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Mercedes cracks appearing under Red Bull pressure - What we learned from the French GP

Mercedes cracks appearing under Red Bull pressure - What we learned from the French GP

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Mercedes cracks appearing under Red Bull pressure - What we learned from the French GP

Mercedes cracks appearing under Red Bull pressure - What we learned from the French GP

Another battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and another victory in the closing laps determined by strategy.

The French Grand Prix was expected to be dull and monotonous as had been the case in 2019 but instead it provided F1 with another blockbuster this season as Dutchman Verstappen extended his championship lead.

With Mercedes seemingly faltering again and an intriguing midfield battle culminating in McLaren retaking third place in the constructors' standings, let's take a look at five things we learned at Paul Ricard.

Mercedes unravelling under Red Bull pressure

If Mercedes questioned its decision to try to undercut Pierre Gasly at Monaco when everyone was overcutting, then no doubt there is bafflement the team left Hamilton out to dry when allowing Verstappen to undercut into the lead on Sunday.

The early-stoppers had demonstrated the power of the undercut yet there was no sense of urgency to cover the option off from Verstappen and Red Bull. It cost the team dearly.

It became clear early on the race would turn into a two-stopper. Valtteri Bottas even warned the team himself that he would need to switch to plan B. Cue an irate Finn when he was overtaken by the two-stopping Verstappen at the end of the race as he was absolutely powerless to resist.

There will no doubt be an intensive debrief ahead of the Austrian double-header, but it is clear that Red Bull has exerted such pressure that cracks are beginning to show in the foundations of the seven-time consecutive double-winning championship team.

Russell proves he is Mercedes-ready

With the driver line-up at Mercedes as up in the air as its strategic decision making seems to be, the rumour mill surrounding Bottas, in particular, and a promotion for George Russell has accelerated in recent times.

WIth Bottas revealed to effectively caused the early pit-stop that triggered the events that led to his team's downfall in France with a mistake early on, Russell's strongest Williams performance - as he attested to post-race - would have been the last thing the Finn wanted to see.

Russell again qualified for Q2 - it is almost a given nowadays - but he finally managed to link this to a strong race. A sluggish start threatened to turn the race into the same old story of slipping back from being out of position but his speed mid-race was sublime.

In the closing stages, he even made overtaking moves on Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda to finish 12th, but on a day where teams struggled with tyre life, the duration Russell achieved on his hard tyres was eye-catching.

This could well be the performance Toto Wolff was waiting for in his decision-making process.

Ferrari tyre woes to provide further pain

Oh Ferrari, just when it seemed to be going so well, it all falls back into a chasm of mediocrity.

The team has conceded it only has a small operating window in order to make its front tyres work and that window was not found in France.

Graining marred both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz's races, with neither finishing in the points. Given the Scuderia started with both cars ahead of McLaren on the grid and with a two-point lead in the championship battle for third, to come away with a 16-point deficit will sting.

With such a drop off in pace contributing to Leclerc finishing 16th on merit and an acknowledgement this will not be the only race where such issues are encountered, Ferrari may face an uphill battle in its quest for third.

Verstappen is not bulletproof

For the first time this season, Verstappen made what, at the time, was a critical error on race day. Leading from pole position, the Dutchman slid wide at turn one to allow rival Hamilton into the lead.

Of course, by the end of the race, he and his team had manufactured a recovery to ensure the error didn't cost him ground in the championship - instead extending the gap from four to 12 points - but it does show a chink in the armour.

It means both championship protagonists have experienced issues under pressure this season after Hamilton's excursions at Imola and Baku. Do not be surprised if one or both of the drivers cite these flaws in their ongoing mind games tug-of-war.

Strategy and tyre wear the key for 2021 thrillers

For the third time this season, we were treated to a grandstand finish between two of the best drivers the sport has had to offer because teams had a strategic decision to make.

In Bahrain, Barcelona and now Paul Ricard, bland one-stop races were thrown out of the window as Red Bull and Mercedes aimed to out-smart each other on the pit-wall and in the factories as the strategic boffins scoured every permutation for the fastest route to the flag.

If Pirelli can select appropriate compounds for the remaining races of the season, without compromising the safety of the drivers, of course, then this championship could become an instant classic.

Roll on the next two races at the Red Bull Ring. We are only just getting started.

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