F1: Red Bull Revenge on Mercedes-AMG at Paul Ricard
Max Verstappen stormed to his 13th Formula 1 victory in France doing to Mercedes what was done to him in Hungary, 2019 and Barcelona in 2021.
Red Bull Racing outdrove Mercedes AMG Petronas at the Paul Ricard circuit in France to take its third back-to-back win this season. Max Verstappen took the victory away from Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez claimed the 3rd step of the podium from Valtteri Bottas. Both Mercedes drivers suffered from superior but different strategy calls from the Red Bull stable and both cars came off second and fourth best.
McLaren’s Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo brought 18 solid points to the team finishing P5 and P6 respectively showing some excellent race pace and stunning on-track overtaking from both drivers. Pierre Gasly continued a great run of success for Alphatauri qualifying in P6 behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz but finishing ahead of the Ferraris and still happy with his P7 results. Completing the Top 10 was a resilient Fernando Alonso, trailed by the pair of Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll who blitzed through the field from 19th place on the grid.
It was a torrid day for the Ferrari outfit with both cars dropping out of the top 10 and Leclerc finishing in a lowly 16th position.
The key talking points:
1. How did Red Bull do it?
Max seemed to get the perfect start but somehow he lost control into turn 1 and ran wide, handing the position to Lewis Hamilton and coming under pressure from Valterri Bottas. The top 3 sped off into the distance as Perez seemed unable to keep up with the leaders pace. The trio were separated by a small margin throughout the first stint but it was clear from all radio calls that the drivers were struggling to find grip on a surface that had been rain-washed earlier in the day. The other issue was the tyres that were wearing out faster than strategic plans had anticipated.
The first to blink was Bottas who came in on lap 17 with hopes of a Verstappen undercut. Red Bull brought Verstappen in on lap 18, fending off Bottas – or so we thought. A blistering outlap on his new hard tyres saw Verstappen emerge not just ahead of Bottas, but also ahead of Hamilton who was called in a lap later. Hamilton was stunned. Perez only pitted on lap 25 and it was starting to become clear why the Mexican was slightly slower than the front runners. He was playing the longer game and on a very different strategy.
Just 15 laps after Verstappen's first stop, the doubts around tyre wear had made their presence known and perhaps fearing another surprise move from Mercedes to pull Hamilton in, Red Bull made the call instead - to switch from a planned 1-stop race, to a 2-stop race for Max. On lap 32, Max rolled into his pitbox from the lead, for a set of medium tyres and emerged some 20-seconds adrift of Hamilton. He had it all to do – and he did it, in the same fashion as Hamilton did just over a month before.
Max had to overtake his teammate Perez who gave him an enormous gap to pass, leaving Max to overtake Bottas and Hamilton ahead. On Lap 44, Verstappen made the move on Bottas on the Mistral Straight and then chased a determined Hamilton 5-seconds ahead. In the penultimate lap, Max made what was in truth, an easy overtake on the reigning world champion who had no more left to give running on 35-lap-old tyres. Hamilton almost won the race, but Max was patient and fast and saw him off with a lap to go.
Another win to Red Bull – another fight we loved to see.
2) Where does Bottas sit in all this?
Valterri Bottas was infuriated when Verstappen and Perez overtook him on the final stint, claiming that it should have been a two-stop race for him. In essence, Bottas was sacrificed to protect Hamilton and it cost him the podium at a race where he really was in good form.
Some may argue, Bottas included, that the team was not fair with Bottas’ strategy leaving him out to dry in the race. But that’s the reality of not fighting for a championship and that is as history has taught us, the reason you need to be in the fight from the very first race. Bottas may have even had better race pace than Hamilton today, but given his run of poor form and bad luck this season, Bottas can never claim to be anywhere close to the front running pair of Verstappen and Hamilton. Bottas lies 5th in the championship behind Perez and Lando Norris.
3) What happened to Ferrari?
After the regulation changes around flexi-wings and tyre pressures, it is clear that all teams struggled more than usual at Paul Ricard – but none more so than Ferrari. The Scuderia were ecstatic with Sainz’ P5 qualifying lap but race pace was sorely lacking and the team will have to decipher the data to bounce back in Austria in the coming weeks.
2021 Emirates Grand Prix of France Formula 1 Grand Prix Results:
- Max Verstappen
- Lewis Hamilton
- Sergio Perez
- Valterri Bottas
- Lando Norris
- Daniel Ricciardo
- Pierre Gasly
- Fernando Alonso
- Sebastian Vettel
- Lance Stroll
- Carlos Sainz
- George Russell
- Yuki Tsunoda
- Esteban Ocon
- Antonio Giovinazzi
- Charles Leclerc
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Nicholas Latifi
- Mick Schumacher
- Nikita Mazepin
Verstappen leads Hamilton by 11-points as they head into an Austrian double-header. Red Bull firmly has the upper hand now and Mercedes will be looking to bounce back yet again.
What a race. What a season. And what a special moment to witness two top-tier talents duking it out on track in clean and exciting racing.
Next up: Austria in one week.