Max Verstappen has won the French Grand Prix thanks to a well thought out two stop strategy. Mercedes were left surprised, leaving both drivers wonder why they stuck to their one-stopper. Hamilton lost the lead on the penultimate lap to finish second, followed by Sergio Perez.
Overcast conditions greeted the Formula One field for the start of the French Grand Prix. At a comfortable 25°C, teams were likely watching the radar as there was a possibility of rain later on in the race.
When the lights went out and the throttles were pushed hard, Verstappen got to Turn 1 first, but there found himself with a twitchy rear end that forced him wide, allowing Hamilton to make an easy pass for the lead. Valtteri Bottas looked to seize the chance as well but didn't get close enough to get a move in.
Behind them, Perez, Sainz and Leclerc held position while Alonso moved up into 7th, passing Leclerc and gaining a position on Norris who went wide at Turn 1 as well. The Spaniard Alpine drive was soon re-passed by Leclerc halfway around the track, followed by a lengthy battle between them. The McLarens behind were close, but not close enough to punch.
The other Alpine lost a position to Sebastian Vettel. The latter's pass meant he was soon the best positioned runner on hard tyres as the top 10 drivers all went out with their medium tyres from qualifying.
Further back, Raikkonen gained 4 positions at the start to get right behind his team mate Giovinazzi. Lance Stroll did the same, moving up from 19th to 15th, as well as Tsunoda, from 20th to 16th. This left the Williams drivers 17th and 18th after 6 laps, followed by Mazepin who passed Mick Schumacher on lap 5.
Alonso started to lose touch with Leclerc as of lap 6, and on lap 10 lost two positions when Ricciardo and Norris breezed past the Spaniard. Vettel would follow two laps later, pushing Alpine out of the points. Alonso had already stated on Saturday that he was happy with qualifying, but they weren't entirely sure about the race pace of their Alpine A521.
Alonso went on the radio to inform his team that it appeared like all medium-tye runners, including himself, were starting to struggle, asking them to consider an early stop. While Ricciardo moved on to get past Leclerc, the Ferrari driver then dove into the pits, seemingly following Alonso's advice whereas Alpine opted against such a very early stop.
On lap 16, Tsunoda pitted, followed by Ricciardo on lap 17. The Australian rejoined the track 2.5 seconds behind Leclerc.
This difference probably triggered Mercedes to call in Bottas, followed by stops from Sainz, Gasly and Russell in the same lap. Red Bull quickly reacted by calling Verstappen in. The Red Bull driver managed to exit ahead of Bottas still, partly thanks to a quicker pitstop.
Hamilton was stopped the next lap. When he returned to the track, it turned out to be a grand slam for Red Bull as Verstappen dove into Turn 1 ahead of Hamilton while Perez stayed out, and therefore ended up leading the race, 10s ahead of Verstappen.
When Perez pitted around lap 24, he dropped back into 4th, halfway in a 30s gap between Bottas and Vettel.
On lap 32, right as a moment when Verstappen had secured a 2s advantage to Hamilton, the Dutchman pitted and switched to a used set of medium compound tyres. This dropped him to fourth, a few seconds behind his team mate Sergio Perez. Verstappen immediately set fastest lap, going 2s faster than race leader Hamilton and one second faster than Valtteri Bottas.
Perez obviously soon moved over, bringing Verstappen into third, 14s down on Hamilton and 11.5s on Bottas.
Behind this fight at the front, the midfield was hot as well with both McLarens moving up through the field, followed at a distance by Fernando Alonso. On lap 38, Norris and Ricciardo were 5th and 6th following a very late stop by Vettel who completed those first 38 laps on the same hard tyres. Gasly followed in 7th and Alonso in 8th.
Both Ferraris on the other hand seemed to struggle, leading to a second stop by Leclerc, dropping down from 10th to 16th.
Verstappen meanwhile continued to close the gap to the Mercedes duo and ended up passing Bottas on lap 44, enjoying much better grip on his fresher medium tyres. Hamilton at that time was 4.6s up the road. Having been passed, Bottas fumed on the radio, saying "he called it a two stopper, and the team didn't listen." Getting Perez close up behind him with 7 laps newer tyres obviously didn't help matters for the Finn either. The Mercedes driver was powerless when Perez passed him two laps later for third.
Up in front, Hamilton started to struggle and missed the apex at Turn 1 while trying to be as controlled as possible. On lap 49, with 4 laps remaining, Hamilton had 2.1s left. Little more than a lap later, that reduced to less than a second, enabling DRS for Verstappen. One lap later, on the penultimate lap, that resulted in a straightforward pass for the lead.
The outcome will surely leave Mercedes to wonder what could have been if Verstappen had not managed to take the lead just after the first series of pitstops. And while Hamilton will likely be disappointed, Bottas is likely going to be a few words to say in his team's race debrief as well.
Interestingly, Hamilton also said afterwards "I said it this morning guys", with team principal Toto Wolff replying "Ok, Lewis, this one's on us. Let's see afterwards".
McLaren secured a great 5th and 6th place finish, followed by 7th place for home hero Gasly and 8th for Alonso, taking 4 points in Alpine's home race. Vettel and Stroll finished in the final points scoring positions for Aston Martin.
|1||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||53||1:27:25.770||26|
|3||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda||53||+8.811s||15|
|5||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Mercedes||53||+64.032s||10|
|6||3||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren Mercedes||53||+75.857s||8|
|7||10||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri Honda||53||+76.596s||6|
|8||14||Fernando Alonso||Alpine Renault||53||+77.695s||4|
|9||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin Mercedes||53||+79.666s||2|
|10||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Mercedes||53||+91.946s||1|
|12||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||52||+1 lap||0|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri Honda||52||+1 lap||0|
|14||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||52||+1 lap||0|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|16||16||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|17||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|18||6||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Mercedes||52||+1 lap||0|
|19||47||Mick Schumacher||Haas Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|20||9||Nikita Mazepin||Haas Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|