Dutchman Max Verstappen (Red Bull) won a thrilling race at Paul Ricard (France), overtaking his great rival, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) with just one lap remaining, increasing his lead to 12 in the 2021 World Cup. Formula 1.
Lewis Hamilton, his boss Toto Wolf and the Mercedes team in general are beginning to think that any time in the past was better. And if you are not sure, you only have to look at the results of the last races of the World Cup, with three of three victories for Red Bull in the last races (two Verstappen, one Sergio Pérez), and with the Dutchman with the most victories since English (three times two).
But it is not only the numbers that are worrisome for the Germans. So are the facts, minute by minute in the race. Because the French Grand Prix was, not to change this season, an overdose of adrenaline, of emotion. And if in the previous GP, in Azerbaijan, the protagonism was the dangerousness of the circuit, with many accidents and red flags, in Paul Ricard the protagonism was for the teams, for their strategies. And there, Red Bull proves this year to be superior to Mercedes, which may be fundamental given the equality between its cars.
And that Verstappen screwed up as soon as he left. The one from the Netherlands, who had achieved a stratospheric “pole position” on Saturday, went long in the second corner of the race, went on a hike through the loophole and “left” the head to Lewis Hamilton, who as it is logical did not waste it.
But since at Mercedes they are, like good Germans, very polite, they immediately returned the gift to Red Bull, not reacting in time to Verstappen’s pit stop to change tires. Hamilton’s team decided to enter a lap later, which allowed Max to win the hundredths, almost the thousandths necessary to cause the “undercut” on Hamilton, who desperately saw how, when he returned to the track after his stop, Verstappen I won the position by millimeters.
It seemed that from then until the end the race, which had not yet reached its halfway point, would be settled only on the track, since both Verstappen and Hamilton were wearing hard tires, which in theory should go all the way to the end. But none of that. For the first time all weekend, the Mercedes seemed to carb more than the Red Bull, as Verstappen couldn’t get Hamilton off his ass. And in a new strategic twist, when there were still ten and a half laps to go, the Austrian team surprised everyone by taking Verstappen back to the pits, to wear intermediate tires (neither hard nor soft) and try to win the race match by match, lap by lap, trimmed the 20 seconds of advantage of Hamilton lap by lap, taking into account that the wheels of the Englishman were already very punished.
And thus began another race in which Verstappen played it on every straight, on every curve, in desperate pursuit. And it seemed that the thing worked, because it began to discount up to two seconds per lap. Under normal conditions, the Dutchman would have eaten up the Englishman several laps before the finish, but Verstappen was on intermediate tires, which degrade much earlier.
And so it was happening. Although Max was increasingly in a hurry, his tires were taking it with more pause, predicting what was going to happen in the end: they were going to risk everything on the last lap. Because, in addition, if Hamilton thought that he could have an ally in his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who was second ahead of Verstappen, he had it crude, because the first time the Red Bull showed his nose to the Finn, he passed braking and gave him a free hand to overtake him. Bottas knows that he is more outside than inside Mercedes, and for some time he seems to be in other things.
So just six laps ahead, and Verstappen just five seconds behind Hamilton. Little by little, and although his tires were no longer what they were, the Dutchman put his immense talent back on the track, and the mission was to steal the portfolio of a seven-time world champion. But there was not much battle either, as Hamilton seemed to be aware that if Max arrived, he would not be able to stop him. And that’s why, when Verstappen arrived, it passed him like a missile, with little more than one lap ahead, and then he landed in the middle, to achieve a victory that could be crucial for the World Cup, where he already has 12 points, half career.
Sergio “Chico” Pérez finished in third position, who race by race (he won in Baku) shows that he is the ideal companion for Max Verstappen to finally win his first World Cup and end the dictatorship of Mercedes (champion of the last seven World Cups, six with Hamilton and one with Nico Rosberg).
Alonso, great; Sainz, eat, eat …
As for ours, once again Fernando Alonso (Alpine) showed that, when he adapts to the car, he is the best. Seeing the Spaniard finish eighth (ahead of his teammate, Esteban Ocon again) when he has a car to avoid climbing from fifteenth position, causes a bittersweet sensation: good for continuing to enjoy his magic; and bad for the regret that, if he had had more luck with his signings, today he would have more World Cups than Hamilton in length.
Carlos Sainz, for his part, confirmed what was feared: that Paul Ricard is not a circuit for Ferrari. Despite his great classification (he started fifth on the grid), his Ferrari went from less to more less, and finished in the end outside the points, in eleventh position. At least, the Madrilenian was again ahead of his red teammate, the Monegasque Charles Leclerc, proving every day that he has not arrived in Maranello to be number two in Ferrari.