Max Verstappen wins the French GP | Two-stop strategy pays off
Max Verstappen snatched a victory out of the Mercedes basket after he and Red Bull made the two-stop strategy work and extended the lead in the championship. Mercedes were left like sitting ducks on the track as Lewis and Bottas tried to make a one-stop strategy work for the race but didn't have enough tyre life left by the end of the race. The McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth as they extended their lead to Ferrari in the constructors championship table for third place. By the end of round seven, Red Bull leads the constructors championship with 215 points to Mercedes’ 178.
The French GP had all the teams start on the medium compound tyres as compared to the usual soft compounds. This was due to the high abrasion nature of the track and the data collected by the teams over the free practice sessions. Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and a few others chose to start on hard compound tyres in an attempt to achieve a long first stint.
With the lights out, Verstappen had a good launch from the start line but went out of shape heading into turn two. That resulted with Hamiltion taking the lead of the race. Verstappen said that the car went out of shape in turn two due to the lack of grip from the rear end and a strong headwind. All the drivers that started on the medium compound tyres were complaining of graining and tyre wear by the end of lap 11. This was unusual for the engineers to understand as they were expecting the tyres to last longer. Only Perez, Norris, Ocon and Giovinazzi were able to use the tyres for 24 laps. Daniel Ricciardo had found his old ‘late-braking’ rhythm back and was moving through the midfield. Then he chose to pit at lap 17 and successfully undercut Gasly and Sainz who pitted the lap after.
Verstappen pitted on lap 18 in an attempt to undercut Lewis Hamilton who was still in the lead of the race. Mercedes responded to Red Bull’s action by calling in Hamilton at the end of lap 19. But it was too late as Verstappen successfully made the undercut and overtook Lewis as he came out of the pit exit into turn one. Meanwhile, Perez was asked to stay out on the medium tyres till lap 25. This helped the Red Bull play two different strategies with their two drivers.
By Lap 30, it was visible that the Ferraris were not able to manage their tyres with the one stop strategy. Tyre degradation was higher for them than the competitors but Carlos Sainz was able to manage the tyres better. Charles had already dropped off the points by this time and was just managing the car to complete the race. The McLarens were showing good pace on the second stint and were overtaking the Ferrari drivers who had pitted early.
In lap 32, Red Bull took a huge gamble by converting Max’s race strategy from a one-stop to a two-stop strategy. Both Hamiltion and Max were pushing each other since lap 20. This meant that both the drivers had used the best part of the tyre life trying to chase each other. In Lap 33, Red Bull brought in Max and fitted a medium compound tyre on his car.. The Mercedes garage decided to keep the lead and hoped that the tyres would last till the end. As the laps counted down, Max closed in on the Silver Arrows and made a move on Lewis on the Mistral Straight at the penultimate lap. Lewis could not defend his position as his tyres had lost a lot of grip. The race ended with Verstappen winning his 13th race of his career and Red Bull got a double podium with Sergio Perez finishing third. Bottas came fourth after a difficult race followed by the two Mclarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo at P5 and P6 respectively. Both the Aston Martins made the hard tyre strategy work and finished inside the points at P9 for Vettel and P10 for Stroll.
Red Bull extends the lead to Mercedes in the constructors championship by 37 points as they face the double-header at Austria over the coming weekends.