Max Verstappen wins French GP and extends title lead after late overtake on Lewis Hamilton
Two-stopping Max Verstappen overtakes one-stopping Lewis Hamilton on penultimate lap to win Paul Ricard race; Verstappen had earlier made first-lap error to lose lead, but now boasts 12-point advantage in title race; Sergio Perez on podium ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris fifth
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 20/06/21 10:58pm
Max Verstappen has extended his championship lead after overcoming Lewis Hamilton in another nail-biting F1 duel at the French GP, superbly passing his title rival on the penultimate lap of the Paul Ricard race.
On an afternoon that was eventually dictated by team strategy with the Red Bull and Mercedes cars evenly matched on track, Verstappen used his fresh tyres after his second stop to charge up behind a one-stopping Hamilton in the closing stages and pounced on his prey on Lap 52 of 53.
Verstappen swept past a struggling Hamilton on the main DRS straight, as the F1 2021 season continues to serve up decisive wheel-to-wheel battles between its star drivers.
It was far from a straight-forward Sunday for either driver - with a pole-starting Verstappen having lost his lead after a mistake into the first chicane, and Hamilton after a Red Bull undercut - but the end result is that Verstappen now holds a 12-point title lead over the seven-time world champion.
And Red Bull have won three races in a row for the first time since 2013.
"We had to work hard for it, but very rewarding," said Verstappen, who also passed Valtteri Bottas on his way to catching Hamilton.
While Hamilton stressed that Red Bull had the quicker package, Mercedes told the Englishman "this one's on us" after questionable strategy calls compared to their main rivals.
Bottas was particularly frustrated after frequently telling his team that a one-stop strategy would not work, only to stay out on track and eventually lose positions to both the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
With both drivers on the podium, it was therefore a near-perfect day for Red Bull.
Behind the top four, McLaren had the best race pace of the midfield and Lando Norris continued his superb season in fifth, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who enjoyed a much-improved French GP weekend.
Pierre Gasly was seventh, while multiple world champions Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel expertly managed their tyre strategies behind.
After starting 19th, Lance Stroll completed the top-10 on another strong Sunday for Aston Martin, with Ferrari surprisingly slipping out of contention completely.
Carlos Sainz, who started fifth, finished 11th and Charles Leclerc a lowly 16th after a second stop.
French GP race result
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
4) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
5) Lando Norris, McLaren
6) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
7) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
8) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
9) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
10) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
The key moments that dictated the race
First lap: Verstappen makes an error into Turn Two and Hamilton takes lead
Lap 19: Verstappen undercuts Hamilton despite trailing by 2s before stop
Lap 33: Verstappen pits again from the lead, both Mercedes cars stay out
Lap 44: Verstappen overtakes Bottas and begins Hamilton hunt
Lap 52: Verstappen overtakes Hamilton for race lead
Red Bull on a roll: Could Merc, Hamilton have done any more?
While Red Bull undoubtedly had a faster package than Mercedes on the Monaco and Baku street circuits, there may well be a nagging feeling for the world champions after the French GP given it is a track where they have flourished in the past, and where there was little to split the two cars on Sunday.
Particularly after inheriting the lead from Verstappen due to his early mistake.
But despite Hamilton pulling out a two-second lead, Red Bull got back ahead of Mercedes through a very powerful undercut and out-lap from Verstappen.
Another big strategy decision wasn't far away as, with Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas all pushing hard on their tyres, all three drivers seemed keen to come in again for a second stop.
But Red Bull pulled the trigger first with race leader Verstappen, while Mercedes opted to keep both drivers out.
Bottas certainly struggled more than his team-mate on those tyres.
"If I did a two-stop, I would have been on the podium and fighting for the win," he said after the race. "That's for sure."
But Hamilton was actually matching Verstappen's times until the final few laps of the race, a brilliant effort in the circumstances.
"I did everything I could out there today," Hamilton said. "I didn't really make any mistakes."
His wheel-to-wheel combat was, however, questioned by former team-mate Nico Rosberg, who claimed on Sky F1 that Hamilton's defence from Verstappen - as he didn't shut the door into the chicane - was "soft".
"Those guys are just too quick," insisted Hamilton. "They've taken a big step this weekend."
One thing's for sure, Red Bull have all the momentum heading into the next two races in two weeks - both at their home Red Bull Ring circuit in Austria, and both live only on Sky Sports F1.