Max Verstappen won the French Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his overall lead after a late overtake of Lewis Hamilton, with both title rivals making mistakes in a dramatic see-saw battle.
Dutchman Verstappen – who now leads by 12 points – seemed to get away well from pole in his Red Bull only to miss the second turn and momentarily go off the track, allowing Hamilton to pass him for the lead.
But the Briton then appeared to come out slow from a pitstop in his Mercedes, putting the flying Verstappen back in the lead.
The Dutchman later pitted again while Hamilton did not and a dramatic finish saw the Red Bull man finally pass the defending champion two laps from the finish to seal a 13th F1 win. Team-mate Sergio Perez was third behind Hamilton.
“The two-stop pitstop paid off. The whole race we were fighting each other. I think it will be like this for the rest of the season,” Verstappen said.
Seven-time champion Hamilton had won the previous two races at Circuit Paul Ricard since its return to the calendar in 2018. There was no French Grand Prix last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Verstappen’s early error looked like it could undermine a great start to the season as he’s eyeing a first world title if he can topple defending champion Hamilton.
Pitstops looked to be Verstappen’s only chance of retaking the lead and after the Red Bull driver went in first and then produced a strong out lap, Hamilton followed soon after.
However, Hamilton emerged just behind Verstappen with the Briton appearing to come out slow from the pitlane.
“We don’t know quite what happened there,” a Mercedes engineer told Hamilton over the radio.
But Verstappen soon got agitated with his engineers with Hamilton in his mirrors and his tyres beginning to wear.
He promptly pitted again on lap 33 of 53 and Hamilton opted to stay out and risk making it to the flag before his rival.
Mercedes’ under pressure driver Valtteri Bottas tried to hold up Verstappen for Hamilton but failed spectacularly.
The Finn then took out his frustration over the radio, possibly hastening a decision on his departure from the team. He ended up fourth.
Verstappen then had Hamilton and his failing tyres in his sights, passing him relatively easily.
“It’s all good, man. We did our best. We still got good points,” Hamilton told his engineers over the radio when they apologized for the strategy.
Both title rivals failed to point in the previous race in Azerbaijan but it was all about the duelling duo in France.
Around 15,000 fans were allowed at the track near Marseille, with grey skies failing to dampen the mood with coronavirus cases falling in France.
Two back-to-back races follow in Austria over the next two weekends.
Photo – Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing celebrates with the trophy on the podium after winning the French Formula One Grand Prix at Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet, France, 20 June 2021. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER