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F1 French Grand Prix: Verstappen outlasts Hamilton for the win

Le Castellet, France, June 20.21 (GRW): Despite giving up the lead at the first corner of the race, and trailing Lewis Hamilton the rest of the day, the polesitter Max Verstappen recovered to run down his rival with one lap to go and he went on the win the race by a three-second margin. Verstappen had gone for a two-stop strategy while Mercedes stuck with a one-stop plan for Hamilton –and his tires simply gave out in the closing laps of the race.

Verstappen also earned the extra point for fastest lap in the race, extending his points lead over Hamilton by a 12-point margin, 131 points to 119. His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who had started fourth behind Valtteri Bottas, finished third when Bottas’ one-stop plan also saw his tires giving out late in the race.

This is the third race in a row when the Red Bull team won the stop step on the podium – Verstappen having won at Monaco and Perez at Azerbaijan. Red Bull also extended its points lead in the manufacturers championship, now with 215 points to Mercedes’ 178.

Verstappen had qualified on the pole ahead of the two Mercedes – Hamilton and Bottas – with Perez fourth. When the lights went out to start the race, Verstappen accelerated out ahead but he went wide at the first corner and fell back behind Hamilton. Now Hamilton seemed to have the upper hand.

Hamilton had a three-second lead before the pit stops began when Bottas pitted on lap 17 of the 53-lap race. Verstappen came in on the next lap followed by Hamilton another lap later. This cycled Perez up into the lead ahead of these three. But after Hamilton pitted, Verstappen came by ahead of him, having won the ‘undercut’.

Perez continued to lead for the next five laps before he came in for his set of tires handing over the race lead to his teammate Verstappen who continued to lead over Hamilton until he made his second pit stop for tires on lap 32.

Now Hamilton had the lead over Bottas with Perez and Verstappen – on fresher tires – in third and fourth. If Hamilton was going to counter Verstappen’s second undercut strategy and take on fresh tires as well he needed to pit right away. The management in the Mercedes pits chose to leave him out, committing both of their cars to a losing one-stop plan.

The rest of the race spooled out with Verstappen charging up from fourth, passing first Perez and then Bottas on lap 44. Now he was five seconds behind Hamilton and turning faster laps. As the laps wound down, it started to look like Hamilton might just be able to hold off Verstappen but it was not to be. On the penultimate lap he closed in on the front runner and almost effortlessly chinked past him on the long back straight, taking the lead and driving away to solid win.

Meanwhile, Bottas had been struggling on his worn tires –and complaining that his strategists should have brought him on a two-stop plan. After Verstappen overwhelmed him, Perez closed up and passed him with five laps to go – making the result one-three for the Red Bull cars sandwiching Hamilton into a second-place finish.

Behind these four, Lando Norris was fifth and Daniel Ricciardo was sixth. The ‘Canadian’ Aston Martin team saw their drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll, finishing in the points in ninth and tenth. The other Canadian driver, Nicholas Latifi, finished in 18th place, one lap down on the race winner.

After the race, Verstappen said, “It was certainly not an easy race and I got caught out at Turn 1 and lost the rear which meant I had to go off the track and lost a position to Lewis. I was of course upset at the time but I knew there was a long race ahead and I had to focus. In the first stint I didn't really have the pace to fight with Lewis so we took the risk to pit first and to be honest I didn't expect the undercut to work so well that I would come out ahead. They were pushing hard to try and pass me but luckily I could just about stay ahead and I knew I couldn't make any mistakes. We decided to go for the two-stop strategy which worked out well as our car suited the conditions towards the end of the race as the wind became a little less and the track rubbered in. In the end we made the right calls for both cars and it is great to be on the podium with Checo. We should all enjoy this for a few days until we get to Austria and start again."

• Click HERE for the Race Results + Points Standings

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