It’s lights out and away we go on Circuit Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix!
Polesitter Max Verstappen leads into Turn 1, but he locked up into Turn 2; that’s when Lewis Hamilton takes the lead. However, Verstappen managed to return to the track with smart ease. While Hamilton is still in the lead, Verstappen appears to be closing the gap on him, setting a new fastest lap and taking two tenths off Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas is third, with Sergio Perez holding on to fourth after a poor start. Meanwhile Fernando Alonso is up to seventh, and Lando Norris has dropped down to 10th place.
We’re on Lap 5 when Sergio Perez seems to be having trouble keeping up. Many drivers are complaining about their lack of grip. He’s already over three seconds behind Bottas and is beginning to fade from an undercut position. Carlos Sainz is hanging on to fifth place behind the top four in Lap 6, but he has company in his DRS zone from Pierre Gasly. Teammate Charles Leclerc is also sticking to the back of this fight, with the three of them managing to open up a small gap on Fernando Alonso. Valtteri Bottas has been pushed to the limit and is now right behind Max Verstappen during Lap 7. Meanwhile, while running in the fresh air, Hamilton is complaining about his rubber. He doesn’t believe they’ll last as long as the team had anticipated…
Onto Lap 8, and the distance between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has settled at roughly 1.6 seconds. Of course, Hamilton has maintained his record of leading nearly every lap raced here. Meanwhile, Lewis has been heard on the team radio saying: “The tyres are getting hot” During Lap 9, those in the front are still pushing away from Perez, who, like so many other drivers, is fighting with grip due to the morning rain washing all of the perfectly set rubber off the track. Lewis Hamilton’s front tyres are beginning to grain up on Lap 10. Bottas agrees that he is experiencing similar feelings.
Lap 11 and the McLarens further back are still battling, both with DRS, as they try to pass Fernando Alonso in P8. Daniel Ricciardo is in front on the road and swerves into the chicane to make the move. Lando Norris makes a double pincher move to go by at Turn 11. Despite his graining problems, Hamilton has increased his lead over Verstappen to two seconds in Lap 13. The teams hoped to complete at least 20 laps today before beginning pit stops, but these tyres may not be able to complete that distance at this rate.
We’re on Lap 14, and Valtteri Bottas has used the rough run-off area to outbreak himself at Turn 4. Something that isn’t going to help his tyres at all. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso says he’ll be down at Alpine for “Plan B,” which could mean a two-stop race. Lap 15 and Charles Leclerc is the first one to make a pit stop. He switches to a fresh set of hards. Leclerc returns to the track in P19.
Mercedes is the first to pit Bottas on Lap 18! That’s an interesting decision: the Finn switches to the hard compound and finishes half a straight behind Perez in fourth. Daniel Ricciardo has undercut both Sainz and Gasly by pitting on the same lap! What a call from McLaren, and what a lap from the Australian! Lap 19 and Max Verstappen makes a 2.3 second stop! It’s respectable but not record-breaking as we expected from Red Bull. He exits just, just ahead of Bottas, on hard tyres. That was a close call. Mercedes came so close to pulling off the undercut. From the lead, Hamilton pits in Lap 20. There’s nothing wrong with the 2.2 second stop he’s made. Sergio Perez remains strong to take the lead. But all eyes are on Verstappen, who is on the main straight.
Max Verstappen has moved past the end of the pit lane line and into the first corner. The undercut and an incredible out lap have Hamilton put in his place. Mercedes have now lost the race lead. Sergio Perez is now in the lead and has yet to stop in Lap 22. Behind him, a three-car battle rages, with Hamilton and Bottas both using DRS to put pressure on the Dutchman. Mercedes are doing everything they can to lift Hamilton’s spirits on the team radio while Red Bull is attempting to calm down a panicked Verstappen.
Sergio Perez pits from first place on Lap 25, switches to the hard compound tyre, and ends up being fourth. Lando Norris pitted as well, although he came up short in comparison to his teammate. They were seventh and eighth before the stops, and Ricciardo is now in tenth place, with Norris in fourteenth. In the battle for the lead, Hamilton is still within DRS range of Verstappen in Lap 28, but he can’t seem to make a move – or even get close enough to try half a move.
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen is clearly worried on the team radio, saying: “We cannot keep this up until the end of the race!” Lap 30, and Lando Norris gets past Pierre Gasly making a move in Turn 8. For the young McLaren driver, it’s a move back to the points. Meanwhile, it appears that Bottas wants to go to Plan B, so today’s race could become a two-stop race. We’re on Lap 33, and Bottas said on the radio that he wouldn’t be able to finish on these tyre if he pushed any harder. Meanwhile, Red Bull is the first to blink, and they call the Dutchman into the pit for a set of mediums. Verstappen finishes fourth, just behind his teammate, after a short pit stop. Meanwhile, during Lap 34: Lewis Hamilton will be considerably behind Verstappen if Mercedes pits him now. So they have two options: race to the end and hope the tyres last, or pit Hamilton late and hope he can make up the difference on fresher rubber.
The fastest lap for Verstappen, and he has already taken two seconds out of the gap to the leaders in Lap 35. Sergio Perez pulls aside to allow Verstappen to pass for third in Lap 36, and the Dutchman thanks Perez over the radio. Meanwhile, on Lap 38, Max Verstappen has closed to within ten seconds of the lead, which is not good news for Hamilton. He’ll be hoping that his teammate behind him does him a favour and holds up the flying Dutchman in this situation.
We’re in Lap 40, and Max Verstappen is having trouble with his radio; Gianpiero Lambiase, his engineer, says he can’t hear him and tells him to adjust his microphone, which is easier said than done when driving an F1 car around a race track! “The tyres are not feeling great”, Hamilton admits in Lap 41, but it’s too late for Mercedes to change their strategy now. Meanwhile, in Lap 42, Bottas has been heard on the radio saying: “I have no fronts anymore” He’s got Verstappen 2.8 seconds behind him right now.
Max Verstappen has DRS on Bottas in Lap 44. Lap 45 and Valtteri Bottas holds Max Verstappen off as they race down the main straight, but Verstappen gets past after the Finn outbreaks himself into the first corner and runs wide. Valtteri Bottas is angry over the radio in Lap 46, claiming that he called the race a two-stop race and that the team didn’t listen. That will be a long debriefing as the Finn’s chances of keeping the podium are fading as Perez, who has fresher tyres, closes in.
Lap 48 and Mercedes hasn’t pitted Bottas yet. The lead has narrowed to 3.9 seconds as Hamilton wastes time passing through some backmarkers and on the last lap taking too much kerb, which cost him a tenth or two. Perez passes Bottas in Lap 49. It was a simple manoeuvre, and the Mexican reached the podium because of that! He used DRS to get close before beating the Finn right after the chicane. We’re nearly there in Lap 51, and the time difference has narrowed to 1.6 seconds.
So, no DRS for Verstappen for the time being. His engineer promises to leave him alone.
Lewis Hamilton narrowly hangs on in the penultimate lap. Verstappen has DRS out there since the gap between them is less than a second. The Dutchman gets past just before the chicane! Hamilton didn’t have any tyres left to defend with, so it was easy in the end. Replays show that with DRS, Verstappen had far too much grip and closed up far too much. The garage seemed to like this one!!
The Dutchman appears to be extending his advantage here today, as he now owns the bonus point for his fastest lap. However, he’s already driven away from Hamilton, with Perez in third place.
Max Verstappen is the first to cross the finish line and claims a commanding victory thanks to a tactical masterclass from Red Bull Racing. From start to finish, this race was incredible, with so many different forces in play! Max Verstappen extends his championship lead after gaining 26 points today. The difference with Lewis Hamilton is up to 12 points!