Max Verstappen Wins French Grand Prix With Late Pass

·3 min read
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Thompson - Getty Images

Back in May, Mercedes AMG F1 won the Spanish Grand Prix by making a late decision to bring Lewis Hamilton back into the pit lane for an extra stop and putting him in position to make up all that time on track. Today, Red Bull got Mercedes back by reversing the situation, putting Max Verstappen in position to pass the entire field with just enough time to win the race. In both cases, the driver pulled it off.

While Verstappen started on pole and held the lead into turn 1, a slide off track in turn 2 gave Hamilton the lead almost immediately. The Mercedes and Red Bull seemed evenly matched throughout the race, allowing Verstappen to stay on par with Hamilton throughout the first stint and take the lead with an aggressive undercut on the first stop. Hamilton fell to a close second, but what did him in was that he also had slightly newer tires, putting Verstappen further into his wear cycle and giving his team the earlier opportunity to make another stop.

Red Bull did so while Verstappen was leading, adding an extra stint to their strategy with a used set of medium tires from qualifying. Because Verstappen's team made the choice from the lead and did so early, it was effectively a strong undercut against a Mercedes pit stop that never actually happened. Having already gained the lead with the first undercut, Verstappen here gained so much time against a theoretical strategy switch for Hamilton that Mercedes had no choice but to keep Hamilton in front and hope he could hold the lead for enough time that Verstappen never got into DRS range. Both stops were timed and executed brilliantly.

The Red Bull stopped with 20 laps to go. It took 11 laps for Verstappen to catch and pass Valtteri Bottas, whose sole job in this race was to slow the Red Bull driver for as long as possible. It was a valiant effort, but not valiant enough. The lead was down to 3 seconds with five laps to go, then one second with two to go. That was enough to get into DRS range, and the Mercedes had no real counter for repeated assaults by a car with DRS and better tires. Verstappen made his move just before the final lap, Hamilton had no chance to defend, and Red Bull Racing's 23 year-old ace has one of the most memorable wins of his career.

After the catastrophic tire failure from the lead for Verstappen and uncharacteristic late mistake for Hamilton canceled each other out in the last race, today's win for Verstappen moves him into the best championship position of his career with a 12 point gap on Hamilton. The gap from Verstappen to third-placed Sergio Perez is now 47 points, nearly two full weekends worth of possible points.

The constructor's standings are another story. Thanks to the win Perez salvaged for Red Bull Racing after the Verstappen crash at Baku and a nice late pass to take third from Bottas today, the team has now won three races in a row and leads the championship for teams by 37 points.

Lando Norris, comfortably the best driver outside of the elite teams this season, finished today's race in a familiar fifth, just ahead of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo after the team split their strategies early. AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, Renault's Fernando Alonso, and the Aston Martin duo of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll rounded out the points-paying positions. Notably, a non-scoring 12th for George Russell has given Williams a tiebreaker over Haas F1, another team that has not scored a single point this season, for ninth in the 10-team constructor's battle.

Red Bull Racing is at its best ahead of back-to-back races at their home track, the former A1 Ring now named after the energy drink giant. The first, the Styrian Grand Prix, will be held next Sunday.

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