F1 – French GP – Race
Salut, MiniFans! France welcomes back races with a big amount of fans on the stands and the energy is starting to be similar to what we’re used to. In this race, medium tyres were the norm for the start, save for a handful of drivers in the midfield that decided to go against the current and give hards a try at the beginning. It was a day to see whether Red Bull and Verstappen could remain on top in what has traditionally been a Mercedes circuit.
The start was marked by Verstappen’s mistake in the first corner, an opportunity to pass that was taken up by Hamilton. The Mercedes started to pull away, while Sainz tried to overtake Pérez and more cars exchanged positions in a very clean start. Verstappen, however, didn’t let his initial mistake take over his race and started to set fastest laps in an effort to reach his championship rival. His teammate, on the other hand, couldn’t keep up with Bottas and a gap started to appear between them. Complaints about graining on the tyres started to come from a good chunk of the grid and Leclerc was the first to act on in, swapping his mediums for hards.
The first clear attack in the pitlane was from Ricciardo to Gasly, with McLaren clearly saying their reasons for stopping the Australian. Alpha Tauri responded to try and protect their driver, as did Sainz to take advantage, but it was McLaren that came out on top. Meanwhile, at the front, Bottas, Verstappen and Hamilton pitted in three consecutive laps, which was a big mistake on Mercedes’ part and cost them the lead of the race to Red Bull while placing the three of them within a second and a half.
Halfway through the race, it still wasn’t too clear who would come out on top, as the battle between Verstappen and Hamilton kept going on while Bottas had slightly backed off. Leclerc was having trouble and losing places, making teams worried about the durability of the tyres, specially those at the front who had been taking them to the limit, while McLaren was thriving with them on. In a surprise move, Red Bull called Verstappen into boxes with around twenty laps remaining to give him medium tyres and leave Mercedes wondering whether to copy the strategy. After asking Hamilton and getting confirmation of good tyres, they decided to remain on track and nurse the hards while Verstappen pulled fastest laps with his mediums.
The last laps were nail biting to those who like looking at the timing tower and the time gaps between drivers. Radios went wild, both trying to calm drivers down and give them as much information as possible. Verstappen’s overtake on Bottas was quick and it prompted an angry outburst on radio by the Mercedes driver, as he wondered why he hadn’t been heard when he said the race would be better on a two-stop strategy. When it seemed as if the race would end in the order of the timing tower, Verstappen bit a huge chunk out of the gap, dropping it to less than a second with less then three laps to go. The last two were thrilling as Verstappen overtook Hamilton in a brilliant DRS manoeuvre to cross the finish line in first place.
There wasn’t really a way to expect the race we got. Hamilton got an early lead, something that could make its way into predictions, due to Verstappen’s mistake. Hard tyres fell without warning and Red Bull decided to go for the risky choice of doing a second stop for Verstappen to avoid that and reach the end of the race with fresher and softer tyres. For some, it was a death sentence for the Dutch driver, but others, his team included, believed it was possible. Destiny was on Verstappen’s side this time and he overtook Hamilton to claim his third victory of the season to cement his championship leadership.