Late drama as Max Verstappen passes Lewis Hamilton to win French Grand Prix

France F1 GP Auto Racing (AP)
15:56pm, Sun 20 Jun 2021
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Max Verstappen passed Hamilton on the penultimate lap to win a pulsating French Grand Prix.

Verstappen stopped one more time than his rival after Red Bull rolled the tactical dice and outfoxed their Mercedes rivals.

Indeed, Hamilton will be left questioning a series of strategy calls by his team after he led the opening exchanges of the race.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez also fought his way past Bottas to take third place, with the Finn fourth and Lando Norris fifth for McLaren.

Verstappen, who crossed the line 2.9 seconds clear of Hamilton, extends his championship lead to 12 points.

Hamilton led the first 19 of 53 laps. Verstappen appeared to have delivered the perfect getaway after beating the Mercedes driver to the opening corner.

But the Dutchman carried too much speed into the left-hander and fell off the track allowing Hamilton to assume the lead.

Verstappen rejoined the track to keep Bottas behind and that is how the order remained until the opening round of stops.

France F1 GP Auto Racing (AP)

Mercedes blinked first, calling Bottas in on lap 17 in the hope of leapfrogging Verstappen. The Red Bull driver stopped on the ensuing lap and emerged ahead of Bottas.

Curiously, Mercedes kept Hamilton out for an additional lap, and Verstappen took advantage of his fresh rubber to move ahead of his rival.

“I am not sure what happened there, mate,” Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington told his frustrated driver after seeing the Red Bull man assume the lead.

Hamilton kept Verstappen on his toes, moving to within half-a-second of the championship leader but failing to make a real impression.

Verstappen was on the radio, warning his team that they would not be able to keep up the relentless pace without stopping again.

And sure enough, with 21 laps to go, Verstappen came in for a second change of tyres.

France F1 GP Auto Racing (AP)

It was a bold call by Red Bull, but one which would win them the race. Mercedes knew that Verstappen would retake the lead if they brought Hamilton in, so elected to keep the Briton and Bottas out in the hope they would be able to get to the flag.

For Verstappen, the Dutchman had an 18-second deficit to overhaul in 20 laps. With the bit between his teeth, Verstappen posted back-to-back fastest times, at one stage taking 2.5 secs out of Hamilton on just one lap and and with nine laps remaining he passed Bottas after the Finn, struggling with his worn rubber, missing the chicane.

“Why the f*** did no-one listen to me when I said it was going to be a two-stop race,” yelled. Bottas. “F****** hell.”

Hamilton was five seconds ahead, with Verstappen eating into the world champion’s lead as each lap passed.

With three laps remaining, Verstappen was just 1.5 secs behind Hamilton and on the following lap he made his move at the chicane, with Hamilton powerless to prevent him passing.

“When we made the call to do a two-stop strategy, it paid off,” said Verstappen following his third win of the season. “We had to work hard for it but it was very rewarding.

“The whole race we were fighting each other so it is going to be like this for the rest of the season.”

Hamilton said: “I am not sure how we lost the position today. We didn’t know how strong that [undercut] was going to be.

“They had a good strategy and it worked well for them. The only option I had was to stay out as long as possible and hope the tyres hold together.”

Following the chequered flag, Mercedes’ chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton, saying over the radio: “That one is on us.”

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