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Verstappen Takes Victory in a Tense French Grand Prix

French Grand Prix Race Report—June 20th

Jenny Alderton looks at all the exciting racing action from the French Grand Prix.

A tense race dominated by tyre strategy sees a great midfield battle and a showdown for the win in the final laps.

From pole, Verstappen gets a good initial getaway but goes wide into the first corner, allowing Hamilton to take the lead. The Dutchman slots into second, with Bottas in third and Perez fourth. Further back, Norris loses two places to Alonso and Ricciardo.

The top three begin to pull away from Perez who is, in turn, dropping the midfield pack behind him.  This midfield pack is lead by Sainz in the opening stages, with Gasly and Leclerc behind him. The two Mclarens, Alonso and Vettel, are all in this gaggle of cars that look set for a good battle for points in the race. Strategy will prove just as important in this race as it will for the car upfront.

The thought generally is that a one-stop strategy will be the best for the race today and pitstops start on lap fourteen when Leclerc comes in for new tyres. Most drivers pit within the next ten laps, though a few choose a longer first-stint strategy. The main winner from this round of pitstops is Verstappen, who manages to jump Hamilton into the race lead. The undercut—pitting for fresher tyres before your opponents—seems to have been massively underestimated, but Red Bull use it successfully to take the lead. Leclerc and Ricciardo—other early pitstoppers—also jump competitors Gasly and Sainz to gain track position. But with tyre wear being higher than expected, drivers are soon questioning whether these tyres will make it to the end of the race and whether a two-stop race may not be a better option. Late stoppers include Perez—who leads the race for several laps before pitting—Norris and the Aston Martins.

Throughout the midfield, there is some really interesting racing as these tyre strategies play out and drivers catch and pass others on slower tyres around them. The main loser in all of this is Leclerc—the first to pit. His old tyres are just no match for those around him and he drops down the order. The main winner is Norris, whose late stop gives him good pace for the mid and latter stages of the race.

Upfront, Verstappen leads Hamilton and Bottas. All three are reporting high tyre wear and asking to move to a two-stop strategy. Hamilton wants to undercut the Red Bull team in order to regain the lead. But it is Red Bull that blinks first and gives up track position for fresh tyres. Anyone remember the Barcelona race last month? This was the strategy Mercedes employed against Red Bull to enable Hamilton to snatch victory away from Verstappen.

After pitting, the Dutchman comes out in fourth position about twenty seconds behind the new leader Hamilton. Verstappen sets out after Hamilton in a tense chase. It seems inevitable that Verstappen will catch Hamilton, but he has to keep up a fast pace whilst not wearing out his tyres, as well as passing Bottas. As the laps count down at the French Grand Prix, so does the gap from Hamilton to Verstappen. Bottas—despite making a good early call on wanting to switch to the two-stop strategy—is kept out to try to be a rear gunner for Hamilton, but on old tyres, he is unable to stop Verstappen. The Finn is understandably very frustrated at the teams’ strategy, having shown pace this weekend and keeping up with Hamilton and Verstappen in the opening part of the race. The team seem to have sacrificed his race for Hamilton’s. Verstappen then sets his sights on Hamilton and on the penultimate lap he manages to re-take the lead from the Brit, who has no tyres to defend with. The single late stop for Perez works well as he is able to chase down and pass Bottas in the latter stages of the race to secure the final step on the podium at the French Grand Prix.

The Teams

Red Bull – Should be very happy this weekend, with great pace, strategy and execution. Verstappen was fast all weekend and made the team’s strategy work perfectly. Perez also showed good pace and, although he got an initially slow start to the race, soon got into his rhythm. Perez really is the driver that Red Bull have been searching for to fill that second seat. The team lead the constructors’ championship by thirty-seven points and the drivers by twelve.

Mercedes – Just didn’t get the strategy right this weekend. They didn’t see the value of the undercut initially, which gave Red Bull the lead—not a massive issue in itself because I think this caught a lot of people by surprise. However, they then didn’t act quickly enough to take the initiative and move to the two stop—despite having the feedback from drivers and knowledge that the undercut worked. Once Red Bull had switched onto the two-stop strategy, it was too late for Mercedes, and they were forced into having to play out the one-stop, hoping Verstappen would not catch Hamilton. It didn’t play out for them. Bottas, I think, can be particularly peeved, having shown good pace and reported early on they should switch strategy. The team instead kept him out to try to keep Verstappen at bay, and consequentially, lost a potential second or third place.

Mclaren – Great race for papaya team. Initially, their strategy with Norris looked pretty off the wall as he was left out for a very long time and dropped down from fifth to fourteenth. But, it turned out to be inspired as he was able to then move past all midfield competitors and bag an excellent 5th place. In possibly his best performance of the year, Ricciardo made a short first-stint strategy work. Where many others failed to maintain a pace to the end of the race on old tyres, Ricciardo did. He also executed good overtakes earlier on in the race and finished in sixth place.

Alpha Tauri – Bit of a quiet race for these guys, Gasly, again, performing well for the team. Alpha Tauri didn’t have the pace of the Mclaren’s so I think a seventh was the best they could have hoped for—bar retirements for Red Bulls, Mercedes or Mclarens—and it is what Gasly achieved. Tsunoda started from the pit lane and made up several places, but the early stop strategy left him with no pace in the latter stages and he ended up finishing thirteenth.

Alpine – Alonso came alive as the race went on; he showed little pace in the earlier stages but must have connected better with the second set of tyres and should be very happy with an eighth-place finish. Ocon struggled on both sets of tyres and couldn’t find the same sort of pace at all, finishing out of the points in fourteenth.

Aston Martin – Continuing their run of good performances and strategy calls. The team left both drivers out for a very long first stint and then gave them fresh rubber for a faster pace towards the end. Vettel ran as high as fifth before his pitstop, when he dropped to eleventh, but managed a few overtakes to finish ninth. Stroll started in 19th due to his qualifying runs being affected by two red flags. The Canadian made good progress up the field and, after overtaking Sainz at the end of the race, bagged the final point in tenth place.

Ferrari – Not a weekend to write home about for the Ferrari team. It just seemed like they couldn’t connect with the tyres. An early pit stop saw Leclerc on older tyres and sink down the order as the race progressed. The team did change strategy and pit for fresh ones later on, but this didn’t help and the Monegasque finished in sixteenth place. Sainz faired a little better, running in fifth in the opening stages, but was jumped by a few drivers in the pitstops and just didn’t have the pace to keep up with the faster midfield drivers. Sainz finished just out of the points in eleventh.

Williams – A great race for Russell; initially losing positions in the opening part of the race, he seemed to lack pace, but with the change of tyre, he came alive. Coming in twelfth position saw him finish above an Alpine, Alpha Tauri, and a Ferrari. Latifi had a quiet race, bringing the sister car home in eighteenth.

Alfa Romeo – Opted for a late stop strategy as well, but it didn’t really work out for the Alfa Romeo’s, who didn’t seem to have the pace around the French track this weekend. Giovinazzi showed some good pace in qualifying, but he didn’t seem to show the same sort of pace during the race, coming in fifteenth. Raikkonen started seventeenth and made some places up in the opening stages, but couldn’t maintain the positions and finished where he’d started.

Haas – Another forgettable race for the team, really. Williams are Haas’ nearest competitors, but with Schumacher finishing thirty seconds behind Latifi and Mazepin a further ten seconds back, it seems they really don’t have the same sort of pace as Williams.

Final Thoughts

An engaging and intense French Grand Prix sees strategy at the centre, and Red Bull take the victory. It also saw a great scrap in the midfield, with strategies and overtakes in a close and competitive field.

Driver of the day – Norris
Honourable Mentions- Verstappen, Alonso, Vettel, Stroll.

French Grand Prix Race Results 2021

  1. Verstappen (Fastest Lap)
  2. Hamilton
  3. Perez
  4. Bottas
  5. Norris
  6. Ricciardo
  7. Gasly
  8. Alonso
  9. Vettel
  10. Stroll

Race Highlights

Next Time:

Austria: Only a few days to wait before two races at the short but exhilarating Austrian track.

Where to Watch:

USA: Sunday 25th June Live on ESPN race start at 9:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 20th June Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 2:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky One 5:30 PM and Channel Four 6:30 PM, Sunday 25th June.

Written by Jenny Alderton

Jenny is a freelance writer based in Wales with keen interest in Motorsports. An avid follower of Formula one for over twenty years she has recently branched out into watching other vehicles driving around in wiggly circles. Namely, Motogp, World Superbike championship, and British Superbike championship.

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