After a week off, Formula 1 is back for the first race in a triple-header, starting with Circuit Paul Ricard. Practice showed that Mercedes had decently recovered from their two terrible weekends, but the charging bulls were still hot on their tails.
Qualifying got off to a rocky start when Tsunoda hit the wall at the exit of turn 1 within the first minute out. The session later ended early with a red flag when Schumacher went off at turn 6, ironically landing the Haas driver in his first Q2 of the season. The drivers out in Q1 were Latifi, Raikkonen, Mazepin, Stroll and Tsunoda. Only 14 cars took to the track for Q2 after Schumacher’s crash at the end of the earlier session, meaning he automatically ended up P15. Q2 luckily wasn’t as chaotic as the first session. Norris had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 6; however, he managed to complete a second fast lap and secured his place in Q3. Bottas topped the session, giving hope to Mercedes for a comeback.
The drivers out at the end of the second qualifying session were Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell, and Schumacher. The wind picked up in Q3 as the battle for pole began. The Mercedes did their best to bring the fight to Verstappen; however, they did not have the pace needed. Q3 finished with Verstappen on pole with Hamilton P2, Bottas P3, and Perez P4. Sainz and Gasly made up the third row in P5 and P6, respectively. Behind them were Leclerc and Norris, with Alonso and Ricciardo in the fifth row. Because of his crash in qualifying and the changes made to his car, Tsunoda started the race from the pit lane.
At lights out, both Verstappen and Hamilton got away well from the start; however, Verstappen went wide in turn 1, allowing Hamilton to go past and into the lead. Russell and Ocon also had bad starts that saw them quickly lose position.
Ricciardo was showing great pace from the start. On lap 11, he passed Alonso, quickly followed by his teammate replicating the move to put the McLarens in a comfortable position. Alonso got passed once again by Vettel, who began chasing down Norris. Stroll, who started from the back of the grid, had a great start and overtook Giovinazzi for P13 on just the 14th lap of the race. After his poor start in which he dropped behind his teammate, Russell regained position before the pitstops began.
Leclerc was first to pit on lap 19, which put him between the Haas drivers in P19. This was the beginning of the end for Leclerc, as he could never make it past P16. Pit strategy was essential in France, and it worked in Red Bull’s favor. They managed to pull the undercut, allowing Perez to get ahead of Verstappen into P1, as he left the pit lane. McLaren also played the undercut pit strategy very well with Ricciardo, but the same could not be said for Mercedes. They pitted Hamilton on lap 20 to try and undercut Verstappen; however, they weren’t able to make it, and Hamilton came out into P3 ahead of his teammate.
Hamilton and Bottas kept the pressure on Verstappen until Red Bull changed to a two-stop strategy. Verstappen came out on lap 33 in P4 on fresher medium tyres meaning he had much more room to push than either Mercedes. While the battle at the front was heating up, Ricciardo was making moves in the midfield, eventually working his way into P7 behind his teammate.
Perez let Verstappen pass him with no incident on lap 36, allowing Verstappen to chase down the two Mercedes ahead. Vettel finally pitted on lap 38, which promoted the McLarens into P5 and P6. The gap between Bottas and Verstappen quickly closed, and Verstappen comfortably overtook Bottas on lap 44, setting his sights on Hamilton.
With less than 10 laps to go, the front two were facing significant traffic from the backmarkers as their 4.7-second gap closed slowly lap by lap. Back in the midfield, Vettel made his way back up to P9 after his pitstop completing a comfortable overtake on Sainz. His teammate Lance Stroll continued his run up the grid, overtaking Tsunoda on lap 43 for P11. George Russell, who had made up for his bad start with a good strategy, was able to overtake Tsunoda late in the race to score his best finish of the season in P12. Back at the front, Verstappen has managed to close the gap to Hamilton to only 2.8 seconds as they made their way through the last of the backmarkers, and Perez was able to overtake Bottas for P3, securing the first Red Bull double podium of the season. Verstappen was hot on Hamilton’s tail, and with two laps to go, he was able to get within one second of the Mercedes driver and overtake on lap 52 to come home as the winner of the French Grand Prix.
The top 10 at the end of the race were:
This was an impressive race where many people were driving at their best, but my top 2 from the weekend were Verstappen and Ricciardo. Notable winners are also the power of the undercut and McLaren. The losers of the weekend for me are Mercedes, Ferrari, and Bottas. Both Mercedes and Ferrari need to figure out better strategies. Bottas also didn’t have a decent weekend and can hopefully work out the issues with the team.
Onto Austria this weekend!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I fell in love with motorsport watching the Formula 1 with my mum every Sunday and have fond memories of the early 90’s and Senna. I’ve supported and followed McLaren for as long as I can remember. I specialise in F1 and the feeder series. Outside of motorsport I work in change delivery and can be found most weekends at a karting track supporting my girls in the Honda Cadet Series.
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