Max Verstappen said he wasn’t sure if he could pass Lewis Hamilton after switching to two-stop in F1 French GP, while the Brit explained why he didn’t fight much.
With seven races done in 2021 F1 season, its three for Mercedes and four for Red Bull, where both Verstappen and Hamilton share three wins, while Sergio Perez has one to his name. The French GP saw another fantastic battle between the two title contenders.
Looking at Verstappen, having taken pole, the Dutchman had a great start but lost the rear slightly due to the wind and cut the corner at Turn 1 – was saved by no penalty. Hamilton, meanwhile, pounced and made the most of it, to lead the grand prix.
Verstappen then just tried to follow, as Hamilton opened a gap in the clean air. The Dutchman pitted on Lap 18, while the Brit waited for a bit longer as Mercedes didn’t think the undercut would work – in fact, Red Bull did not think it either.
But Verstappen had a solid out lap, so much so, he overturned a three second advantage held by Hamilton and they were side-by-side when the Brit exited the pits. The Dutchman wasted no time to take him and lead, which kick-started the big chase.
“It was certainly not easy,” said Verstappen. “Especially at the beginning I would say was really tricky for me. I had my moment in Turn 1, where I honestly really got caught out. I turned in thinking it was fine and then suddenly I kept losing the rear. I had to go off track and then I lost the position.
“Of course I was really upset at the time but you have to think ahead. It was still a long race and a lot could happen. I just tried to follow. We had a good out lap on the hard tyre and I got ahead of Lewis, which was very unexpected because I honestly thought I had a good out lap but I thought I would just slot in behind him.
“And then I saw he was coming out of the pits and I had an opportunity to go for it and for eight laps, I don’t know how many laps, Lewis was giving it his all to come by so it was not easy to keep him behind,” summed up Verstappen.
While Hamilton and even Valtteri Bottas chased on, it was like Barcelona all over, with the one-stop looking increasingly difficult. Mercedes clicked the last time, but it was Red Bull’s call this time, as on Lap 33, they called him in and converted to a two-stop strategy.
Amid all this, Verstappen also had radio drama. He could hear them but they could not hear his responses. With the pit stops done, it did not affect the Dutchman’s performance. He didn’t think he could pass Hamilton after Mercedes decided to keep on their one-stop strategy, but eventually he managed to catch him well.
“We opted to go for the two-stop and I was like ‘OK, let’s see if it’s going to work out’, because you never know around here,” said Verstappen. “And also the backmarkers were not making it easy to clear them and gain a lot of time every lap. But as soon as I was getting close I could see, of course Lewis on the tyres he was on, they were really worn.
“And there was not much left on it and as soon as I got in the DRS with the top speed and the wing level we chose, let’s see it was a fairly easy pass, but of course also having fresher tyres. It worked out but it was very tight. And as for the radio, I just couldn’t talk back to them but they could feed me all the information and that’s the most important because the stops were done. I couldn’t talk to them,” summed up Verstappen.
On Hamilton side, he took advantage of Verstappen slip up and did not look back, but eventually the strategy and also the closeness of Perez caught Mercedes out, where they committed to one-stop, and couldn’t change – which is why James Vowles came on the radio post-race and took it on the strategy team.
There were chorus about Hamilton not fighting enough against Verstappen, but the Brit said there was no need to as he didn’t wish to damage the tyres more. It’s not gut-wrenching at all,” he said. “I think we did a great job. It just didn’t work out but I’m not massively disappointed. I think I did the best job I could.
“Of course there were things we could have done slightly better but overall they’ve been quicker than us all weekend so it’s a true reflection of the pace they have. As for the pass from Verstappen, firstly, there are marbles on the inside, so I didn’t want to make my tyres worse than they already were.
“He had the DRS open, so if he didn’t pass me there, if he didn’t pass me there, he would have passed me on the straight afterward, so it would have made zero difference and I just had no front end, so he would have got me either way. I think you saw what happened to Valtteri – just ended up going straight on. So, there was no point messing up the tyres any more. Two-stop would potentially have done the job but it was not on the cards at all for us, so we’ll do some analysis and try to figure out why,” summed up Hamilton.
Is it crisis time in Brackley? One would think not but not since 2013 have Red Bull won three in a row. It is also quite some time since Mercedes haven’t won in three races. Nothing but a win this weekend coming would help them.
Here’s how Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/video.2021-french-grand-prix-verstappen-overtakes-hamilton-on-penultimate-lap-to-take-victory.1703096948551932541.html
Here’s Mercedes gamble on Valtteri Bottas, Toto Wolff on his radio
The story was written by Neil Farrell