The first triple header of the F1 season has arrived and the French Grand Prix kicked it off with a bang. With no retirements and another Red Bull / Mercedes showdown, it did not disappoint. Here’s what happened in the south of France this weekend.
Max made a mistake at turn 2 on the opening lap, locking up and needing to go around bollards. This gave the lead to Hamilton with Max slotting back into P2 ahead of Bottas. Behind them, Lando Norris had another poor start moving out of the points places once again. The twenty drivers didn’t separate for quite some time, showing how competitive these drivers all were in France this year.
After a few laps, Sergio Perez began to struggle and moved away from the top three, as the entire field began to do also. The tyre issues became obvious. Pirelli and the teams had massively overestimated how far these tyres would go. As usual, Lewis Hamilton was also complaining, although he had settled into his lead well at this stage.
The pit stops:
Charles Leclerc was the first driver to make it obvious that the teams were struggling with tyre wear. He pitted on Lap 14 and moved from the points positions down to P19, showing how long the pit stops would take and how detrimental that could be if it went wrong. Nobody had a disastrous pit stop however.
Mercedes pitted Bottas on Lap 18, which surprised everybody. Having expected Hamilton to pit first as the race leader, it was interesting to see Valtteri pitting. Just one lap later we then saw Verstappen coming into the pits and we knew the race was on. Red Bull, who are known for their quick pit stops performed just an average stop. At 2.3 seconds, it was similar to other teams and nothing overtly special from the record breaking pit crew.
Lewis then pitted on the next lap and almost avoided the undercut but was pipped on the line by Max and the pole sitter was once again in the net lead. Sergio Perez was at this stage leading the race using his tyre saving abilities which ultimately got him onto the podium.
Chasing the Mercedes cars down for the win:
Perez pits onto fresh tyres and we can immediately see that Mercedes are likely to lose out in this fight. Red Bull brought Max in for a second set of mediums and the race to the lead began. Mercedes were caught out. It was too late to pit and take the lead as Max took seconds out of Hamilton’s lead on every lap.
Valtteri Bottas was relied upon to keep Max behind him to save the lead for Hamilton. This was not something he was able to do however. On Lap 45, Bottas’ old tyres are so clearly unusable. Max passes the Finn after a mistake and immediately we knew that this win was Max’s to take. Perez was also catching Bottas quickly with his fresher tyres. Lap 49 comes and Perez overtakes Bottas and takes the last step on the podium. Mercedes still didn’t pit Bottas, despite having far beyond enough time to Norris who is now in P5. This is when it was particularly clear that the Mercedes strategy was wrong.
Max was charging after Lewis and on the penultimate lap, Lewis was unable to hold him off and Max flew past him and into the lead. With the fastest lap as well, he extended his lead from Lewis in the championship, as Red Bull did in the constructors championship. Embarrassment for Mercedes who had such an advantage in France in previous years. Perez kept the final step on the podium and Valtteri began to shout at his team on the radio about how they hadn’t listened to him about strategy.
Aside from the top 4, many drivers had very strong performances in France that also deserve mentioning. Both McLaren drivers had a strong weekend, with Norris once again finishing as best of the rest in P5. Daniel also performed really well, finishing in P6, which everyone was happy to see after his tough start to the season.
Outside of the top 10, another honourable mention has to go the way of George Russell. The young Brit finished in an impressive P12 truly on merit after a strong weekend for the Williams driver. With all 20 drivers finishing the race, this is a massive achievement and we’re all pleased to see him performing. He is a clear talent for the future so let’s see what more he can achieve.