RACE DEBRIEF

    There was elation in the Red Bull garage as Max Verstappen executed an aggressive strategy to snatch victory from Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap, leaving rivals Mercedes with plenty to do as they left Paul Ricard, a venue that had been considered a Silver Arrows fortress. It was an enthralling battle up front, but there was plenty of excitement further down the field. We’ve picked out six winners and five losers from Sunday’s race…

    Winner: Max Verstappen

    When Red Bull asked Max Verstappen to pit for the second time, and thus relinquish the lead he had fought so hard to recapture, his heart sank.

    But the speed of his RB16B, coupled with a fresh set of tyres and his undoubted talent, gave him an advantage that allowed him to reel in and pass title rival Lewis Hamilton with ease.

    READ MORE: ‘It was an easy pass’ says Verstappen, after late move on Hamilton seals French GP victory

    It was his third victory of the season – pulling him level with Hamilton’s tally – and extended his lead at the top of the championship to 12 points.

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    Verstappen has extended his lead in the championship following victory in France

    Ticking off the fastest lap for the bonus point also ensured he scored a hat-trick of victory, pole and fastest lap for the first time in his career.

    Loser: Lewis Hamilton

    Hamilton won’t have believed his luck when Verstappen skated off track at Turn 1, gifting him the lead on the opening lap. But that joy was stolen away when Mercedes underestimated the power of the undercut and Verstappen jumped him in the pit stop period to reclaim P1.

    He gave everything to pressure Verstappen into a mistake, and while it ultimately forced the Dutchman to pit, the life Hamilton had taken out of his tyres in that pursuit over nine laps meant even with his skill in tyre management, he was powerless to stop the Red Bull passing on the penultimate lap.

    READ MORE: ‘Pointless’ to have defended harder against Verstappen’s Lap 52 move for the lead, insists Hamilton

    Second was still his best result since victory in Spain, but losing the lead means he is winless for three races for the first time since 2019, as well as falling further adrift of Verstappen in the title fight.

    2021 French Grand Prix: Mercedes stunned as Verstappen passes Hamilton after pit stop

    Winners: Red Bull

    Strategically, Red Bull smashed it out of the park in France, the four-time world champions going aggressive to avoid a repeat of the Spanish Grand Prix where Mercedes used a two-stop strategy with Hamilton to leapfrog Verstappen for the win.

    Verstappen’s triumph was Red Bull’s third in a row, the first time the team have achieved that run of form since their last world championship year in 2013.

    With Sergio Perez continuing his upward trajectory, backing up his Baku win with third, Red Bull extend their lead over Mercedes to an impressive 37 points. It was also the first time two Red Bulls graced the podium this season.

    READ MORE: Horner calls Verstappen win ‘payback for Barcelona’ after Red Bull defeat Mercedes in France

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    With Perez in situ and up to speed, Red Bull are a much more formidable force than they have been

    Loser: Valtteri Bottas

    France marked something of a renaissance for Valtteri Bottas, the Finn having been all at sea for the last couple of races. He even remarked to me in the pen, after taking fourth, that he couldn’t remember the last time he scored.

    He was annoyed the team didn’t move him onto a two-stop strategy and as he ran out of tyres, both Red Bulls passed him. And that meant the Silver Arrows lost further ground to their rivals in the constructors'.

    As a random aside, it was his first points finish of the season that was not a third place (he scored podiums in Bahrain, Portugal and Spain in that position).

    READ MORE: ‘I could have been fighting for the win’ – Bottas left furious by Mercedes’ one-stop strategy

    Winner: George Russell

    It wasn’t a first points finish with Williams for George Russell at Paul Ricard, but it was one of his best ever drives for the team as he crossed the line 12th.

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    Russell is still searching for those first points for Williams in his third season for the team

    The Briton recovered from a poor start to show strong pace throughout the Grand Prix, gaining places not only through strategy but also on track, including a pass late on AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.

    Twelfth is his and the team’s best finish of the season to raise hopes that if everything goes their way across a weekend, sneaking a point is very possible.

    READ MORE: Russell says French Grand Prix was ‘best race I’ve ever had with Williams’

    Losers: Ferrari

    Ferrari anticipated a “complicated” run of weekends after Monaco, and while that didn’t transpire in Baku – as they took their second successive pole position – things came tumbling down on race day in France.

    Qualifying wasn’t too bad, Carlos Sainz excelling with a brilliant fifth – but both he and team mate Charles Leclerc simply couldn’t get the tyres to work on Sunday, resulting in the duo dropping like stones through the field.

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    Neither Ferrari made it into the top 10 in France

    It was the first time the Scuderia failed to score with either car in 2021, as they dropped behind McLaren – 16 points adrift – in the fight for third in the constructors’ championship.

    Winners: McLaren

    This was a mighty fine weekend for McLaren, who asserted themselves as the third best team on pure pace in France.

    Lando Norris came alive in the Grand Prix, rising from 14th at one point to take an impressive fifth, a points haul good enough to keep him in fourth in the drivers’ championship.

    READ MORE: Ricciardo relishes ‘fun’ run to sixth in France, as McLaren car ‘starts to feel more like home’

    And Daniel Ricciardo had the best weekend of his McLaren career, the Australian getting the MCL35M to a place where he could fight for decent points, eventually crossing the line sixth – four spots up on where he started.

    2021 French Grand Prix: Ricciardo and Norris overtake Alonso in quick succession

    Loser: Esteban Ocon

    Esteban Ocon was flying high on Friday at Paul Ricard, the Frenchman having signed a three-year contract extension the week before and then finishing in the top six in practice, to the delight of his home fans.

    But that pace deserted him in qualifying, as he missed out on Q3 and he was unable to make progress in the race, ending up a lacklustre 14th for his second non-scoring race in a row.

    Winner: Pierre Gasly

    While Ocon struggled, his compatriot Pierre Gasly dazzled the fans in the grandstands with a typically gritty performance throughout the weekend, from taking sixth in qualifying to seventh in the Grand Prix.

    READ MORE: Gasly defends his battle with Norris as ‘hard racing’ after finishing 7th in home Grand Prix

    That was his sixth points finish in a row, with only Norris having a better streak, and means he moves to within five points of seventh-placed Carlos Sainz in the championship.

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    Gasly is on a roll and has been in the points in every race except Bahrain this year

    That healthy points haul also moved AlphaTauri five points clear of Aston Martin in the battle for fifth in the constructors’.

    Losers: Alfa Romeo

    Alfa Romeo had been gathering momentum of late, scoring in each of the last two races to give themselves some breathing space in the constructors’ championship, ahead of non-scoring Haas and Williams.

    But they simply didn’t have the pace in France as F1 left street tracks to return to a more conventional circuit, with Kimi Raikkonen getting knocked out in Q1 and neither him nor his team mate Antonio Giovinazzi able to claw their way into the points in the race.

    French GP Facts & Stats: Verstappen's first F1 hat-trick, and a special podium for Perez

    The chasm between them and the seven teams above increased, with next best Alpine 27 points ahead in seventh.

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    Work to do for Alfa Romeo if they want to close the gap to the top 10

    Winner: Reliability

    Rarely in Formula 1 does the whole field see the chequered flag, but that’s what happened in France.

    There were no collisions, no crashes and no mechanical failures, which meant there were no retirements for the 10th time in F1 history – and sixth in the hybrid turbo era.

    READ MORE: What the teams said – Race day in France