Winners and Spinners - French Grand Prix
Not as dull as the French Grand Prix often is with a four-way pit strategy tussle deciding the winner in the penultimate lap.
"Red Bull fight!"
Red Bull - It is fantastic to finally see a competition emerging at the top of the table. Three wins on the trot for Red Bull, with a doubleheader at home next week and the week after they are carrying an incredible amount of momentum into Austria. A strong pit strategy, utilising the skills of their drivers to put Mercedes under an incredible amount of pressure and bring home a bevvy of points. Perez's ability to keep his tyres in the best possible condition allowed him to catch up to the front three after a steady start, and then when the opportunity came he was able to force a mistake from Bottas and whip past him out of turn nine, unaided by DRS, relying on his strong corner exit speed and a slipstream from the Mercedes ahead. Max meanwhile didn't have the opening lap he wanted, but ultimately it could be looked at as this mistake triggering Red Bull's more aggressive pitstop strategy. Forcing them to think differently and make a gamble to regain position later on. And it worked. A clean drive to reel his position back in and bagging a respectable 26 points and broadening the gap to Hamilton. Red Bull now have a 37 point lead over Mercedes in the championships and a car that both of their drivers seem very happy with. Fingers crossed this hugely positive momentum will carry on for them into Austria and then Silverstone.
A fitting tribute to a man who bought so much to McLaren and the team with a strong result to boot.
McLaren - A strong and competitive start had the McLaren boys off to a good run. Danny Ric flying off the line with some strong pace. Norris battling Gasly proved to be an incredible battle, two extremely fast, young talents duking it out. One with a confirmed long future, one whose future isn't so clear. Daniel seemed a lot more at home in the car, making some late braking moves stick better than previously, he's beginning to find his feet in the MCL35M and finishing astern of Norris by 11 seconds. Promising stuff going into two weeks in Austria where this chassis proved itself to be a strong competitor last year, now bolstered by Mercedes power it'll be interesting to see how it runs.
Seb on a flying run. Look at him gooooooo!
Aston Martin - Another beguiling masterclass in strategy from the Silverstone based team. In a way, a mirror of Ferrari's plans, a less than promising qualifying once more with a brace of impressive drives through the grid to get a strong position in the field before pitting for a comfortable run to the finish. We saw a similar system with Vettel in Monaco and Vettel again in Baku, both times putting in a long run on the starting tyres from a qualifying position that gave him a choice of compound, going long and then pitting for a fresher set to push to the end and make up the few positions lost in a late pitstop against a spread out field of cars. Big kudos to Lance Stroll for coming through from the back of the grid to bag a point for the team.
George pushing through the back of the pack to a very respectable P12.
Russell - A poor start, which George later admitted to and said he'd been struggling with recently, saw Mr Saturday undo a lot of his hard work, but a metered drive that no doubt didn't go unnoticed at the Mercedes garage saw him reclaim the lost places, and then some, coming home 12th, two up from his starting position of 14th. A late, big move on Tsunoda saw him come home ahead of the young Japanese driver. A strong result and if there'd been a bit of chaos ahead to allow for the off-the-pace Williams to catch up then we could have finally seen some points for him with the once-great team.
Best result he could really get. A few more of these and he could improve on his 7th overall!
Pierre Gasly - Another strong drive from the young Frenchman, not a podium, although realistically it would be a bit of a stretch to expect that. Regardless, after a deeply impressive performance in Azerbaijan we've seen what 'backwards cap Gasly' has to offer. Tussling with the big boys at the hot end of the grid Gasly came home with a small but amicable points haul. Starting sixth with a brilliantly competitive qualifying, this has been a strong weekend for the Alpha Tauri driver. Hopefully, he'll carry this momentum into the weekends to come in the Styrian hills.
Ocon heading out after swapping from hards to mediums in a bid to make up some places.
Esteban Ocon - As a French driver, on the weekend after you've signed on with a French team at the French Grand Prix you want to be performing at your very best. Instead, we saw an 11th place in qualifying and a 14th place by the chequered flag. And it isn't like this was a circuit the Alpines were struggling at. His teammate Alonso managed a decent eighth place, scoring points and tussling with the Aston Martins through the race. Ocon comparatively was nowhere. Fingers crossed he'll find what he was missing and be back on form for Austria.
Maybe Austria will bring better fortunes.
Ferrari - Not a weekend to be a Tifosi. As I said earlier, the opposite of the Aston Martin pattern with a strong qualifying, Sainz out-pacing Leclerc in qualifying and then neither of them having a fun time of it on the Sunday. There seemed very little they could do, their chassis responding poorly to the hugely abrasive surface. This seems to force them into a compromised pit strategy and a conservative approach to the race. No point binning it in a race where you aren't going to bring home any points. Better have a healthy car that hasn't been bodged back together for a triple header.
Hamilton with 10 laps to go, fending off Max chasing him down.
Mercedes - At least being a Ferrari fan you expect ups and downs. This week was another down for Mercedes. Initially, as Hamilton skipped past Verstappen through turn two, it looked like the set up of another Mercedes masterclass, a one-two finish with the fastest lap to boot. But again things didn't turn out for domination. In Baku Lewis couldn't gap the cars he'd passed with the same efficiency as he needed to, to avoid being passed in the pit stops, and we saw a similar thing here in France. Red Bull pulled the trigger with the undercut, a tactic that everyone was touting as being immensely powerful, something even Mercedes backed up. Verstappen's blistering out-lap saw him erode Lewis' advantage as car 44 pitted and came out behind the Red Bull. It was this same undercut that put Bottas right up behind his teammate giving us a three-way battle at the top. A move they tried to goad the Red Bulls into pitting before they wanted, the result was Bottas running longer on his second stint than he wanted to on some fast degrading tyres. And then the art of a two-stop strategy came into play, something Valterri bemoaned his pit wall for not choosing, and a strategy that paid off well for Max as he could utilise his fresher tyres later on in the race, passing Bottas with relative ease, and then nipping past Lewis on the chicane on the Mistral straight on lap 52. It was then just the challenge of keeping it on the track and hoping the tyres made it to the end. And while Verstappen passed Hamilton, the tyre preservation wizard Perez was fast gaining on Bottas, able to make a dive on the beleaguered Fin and take his second podium for Red Bull, on the trot too. The success of Red Bull here highlights the ball drop from the Silver Arrows, unable to adapt to the coarse track and the faster tyre wear they spent much of the race on the back foot, frantically defending what precious track position they had. The question is, will this rattle Mercedes enough to cause some more errors, or will they prove they are made of sterner stuff and bounce back with a vengeance filled blend of precision and clinical decisions. Or will they provide a great amount of on track action with some wild gambles and pushing way to hard. One of these is the Mercedes way, one is not. We wait for Austria to find out.
Alonso doing a cracker of a job, better than his teammate at least.
Alonso - A good drive from Alonso. Baku and its sprint finish seems to have revitalised his drive and he's coming into a strong fine form. Another points finish for him, showing up the youth of his teammate, better able to cope with the hugely different race conditions to qualifying and practice. A fairly quiet race bar the odd tussle here and there. All in, a dependable drive; although with another double point finish from Aston Martin, Alpine are now in a bit of a no man's land in the standings. 11 off Aston ahead, and 27 head of Alfa Romeo behind they need to be putting in some more competitive drives as a team to reel in Seb and Stroll ahead.
Latifi having a decent day of it on track. Not a points challenging day, but a decent day.
Latifi - I feel like this should be a Spinner, but equally, Nicholas is in a Williams so we can't expect great things. However, he was 2.2 seconds up the road from Nissany in FP1, so he isn't the worst second driver to George. He made a good start to the race and kept the Haas cars behind him and that's largely all you can expect from him in that position. He out-qualified Kimi and was only 0.767 behind him by the chequered flag. I mean that's something? Essentially still an 'also ran'.
A strong recovery drive from Yuki, shame he didn't have a better starting position.
Yuki Tsunoda - Qualifying wasn't great was it. Chucking it backwards off the track and obliterating a gearbox. Especially when your teammate is running comfortably in the top 10 and you haven't made it out of Q3 since Portugal. However, with the pressure on him Yuki put on a decent recovery drive to come home 13th ahead of Ocon and Charles Leclerc. Not terrible, but think about where he could have come home had he had a decent qualifying session?
Gio leading Kimi. As a Jesus fan we love to see it.
Alfa Romeo - What does Giovinazzi know that we don't? He's really been putting in some serious effort these past few races, taking the fight to Kimi and storming through the grid. Is Alfa on for a strong 2022 season? Have they been muttering about keeping Kimi a bit longer and fetching in a Ferrari Driver Academy driver for the second seat? But he's been quietly impressive this season. And Kimi hasn't done too badly either. Two points on the table, they might out do their 2020 efforts of 8 points. Doubt they'll top 2019's strange 57 points courtesy of a 4th and 5th in Brazil. But we can only hope.
Mick doing a decent job of not driving like an arse. Shame the same can't be said for his teammate.
Haas - OK, we'll wrap this up quickly. A good start to the weekend for Mick with a Q2 appearance, average race with an off early on seeing him snake around through the striped run-off area. Then Mazepin becoming hyper defensive against him at one point, still losing a place to Mick and coming home 14.095 seconds behind the German. Mick was still 30 seconds behind Latifi though. Not great from the Haas team, but equally what we've come to expect.
Some wise words from Guenther, trying to manage Mick must be tricky when his teammate is trying to run him off the road.
And if you fancy a bit more French GP in your life, check out Formula Food, my series over on Foodtribe where I try and cook a different dish for each country on the calendar. *plug*