In French Grand Prix, two-stop strategy leads to Verstappen’s first hat-trick

Jun 21, 2021
PHOTO: AP

THE 2021 French Grand Prix marked the start of this season’s first triple header: a race at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France, followed by two races in Austria’s Red Bull Ring.

For the first time in his career, Verstappen pulled off a hat-trick, claiming pole during Saturday’s qualifying session, converting that to a win on Sunday’s race, then getting the additional point for fastest lap.

An added bonus was the Driver of the Day nod.

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His win in Circuit Paul Ricard extended the Dutchman’s championship lead by 12 points from a previous deficit of 4 against rival Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who finished at second place.

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The winning overtake happened at the cusp of the race, as Red Bull's two-stop strategy proved the wiser decision.

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The superb tyre management of Sergio Perez also secured a double podium for the bulls as he was able to overtake Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas in the closing stages of the race.

Mercedes' decision to forego their own two-stop strategy and push their tyres to the limit was a costly one for the UK-based team, leading to some angry words from Valtteri Bottas on the team radio.

The French Grand Prix follows the surprising chain of events that transpired in Baku, with both Hamilton and Verstappen running into problems.

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But compared to Azerbaijan, it was a clean race overall with zero retirements, marking a third consecutive win for Red Bull in their hunt towards stealing the championship away from Mercedes.

The weekend opened with rumors regarding a possible end-of-season swap between Bottas and George Russell, who is currently on loan to Williams by Mercedes.

Critics have been questioning whether or not Bottas really deserves the coveted seat at the top team, as he has had such a poor season thus far. Meanwhile, Russell has been impressive in the Grove-based team and has been able to bring his car to Q2 during qualifying, despite its lack of any pace whatsoever.

The team, and Bottas himself, debunked these rumors during media day and maintained that there won’t be any further discussion until the winter break.

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While Bottas was able to outpace teammate Hamilton, a 7-time world champion, at practice, he could not deliver when it mattered, ultimately finishing the race at fourth.

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    The first half of the race wasn’t as interesting as what the fans hoped for; although we did see a couple of overtakes as well as switches in the race leaders. There was also an intense midfield battle that saw McLaren emerging on top with its drivers, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, finishing at P5 and P6.

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    They’re followed by hometown hero, Pierre Gasly, who had a decent weekend, unlike his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, who finished outside the points in P13. Tsunoda had quite a troubled weekend as well in qualifying, losing control of the car in Q1 and caused a red flag, and continuing the saga of his rookie struggles at AlphaTauri.

    Aston Martin had a double point-scoring moment, with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll finishing at P9 and P10 respectively after managing their tyres until the latter part of the race.

    Meanwhile, Ferrari had a weekend to forget as they were unable to bring home a single point despite qualifying at P5 and P7. This meant that McLaren regained its spot in the constructor’s standings with a 16-point advantage.

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    “So for now, I’m struggling to find words and I’m struggling to find an explanation. We just really need to understand it and to work on that, because it’s a big weakness,” said Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc who mentioned how both he and his teammate, Carlos Sainz, experienced very bad tyre degradation which compromised their race.

    Alpine was a team to watch throughout the weekend as they announced that their driver, Esteban Ocon, was getting a contract extension until 2024. However, he wasn’t able to deliver in his home race as he finished in P14.

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    On the other hand, teammate Fernando Alonso, was a notable force in the race’s stiff midfield battle, and finished at P8 to maintain their team’s spot at 7th in the constructor’s standings.

    After the race, a beaming Verstappen told Martin Brundle: “In the beginning, it was super difficult there with the wind, so one lap we had an ok balance and then the next we were just sliding everywhere so [it was] very difficult to keep the car stable… when we made the call to do a 2-stop, [in the end] it paid off but we clearly had to work hard for it, but yeah of course very rewarding."

    As they enter their home court for the next two races, would they be able to keep up this momentum? We’ll have to wait and see as the season continues this weekend in Austria.

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    PHOTO: AP
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