French GP: Verstappen passes Hamilton to win after start error

Max Verstappen made a penultimate lap pass to beat Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1's 2021 French Grand Prix, with an aggressive and unexpected two-stop strategy key to his victory.

Verstappen had earlier lost the lead by running off track ahead of the race's second corner, before gaining first place back when the power of the undercut caught out Mercedes at the first pitstops.

But, with all the drivers struggling more with tyre degradation than had been expected in what were cooler conditions at Paul Ricard on race day compared to the rest of the weekend, this time it was Red Bull that gave up track position for the second half of the race to set up another grandstand finish along the lines of the 2019 Hungarian GP and the 2021 race in Spain.

At the start, Verstappen led Hamilton away from the front of the grid and looked in command as he ran through Turn 1, but as he swept around the fast left-hander and began to move towards the Turn 2 right, the Red Bull driver had to catch a sudden slide.

Verstappen was suddenly heading right when he should have been positioning his car to the left ahead of Turn 2 and had to run off track as he caught the slide, keeping tight to the bollards on the inside of the second corner.

As Verstappen was catching his slide and running off, Hamilton steamed around Turn 2 and the Red Bull inside kerbs to easily move into the lead.

From there, Hamilton built a 1.4-second lead by the end of the first lap, despite having to catch his on lurid slide coming onto the pit straight at the end of lap one of 53.

The leaders quickly dropped Sergio Perez, running in P4 in the second Red Bull, as Hamilton ran untroubled up front and Bottas pressured Verstappen's second place – dipping in and out of DRS threat towards the end of the opening 10 laps.

The three leaders were the only cars able to lap regularly in the low-mid 1m39s throughout the opening stint, where Hamilton calmly built a solid lead over Verstappen.

The gap had just about reached three seconds when Mercedes brought Bottas in at the end of lap 17 to switch his starting mediums for hards, after drivers who had stopped earlier and were running in the pack – Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo – made gains with an undercut.

Red Bull reacted by bringing Verstappen in at the end of the following lap and the Dutchman was able to return comfortably in net P2, now also on the hard tyres.

Hamilton made the same switch a lap later, but Verstappen stunned him by making into Turn 1 ahead as the Mercedes, which was stationary for a tenth of a second less at its stop compared to the Red Bull, was still getting back to speed.

Verstappen was back in front by under immense pressure from both Mercedes, who ran in DRS range behind the net leader (Perez led until he stopped at the end of lap 24 having cycled to the front when the runners in front came in).

For the 10 laps after Verstappen retook the lead, Hamilton was able to run within a second, but, as the leaders discussed the possibility of turning their expected one-stop strategies into two stops, the gap began to edge out.

By lap 32, Verstappen led by 2.2s as he was able to stay in the 1m37s bracket, while the following Black Arrows cars slipped beyond that into the mid 1m38s, but at the end of that tour Red Bull called the leader in to go back to the mediums.

Once he had completed his out-lap, Verstappen had an 18s gap to close back to the lead and he began to carve into that advantage by around two seconds a lap as he ran in the mid 1m36s versus Hamilton's mid 1m38s.

Perez waved Verstappen by at Turn 11 on lap 35, with Mercedes telling Hamilton the catch would depend on how long it took his title rival to battle by Bottas and if Verstappen could keep his mediums in better shape than most drivers managed in the first stint.

Verstappen reached Bottas with 10 laps to go, his rate of catching the two Mercedes cars slowing after his initial onslaught, with Hamilton in particular getting back to regularly lapping in the 1m37s, as they all had to make their way through backmarker traffic.

On lap 44, Verstappen closed on Bottas with DRS down the first half of the Mistral Straight, and when the Mercedes defended to the inside of the first part of the Turns 8/9 chicane Bottas ended up losing momentum.

That allowed Verstappen to get alongside on the run down the rest of the straight and he retook second as they swept through Turn 10, Signes, which gave Verstappen 5.1s to close on Hamilton over the final nine laps.

The gap initially only came down in small bursts, but as Hamilton toured back in the 1m38s as the distance to go ticked under five laps, Verstappen was able to gain the best part of a second a lap as the traffic between the leaders disappeared.

At the start of the penultimate lap, Verstappen was finally within DRS range – the gap at 0.7s – and he seized the lead back at the first opportunity, heading into the chicane on the Mistral Straight.

Verstappen had closed in rapidly with DRS, and although Hamilton defended to the inside, the Red Bull as able to get alongside on the left-hand side approaching Turn 8 and Verstappen sealed the lead at the apex of the first part of the chicane/

He pulled clear over the final lap and a third, winning by 2.9s, with Perez coming home third ahead of Bottas as the Mexican driver was able to bring his offset one-stopper tyre life advantage to bear in the closing stages.

Perez took third sweeping around the outside of Signes on lap 49, with Bottas furious he had not be switched to a two-stopper.

Lando Norris was another driver to make late stop on the one-stopper work to his advantage, as he climbed the order to finish fifth and ahead of teammate Ricciardo.

Pierre Gasly finished seventh ahead of Fernando Alonso, with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll coming home in the final points paying positions after starting on the hards – Stroll from the last row of the grid – and running deep into the race before coming in.

Leclerc, the first driver to pit in the race, tumbled down the order as his hards wore out, and he was eventually put on a two-stopper, which left him down in P16.

Carlos Sainz also struggled for tyre life in his Ferrari, finishing 11th having started fifth, with George Russell beating the pitlane-starting Yuki Tsunoda to P12.

Cla Driver Chassis Gap
1 Netherlands Max Verstappen
Red Bull
2 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes 2.904
3 Mexico Sergio Perez
Red Bull 8.811
4 Finland Valtteri Bottas
Mercedes 14.618
5 United Kingdom Lando Norris
McLaren 1'04.032
6 Australia Daniel Ricciardo
McLaren 1'15.857
7 France Pierre Gasly
AlphaTauri 1'16.596
8 Spain Fernando Alonso
Alpine 1'17.695
9 Germany Sebastian Vettel
Aston Martin 1'19.666
10 Canada Lance Stroll
Aston Martin 1'31.946
11 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr.
Ferrari 1'39.337
12 United Kingdom George Russell
Williams
13 Japan Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri
14 France Esteban Ocon
Alpine
15 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo
16 Monaco Charles Leclerc
Ferrari
17 Finland Kimi Raikkonen
Alfa Romeo
18 Canada Nicholas Latifi
Williams
19 Germany Mick Schumacher
Haas
20 Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin
Haas
Cla Driver Chassis Gap
1 Netherlands Max Verstappen
Red Bull
2 United Kingdom Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes 2.904
3 Mexico Sergio Perez
Red Bull 8.811
4 Finland Valtteri Bottas
Mercedes 14.618
5 United Kingdom Lando Norris
McLaren 1'04.032
6 Australia Daniel Ricciardo
McLaren 1'15.857
7 France Pierre Gasly
AlphaTauri 1'16.596
8 Spain Fernando Alonso
Alpine 1'17.695
9 Germany Sebastian Vettel
Aston Martin 1'19.666
10 Canada Lance Stroll
Aston Martin 1'31.946
11 Spain Carlos Sainz Jr.
Ferrari 1'39.337
12 United Kingdom George Russell
Williams
13 Japan Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri
14 France Esteban Ocon
Alpine
15 Italy Antonio Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo
16 Monaco Charles Leclerc
Ferrari
17 Finland Kimi Raikkonen
Alfa Romeo
18 Canada Nicholas Latifi
Williams
19 Germany Mick Schumacher
Haas
20 Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin
Haas
shares
comments
The French GP as it happened
Previous article

The French GP as it happened

Next article

Grand Prix race results: Verstappen wins F1 French GP

Grand Prix race results: Verstappen wins F1 French GP
Load comments
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021
How Hamilton dominated in Qatar despite missing a key Mercedes advantage Prime

How Hamilton dominated in Qatar despite missing a key Mercedes advantage

There was simply no stopping Lewis Hamilton on Formula 1's first visit to Qatar. The Mercedes driver eased to pole position and led every lap to secure an utterly dominant victory - even without a key Mercedes weapon in his arsenal to increase the heat on Red Bull heading into the final two races of the gripping 2021 title race

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021
Qatar's long-term plans for a "World Cup every single year" Prime

Qatar's long-term plans for a "World Cup every single year"

Qatar is preparing to host the football World Cup next year, but will be thrown into the sporting spotlight this weekend as Formula 1 prepares to race in the country. Ahead of a 10-year deal to hold a grand prix from 2023 onwards, it's a much-needed opportunity to highlight reforms in the country

Formula 1
Nov 20, 2021