RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen’s third victory of the season at the French Grand Prix was sealed with a scintillating late pass on Lewis Hamilton a lap and a half from the end of the race. But was it Verstappen, or one of his rivals lower down the order, who most impressed our Aramco F1 Power Rankings judges? Their scores are in...

    HOW IT WORKS

    • Our six-judge panel assesses each driver after every Grand Prix and scores them out of 10 according to their performance across the weekend – taking machinery out of the equation

    • Our experts’ scores are then averaged out across the season to create an overall Power Rankings Leaderboard (at the bottom of the page)

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    Given that Max Verstappen and Red Bull have been so much on the front foot this season, it’s slightly surprising to consider that this was the first time the Dutchman has converted a pole position into a victory in 2021. Make that a hat-trick actually, with Verstappen taking fastest lap to boot.

    But while Verstappen may have had more composed wins this year, barring his Turn 1 off at the start, you couldn’t really argue with his execution at Paul Ricard, as he claimed top spot in our rankings.

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

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    This looked in danger of turning into a bit of a damp squib of a weekend for Norris and McLaren, after the Briton qualified P8, before falling back early on after losing out at the start to both team mate Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso. But Norris was superb in the latter stages of the French Grand Prix, working his way diligently through his rivals to take an excellent fifth.

    READ MORE: Norris calls out Gasly over ‘harsh’ Turn 11 move after taking strong P5 finish in French Grand Prix

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    There was little to choose between Mercedes and Red Bull this weekend, and little to choose between title protagonists Verstappen and Hamilton either. Hamilton played the cards he was dealt by Mercedes, attempting to one-stop his way to victory before coming up just a lap and a half short.

    Could a two-stop have changed his fortunes? Hamilton thought it might have – but regardless, after two shaky races from the seven-time champion in Monaco and Baku, this was more like it from Hamilton.

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

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    Our Power Rankings winner last time out, this was another great weekend from Gasly, if not quite as headline-grabbing as his Baku podium performance. The Frenchman qualified in a fine P6 – repaying the hopes AlphaTauri had placed on his shoulders after rookie Yuki Tsunoda crashed out in Q1 – before showing good race pace to come home P7, albeit that he upset Norris en route to that finish…

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

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    George Russell called the French Grand Prix the best race he’s ever had with Williams – and while it didn’t yield his first points for the team, it was hard to argue. Russell making Q2 is barely worth mentioning these days, given that it’s happened at every race so far this year – but for Russell to finish 12th on as ‘conventional’ a circuit as Paul Ricard, in a field with zero retirements (for only the 10th time in F1 history), was a truly exemplary performance.

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

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    Was this Daniel Ricciardo’s best performance of 2021 so far? Our judges certainly thought so, giving the Australian his best score of the season yet, after a French Grand Prix where Ricciardo had looked as up for the fight as he has done all year – even uttering a “let’s ****ing go” when instructed to get after Gasly. Ricciardo admitted after the race that he still hadn’t felt entirely at ease with the McLaren MCL35M – but that just made his P6 all the more encouraging.

    READ MORE: Jolyon Palmer on why the French GP was Ricciardo’s most convincing race yet with McLaren

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    Sergio Perez’s second consecutive podium for Red Bull – having not scored any in the first five races of the season – underlined the progress the Mexican is making in the second RB16B, while Perez remaining in the pit window of the two Mercedes proved crucial to his team thwarting Mercedes’ attempts to outstrategise Verstappen for the win.

    There are undoubtedly still some rough edges for Perez to polish off – but the job Perez did in France was exactly the one that Red Bull need him doing this year, while his tyre management, which enabled him to pick off the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in the latter stages and claim the podium, was pure Perez goodness.

    READ MORE: Paul Ricard weekend ‘wasn’t as good as I hoped’ says Perez, despite second straight Red Bull podium

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    Other than, weirdly, the first race of the season in Bahrain, this was one of the rare Grands Prix this year where Fernando Alonso comprehensively outshone newly re-signed team mate Esteban Ocon. Feisty at the start, he managed to jump Norris from P9 on the grid, before demonstrating solid, if unspectacular, race pace to come home eighth at the flag.

    READ MORE: Alonso explains why race starts have been his ‘strongest point for 20 years’ after P8 in French GP

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    Aston Martin’s signature strategy of an uber-long first stint – which Vettel also used last time out in Baku to snare P2 – was deployed at the Circuit Paul Ricard to good effect, jumping Vettel up from his P12 starting position to ninth at the flag. Not as remarkable as Baku, granted – but this was Vettel’s third straight points finish, with the German starting to look nicely at ease in his AMR21.

    READ MORE: Vettel says he was ‘a couple of laps’ from fighting for P6, after extending points run in France

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    Valtteri Bottas was not a happy bunny at the conclusion of the French Grand Prix, having felt that his advice to Mercedes to switch him onto a potentially race-winning strategy (in his estimation) had gone unheeded.

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

    Angry he might have been, but our judges took a mixed view of Bottas’ weekend, some admiring the generally rejuvenated performance compared to his off-key Azerbaijan showing – while others felt that there could have been some slightly sharper elbows from the Finn to prevent being swallowed up by the Red Bulls, and dropping off the podium in the closing stages of the race...

    MISSING OUT

    It’s Lance Stroll on the cusp this week, the Canadian having done well to have finished 10th, considering that he’d failed to make it out of Q1 and had to start P19 – a result of Stroll’s first flying lap in Q1 being deleted for track limits infringements, with Mick Schumacher’s red flag-causing crash then preventing Stroll setting a competitive lap time in quali.

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    Stroll's recovery into the points from P19 nearly earned him a spot in our top 10

    THE OVERALL STANDINGS

    It’s no change with the top two, as Verstappen holds onto P1 from Norris. However, a poor showing from Charles Leclerc, who seemed powerless to prevent himself slipping down the order at Paul Ricard, saw the Monegasque concede P3 to Hamilton, while Perez also climbs a place, after a slightly anonymous showing from Esteban Ocon in his home race.

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