Verstappen earns “hat trick”, extends championship lead in France
Driver of the Day Analysis following the French Grand Prix
The French Grand Prix was yet another strategy battle between championship contenders Mercedes and Red Bull, with Max Verstappen taking his third win of the season and extending his lead in the drivers’ standings. He also secured a “hat trick” this weekend-- pole position, race win, and fastest lap.
With Verstappen alongside Hamilton on the front row, the stage was set for a fight between the two for a win. The start didn’t go Verstappen’s way, as he ran off on turn 2 and lost out on P1. The remainder of the race would be spent recovering from this error.
Soon into the race, several drivers noted that tyre degradation was occurring faster than expected. Whether or not it would be a one-stop race came into question-- some drivers ended up going long and sticking to a one-stop, while others stopped early, leaving the possibility of a second stop open.
On lap 19, Verstappen dove into the pits in an attempt to undercut Hamilton ahead. Hamilton reacted soon after, though, pitting on lap 20 and rejoining the track just as Verstappen was approaching. Battling side by side, Verstappen had better positioning and took P2 from Hamilton going into turn 1. The successful undercut would give Verstappen the net lead, as leader Sergio Perez had yet to make his first stop.
With Hamilton still trailing him, Verstappen made a second stop on lap 32. This would drop him to P4, with some catching up to do in order to secure the win Red Bull was yearning for. Mercedes stuck with a one-stop strategy for both their drivers ahead, which meant it would be yet another battle of the strategies.
Putting in far quicker lap times than leader Hamilton in his first few laps out of the pits-- a whole two seconds faster on lap 35, for example-- Verstappen was on track to take the win. After moving past teammate Perez on lap 35, he began to hunt down both the Mercedes drivers ahead.
Verstappen overtook Bottas on lap 44, in an entertaining wheel-to-wheel battle. Bottas expressed his disapproval of the team’s one-stop strategy choice in a radio message aired after the pass was made. In less than 10 laps, Verstappen would have to close a gap of about five seconds to beat Hamilton to the line.
Until the last few laps it was unclear if Verstappen would be able to take the lead, as he was cutting it close to the end. On the penultimate lap, though, he was on Hamilton’s tail having closed the gap with fresher tyres. With the help of DRS, Verstappen made a smooth overtake on Hamilton going into turn 8-- he was now leading the race. He would bring home the win, triumphing over the Mercedes once again, having implemented the winning strategy.
“Once we made the first pit stop, then you could clearly see on the hard tyres [the Mercedes] were pushing me hard from behind. But once we made the call to do a two-stopper, luckily at the end that paid off. We had to work hard for it, but of course, very rewarding,” Verstappen said in the post-race interview, as transcribed by F1.com.
He said later in the interview, “As you can see, the whole race we were fighting each other, so I think it will be like this for the rest of the season.”
Driver of the Day Analysis
-- Vote Breakdown --
- Max Verstappen - 22.9%
- Daniel Ricciardo - 19%
- Lando Norris - 14%
- Lewis Hamilton - 8.4%
- Sergio Perez - 6.9%
He may have started from pole, but it was anything but a straight-forward sprint to the chequered flag for Verstappen. He had to redeem himself for his first lap error, and his fight to reach the top made the race as intriguing as it was. Having only led for ten laps, it was a great race that further solidified him as championship material and earned him Driver of the Day.
Just behind Verstappen in the vote breakdown for Driver of the Day are McLaren’s drivers, who both had successful race days. Whenever the cameras diverted from the battle for the lead, the focus was on McLaren’s movement up the field. Daniel Ricciardo found his rhythm with the car, which he was still in the process of adjusting to the past few race weekends. He went from P10 to P6 on race day, and gathered a fair few points for the McLaren team in their fight for third in the championship against Ferrari. His teammate Lando Norris had yet another successful weekend, as the only driver to have scored points in every race in 2021 so far.
Hamilton is next on the list, having come so close to a win from a P2 start. The strategy didn’t go his way this weekend, though, and he conceded his lead to Verstappen. Sergio Perez finds himself on the Driver of the Day short-list once again, having played the perfect support role for Red Bull this weekend. He ended up finishing P3, helping extend his team’s lead in the constructors’ further.
This week’s honorable mention would go to George Russell, who had what he claims to be his best race with Williams yet. He finished P12 in a race with no retirements, and continues to inch closer to his goal of earning his first points with the team. He didn’t get much coverage this weekend with such a tense battle at the front, but he is well deserving of praise for his ability this week to compete with the mid-field.
Hamilton won Driver of the Day in a nail-biting strategy battle in Spain, which in many ways mirrored this weekend. And just as I agreed Hamilton was deserving of Driver of the Day then, I believe Verstappen was most deserving of the title in France. All eyes were on Verstappen in this race, and his performance helped make this year’s French Grand Prix a stand out.
This is one of many installments of my “Driver of the Day Analysis” series! If you enjoyed this one and are interested in reading about each race weekend’s Driver of the Day winner, be sure to follow to make sure you don’t miss out!