Red Bull rescued a dramatic victory for Max Verstappen with a powerful undercut and a bold second stop after his first-lap error put Lewis Hamilton in the ascendancy at the French Grand Prix.
A third consecutive win for Red Bull – two for Verstappen and one for Sergio Perez – boosted their leads in both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Verstappen looked to be in trouble when he let Hamilton through at Turn 2, but his team’s strategy turned the race on its head, extending his advantage to 12 points in the standings.
The championship leader – starting from pole – kept his nose in front at Turn 1 but then ran wide, exiting the track to give up position to Hamilton, who looked at ease at the front of the race.
Pit strategy proved pivotal, though, as Mercedes called in Valtteri Bottas – running in third – before team-mate Hamilton.
Red Bull followed as Verstappen boxed, causing Mercedes to react again, calling for “Hammer time” from their lead driver before bringing him in for a 2.1-second stop, the fastest of the three.
However, a flying out lap from Verstappen meant Hamilton could not quite get out ahead of his rival, instead settling in behind the Dutchman for a lengthy battle alongside Bottas.
Verstappen worked hard to keep Hamilton out of DRS range and gradually built a gap to the fading Silver Arrows that encouraged Red Bull to gamble with another stop and a switch to medium tyres.
Perez, who pitted after the other three, let Verstappen through to quickly take chunks out of the Mercedes lead, with Hamilton warned of a “painful” finish.
Bottas failed to hold Verstappen up, opening a gap for the rapid Red Bull and fuming at his team for delaying a second stop, with Perez soon following his team-mate through.
Red Bull cut it fine, but Verstappen eased past Hamilton on the penultimate lap after only a short tussle to land a significant blow in a thrilling title race.
HORNER SENDS A MESSAGE
With wins on street circuits in Monaco and Baku, Red Bull had two different drivers triumph in consecutive races for the first time in the Hybrid Era.
“It doesn’t seem to matter where they go, they’re very strong,” Hamilton said ahead of this race, but Christian Horner was particularly keen to make a statement in France.
“This circuit has been such a stronghold for Mercedes over the recent years, so if we can beat them here, then really we can beat them anywhere,” said the Red Bull boss.
For that reason, this was a particularly special win, even more so when considering Verstappen’s early mishap and repeated issues with the radio that kept the victor from efficiently communicating with his team.
He still knew exactly who to credit after crossing the finish line, though, telling Red Bull: “Thank you so much, so good.”
On the Mercedes pitwall, they told Hamilton: “This one’s on us.” He, like Bottas, had recommended a second stop.
MCLAREN MAKING STRIDES
While Red Bull’s title credentials are clear, McLaren have established themselves as the best team in the midfield so far this season.
As rivals Ferrari failed to collect a point, Lando Norris came in fifth – a 12th straight race in the points, McLaren’s best run since 14 for Fernando Alonso in 2007 – and Daniel Ricciardo sixth.
IN THE POINTS
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +2.904s
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +8.811s
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +14.618s
5. Lando Norris (McLaren) +64.032s
6. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +75.857s
7. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +76.596s
8. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +77.695s
9. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +79.666s
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +91.946s
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 131
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 119
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 84
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 76
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 59
1. Red Bull – 215
2. Mercedes – 178
3. McLaren – 110
4. Ferrari – 94
5. AlphaTauri – 45