they left Hamilton out for a second lap and Verstappen used his new tyres to produce a brilliant out lap, and when Hamilton emerged from the pits, Verstappen swept past him using his fresher tyres to take the lead on the penultimate lap.

Bottas had repeatedly told Mercedes that his team that a one-stop strategy would not work, only to stay out on track and eventually lose positions to both the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

The second Red Bull of Perez was third finishing the race five seconds behind Hamilton, while Bottas was fourth a further five seconds behind. Although it took the Mexican slightly longer to drop behind than Bottas, with the top three running in 1:39’s during the opening stint.

This championship could be boiling down to mistakes and race strategy, Mercedes losing control with the second pit stop when they could have taken victory. However, they will spin it as  their error in allowing Verstappen back into the lead after they followed the Dutchman’s on-track error on the first lap with their own in the strategy room.

chief strategist James Vowles said on the radio to Hamilton after the race, acknowledging the error, saying “This one’s on us. Thank you for doing everything you could to recover that race.”

The top two teams were in a class of their own having forty-nine seconds between themselves and the two McLaren’s. Lando Norris finishing the race eleven seconds ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and sixth.

McLaren had a slightly weaker qualifying but both drivers managed to find their way through the field and got past the Alpine of Fernando Alonso a third of the way into the race. Norris making a one stop work to climb up from eighth on the grid

This further underlines their position as the midfield leaders and bodes well for the Styrian double-header where Norris took his maiden podium twelve months ago.

Alonso was then passed by the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly for seventh, the Frenchman proving how close the battle is in the midfield this season. Gasly being the highest French finisher. The two Aston Martin’s finished ninth and tenth, Sebastian Vettel finishing the race in ninth seventeen seconds ahead of his teammate Lance Stroll.

Stroll had managed to come through the field quietly following a difficult qualifying to secure a double points finish for the British team.

Ferrari was expected to struggle and both cars finished the race outside the points, Carlos Sainz being the final car on the lead lap in eleventh. Meanwhile Charles Leclerc tumbled down the order as his tyre wore out mid race, failing to make the one stop work

George Russell finishing the race twelfth ahead of the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda, with Esteban Ocon fourteenth. Antonio Giovinazzi was fifteenth with Alfa Romeo teammate Kimi Raikkonen seventeenth, they were spilt by the second Ferrari of Leclerc.

This race was expected to be one of the tougher ones for the Ferrari-powered cars, although the Italian manufacturer has made progress with the power unit, they still lack a bit compared to Mercedes and Honda.

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Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.