Verstappen wins tense French Grand Prix

by Jun 20, 20210 comments

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Coming into today’s race we had promised ourselves – in light of the other evening’s woeful performance by the England football team against Scotland – that even if all twenty drivers finished in the exact order they started, with not a single overtake over the course of the whole afternoon, we would not describe the race as boring.

And then the Weather Gods decided to intervene.

There had been talk of thunderstorms in the days leading up to the weekend, but after two days of sunshine it looks as though the weather is finally turning.

Which effectively means that all bets are off.

Though the morning rain eventually subsided, the warm air soon drying the track, there is the threat of further rain over the course of the afternoon.

Consequently, a race that was likely to depend on who made the best start, strategy, keeping it on the black stuff and ensuring there are no mistakes looks likely to be a race dependent on a good start, strategy, keeping it on the black stuff and avoiding trouble.

As we saw in Baku, winning isn’t everything, for as a certain British TV gameshow host used to remind us every week, “points make prizes”.

With Verstappen and Hamilton starting on the front row, the stage is set, while the presence of teammates Bottas and Perez just behind only adds to the sense of anticipation.

While we might dread the thought of a one-stopper – a situation not helped by the fact that the leading ten all start on mediums – the Weather Gods might yet throw a spanner in the works.

Though it is clear Red Bull Honda is now almost a match for Mercedes, the German team has a reputation for making better strategic calls. In the best of conditions this could be a game-changer, with the uncertainty over today’s weather and the possibility of constantly changing conditions, the strategists will need to be on the ball throughout.

The title fight aside, the midfield should once again provide the real ‘meat and veg’ of the afternoon, with Sainz leading the pack.

Adding to the spice is the fact that due to various incidents a number of drivers are starting out of position and will therefore be keen to make up places as soon as possible, drivers like Stroll and Raikkonen.

Yuki Tsunoda, who failed to post a timer in qualifying after spinning off, will start from the pitlane after AlphaTauri opted to change a number of components including his gearbox.

With the Weather Gods letting us down already at least once this season, tantalising us with a few warning drops, only to bring on the sun again, we’re not going to get too excited… however, another factor that could play a part today is track limits, not just the deletion of lap times but the fact that the kerbs and run-offs are capable of doing serious damage should you err.

With all the top ten choosing to start on the medium tyre, a medium to hard one-stopper is the logical way forward should it remain a dry race – and this could be the case even for those outside the top ten. In fact, for those further down the field, starting on the hard could be another option as well, before switching to the medium or soft later in the race.

A one-stopper from soft to medium is too demanding, especially if it’s warm, so the only other obvious choice will be soft to hard (although that will require a bit of tyre management on the soft).

The pitlane opens and the drivers begin to head out. Despite the uncertainty over the rain, it is decidedly cooler than yesterday.

There’s an early off for Sainz, while Hamilton feels his ‘brake magic’ is “trimmed down just a little too much”, the errant button having been covered with a shroud since Baku’s non-mistake.

Air temperature is 24 degrees C, while the track temperature is 31 degrees.

The tricolours in the grandstands are evidence that despite the cooler conditions it is much more blustery today. Race control advises that there is a 10% chance of rain. Damn!

Other than the leading ten, Russell, Schumacher, Latifi and Tsunoda start on mediums, the rest are on hards.

They head off on the formation lap, Hamilton getting away before Verstappen. As the cloud lifts, the temperature is already rising.

The grid forms.

They’re away! Verstappen leads into Turn 1, but makes a mistake at Turn 2 and has to use the escape road, thereby handing the lead to his title rival.

“I couldn’t keep the car under control, I couldn’t turn right,” sighs the Dutchman.

As Sainz looks at Perez, Gasly is all over the Ferrari with Alonso in hot pursuit.

Indeed both Alpine drivers have made strong starts, unlike their McLaren counterparts

At the end of lap 1, it’s: Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Sainz, Gasly, Leclerc, Alonso, Ricciardo and Norris.

Poor starts from both McLaren drivers.

“Check my left-rear, there’s no grip,” complains Hamilton.

Vettel makes a great move on Ocon as Alonso is all over Leclerc.

Despite starting from the pitlane, Tsunoda is already up to 17th.

Lap 3 sees Verstappen post fastest lap (39.571) as he seeks to close the 1.5s gap to Hamilton.

Replay shows another close encounter between the Haas drivers, though maybe it’s our interpretation of it.

Ricciardo also complains of low grip, no doubt due to the rise in temperatures.

While Tsunoda is up to 16th, his next target is Stroll who has also made up four places thus far.

While Bottas maintains a 1.051s gap to Verstappen, Perez has dropped 3.9s behind the Finn.

While Leclerc harries Gasly, Alonso drops back a little into the clutches of Ricciardo.

Lap 6 sees Bottas post a new fastest lap (38.604). “Great job, anything is possible,” the Finn is told.

“Tyres are getting hot,” reports Hamilton as he maintains a 1.9s lead.

As Perez drops 4.4s behind Bottas, Sainz is now 7.3s down on the Mexican.

“Graining on the front,” reports Hamilton as Stroll passes Raikkonen for 14th.

Advised of his teammate’s graining, Bottas responds: “For me also”.

On lap 11, Ricciardo finally makes his move on Alonso at the chicane and makes it stick, to add insult to injury for the Spaniard, Norris follows his teammate through.

“Front graining,” reports Alonso as Hamilton is now struggling with his left-rear.

In clear air, the McLaren pair close in on Leclerc as Vettel is the latest to pass the struggling Alonso.

Bottas runs wide in Turn 4 as Alonso reports that “everyone is struggling”.

Ricciardo makes short work of Leclerc and sets off after Gasly. The Monegasque subsequently pits, switching to hards. He rejoins in 18th.

“Keep pushing hard and try to avoid the kerbs with your front-left,” Bottas is told.



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