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Verstappen pulls off two-stop masterclass to edge Hamilton in late French thriller

Verstappen pulls off two-stop masterclass to edge Hamilton in late French thriller

F1 News

Verstappen pulls off two-stop masterclass to edge Hamilton in late French thriller

Verstappen pulls off two-stop masterclass to edge Hamilton in late French thriller

Max Verstappen clinched the 13th victory of his F1 career after pulling off a two-stop masterclass as the French Grand Prix boiled up to a late climax.

Red Bull driver Verstappen passed long-time leader in Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap of 53 at the Paul Ricard Circuit to open up a 12-point lead over the seven-time champion as he also clinched the point for fastest lap.

Following the pain of losing the win last time out in Azerbaijan due to a tyre blowout, this victory will taste sweet for Verstappen given the circumstances.

For Red Bull, Sergio Perez also swept by Valtteri Bottas on lap 49 to score a double podium for the team for the first time this season.

It was the perfect strategy from Red Bull who pulled the trigger on a two-stop plan while Mercedes stuck to their guns with a one-stopper, leaving the reigning champions now 37 points adrift of their rivals in the constructors' championship.

On medium tyres, Verstappen reeled in Hamilton on wearing hards, and despite stunning nursing of his rubber from the Briton, in the end he was unable to keep his younger rival at bay.

It is the first time in the turbo-hybrid era Red Bull has won three races in a row, and the first time Hamilton has failed to win in three races since 2019.

Verstappen makes mistake at the start

Following a clean getaway for all concerned, Verstappen headed into turn one under no pressure from Hamilton but remarkably struggled to hold the line through the corner.

It forced the Dutch driver to cut across turn two, handing the lead to Hamilton and a first-lap advantage of 1.5secs.

Over the radio, Verstappen proclaimed: "I couldn't keep the car under control so I couldn't turn to the right."

Behind the lead duo, their supporting cast in Bottas and Perez were unable to make any headway, with the Mexican dropped by the Finn as the laps unfolded.

Bottas was at least able to keep Hamilton and Verstappen in his sights, with just 3.3s separating the top three after the opening 10 laps.

Hamilton complains about tyres

Hamilton, however, often commented about his medium-compound tyres, initially complaining about "no grip" before suggesting they would not "last as long as you are expecting".

After then remarking they "are getting hot", soon after he also declared there was "graining on the front", although he soon eked out a lead of just over two seconds over Verstappen.

After 14 laps, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc triggered the first round of stops, dropping from eighth to 19th in switching from the medium to hard rubber.

With the undercut powerful at this circuit, Leclerc was able to reclaim a place he had lost to McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo who pitted a lap later and pass team-mate Carlos Sainz and AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly who had also been ahead of the Monégasque.

Undercut works for Verstappen on Hamilton

Of the leaders, Bottas was the first in after 17 laps, surprising as normally it is the lead car that would initially pit, followed by Verstappen a lap later and then Hamilton.

The upshot was that Bottas failed to undercut Verstappen who, despite being three seconds adrift of Hamilton when he pitted, managed to perform the strategic move on Hamilton to become the de-facto leader given Perez was running long.

It led to an apology, of sorts, from Hamilton's race engineer Pete Bonnington who said: "Okay Lewis, not sure what happened there, mate."

Perez eventually pitted after 24 laps, settling back into the comfortable fourth place he had held prior to the round of stops, and handing the lead to Verstappen who had both Hamilton and Bottas within 1.5s after 25 laps.

Despite the advantage of DRS for a number of laps, Hamilton was unable to make any inroads, although Verstappen soon messaged: "We cannot keep this up until the end of the race, that's for sure", referring to the pressure being placed on his tyres.

Red Bull switch Verstappen to two-stop strategy

In breaking the DRS and in opening up a 2.2s gap to Hamilton, Verstappen pitted for a second time after 32 laps for a set of medium tyres but with Mercedes opting not to respond.

Verstappen soon swept by Perez for third on lap 35 while eating into the advantage of the Mercedes duo at a rate of two seconds per lap, which eventually dropped to six or seven-tenths of a second to Hamilton.

On lap 44, just when Mercedes needed Bottas to hold up Verstappen for as long as possible, the latter took advantage of an error from the former to claim second.

It prompted an angry message from Bottas who fumed: "Why the f*** did no one listen to me when I said it was going to be a two-stopper? F***ing hell!"

On lap 48, at a point when Hamilton was holding a five-second gap to Verstappen, he then ran wide at turn 12 to cut his lead to 3.3s.

On the following lap, on worn tyres, Bottas was unable to hold off Perez who moved into third.

On lap 51, Verstappen managed to get within a second of Hamilton, ensuring he was in DRS range going into the penultimate lap, and that proved enough as he passed with ease.

Behind the lead quartet, McLaren scored fifth and sixth with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, followed by Gasly, with Alpine's Fernando Alonso eighth.

Aston Martin duo Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll claimed the last two top-10 places.

On a disastrous day for Ferrari, Sainz and Leclerc eventually ended up a miserable 11th and 16th, with Williams' George Russell 12th.

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