Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen extended his F1 championship lead over arch-rival Lewis Hamilton with a thrilling French Grand Prix victory that saw the Dutch give up the lead midway through the race and switch to a potentially risky two-stop strategy. But after erasing a 16-second gap to Hamilton the Dutchman closed in and powered past the Mercedes driver on the penultimate lap of the race to secure the lead and take his 13th career win.
When the lights went out at the start of the race, Verstappen made a good getaway to lead Hamilton as the field headed for the first corner. But in Turn 2 the Dutchman made a mistake and went wide. The error allowed Hamilton to steal the lead as Verstappen rejoined ahead of Bottas and Pérez.
Over the opening laps Hamilton tried to build a gap and by lap nine he was almost two clear ahead of Max, though he was already complaining that his front tyres were beginning to suffer. Bottas, meanwhile, was just a second behind the Dutchman. Pérez was finding it hard to stay with the top three, however, and by lap 10 he was 4.4s off the back of Botttas’ Mercedes.
Bottas was the first of the pacesetters to pit at the end of lap 17, taking on Hard tyres. The Red Bull Racing made its move on the next lap and Verstappen pitted for hards in a stop of 2.3s.
Hamilton was then told to push on his in-lap in a bit to negate Max’s attempted undercut. His pit stop was clean and he took on hard tyres in a 2.2 stop as Pérez, who had yet to pit, swept past to take the race lead.
Hamilton should have rejoined in P2, but Verstappen’s out lap was superlative and as the Briton emerged from the pit lane Verstappen drew alongside the Mercedes and got past into Turn 1. Pérez meanwhile, went long on his first stint and stayed on track until the end of lap 24. And after taking on Hard tyres he dropped to fourth place, 16 seconds behind Bottas.
The pace at the front now ramped up spectacularly as Hamilton tried to pressure race leader Verstappen. The Dutchman resisted well but both drivers and Bottas were soon on the radio saying that their tyres would not last the pace.
Red Bull Racing then opted to switch Verstappen to a two-stop race and on lap 32 the Dutchman pitted for a new set of medium tyres. He emerged in P4 behind Pérez but quickly began close on those ahead and he was soon past his team-mate and hunting down Bottas
By lap 44 he was within DRS range of the Finn and as they went into the chicane on the Mistral straight, Bottas went slightly wide. The mistake allowed Verstappen to pounce and he raced past the Finn at full speed as they swept through Signes.
A few laps later Pérez too closed up to the struggling Finn and armed with fresher tyres the Mexican got a better exit out of the chicane and aided by DRS he powered past the Mercedes driver to claim third place.
Then it was Verstappen’s turn. He closed hard and with two laps remaining he got to within DRS range of Hamilton. And on lap 52 he too chose the chicane to make his move. Verstappen got the perfect exit and with the aid of DRS he roared past the Mercedes driver to claim the race lead and a little over a lap later a stunning victory. Thanks to his pace on medium tyres in his final stint Verstappen was also able to collect the point on offer for fastest lap thanks to his time of 1:36.4040 set just after he took on the new set.
Behind the top three finishers, Bottas was left with fourth place ahead of hard-charging Lando Norris who collected 10 points for P5 after starting from P8. Norris’ McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was sixth ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly while Alpine’s Fernando Alonso finished in P8. The final points on offer were taken by Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll who finished ninth and tenth respectively.
Verstappen’s win and fastest lap mean he is now on 131 points, 12 ahead of Hamilton, while in the Constructors’ Championship Red Bull Racing now has 215 points, 37 ahead of Mercedes.
2021 FIA Formula 1 French Grand Prix – Race
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 53 1:27’25.770
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1:27’28.674 2.904
3 Pérez Pérez Red Bull/Honda 53 1:27’34.581 8.811
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53 1:27’40.388 14.618
5 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 53 1:28’29.802 1’04.032
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 53 1:28’41.627 1’15.857
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 53 1:28’42.366 1’16.596
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 53 1:28’43.465 1’17.695
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 53 1:28’45.436 1’19.666
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 53 1:28’57.716 1’31.946
11 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 53 1:29’05.107 1’39.337
12 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 52 1:27’33.819 1 lap /8.049
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 52 1:27’38.141 1 lap /12.371
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 52 1:27’38.887 1 lap /13.117
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 52 1:27’43.366 1 lap /17.596
16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 52 1:27’46.644 1 lap /20.874
17 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 52 1:27’48.454 1 lap /22.684
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 52 1:27’49.221 1 lap /23.451
19 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 52 1:28’19.907 1 lap /54.137
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 52 1:28’34.002 1 lap /1’08.232