Reigning champion, Max Verstappen, recorded his seventh victory of the season after an incident filled French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard that saw pole-sitter, Charles Leclerc, crash out while leading.
Starting from the second, the Dutchman initially got off to a good start, but not as rapid as the Monegasque, who managed to build-up a one-and-a-half second lead after the first lap.
Seemingly in control as the first round of pit-stops approached, matters then took a turn for the worst for Leclerc as the lost the rear of the Ferrari going into the turn 11 Beausset corner on lap 18.
This immediately brought out the safety car with the Ferrari driver’s mentioning of the throttle on the radio that almost cost him victory last time around in Austria being seemingly at fault for yet another costly loss of points.
In an interview with Sky F1 afterwards though, Leclerc admitted the crash had been self-inflicted and not as a result of a mechanical issue.
“I’ve been saying I think I’m performing at my highest level in my career but if I keep doing those mistakes then it’s pointless to perform at a very high level. I’m losing too many points,” Leclerc said.
“Seven in Imola, 25 here because we probably were the strongest car on track today so if we lose the Championship by 32 points at the end of the season I will know from where they are coming from. And, it unacceptable, I just need to get on top of those things”.
With the race back on, Verstappen proceeded to head-off with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton promoted to second after starting from fourth on the grid.
Despite benefitting from a host of upgrades for the event, the seven-time’s champion seemed content to settle for second as the Silver Arrows’ lack of speed relative to the Red Bull left little doubt as to who would stand on the top step of the podium.
The main battle however was reserved for third between Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez and the second Mercedes of George Russell.
Adding further spice was the rapid progress of the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who had made it to fifth after starting 19th following the fitting of a new powerunit following it’s dramatic failure in Austria two weeks ago.
The Spaniard soon picked-off both Russell and Perez, who nearly came to came to blows as the Brit mounted a late lunge on the Mexican going into the chicane on the Mistral straight.
With the Red Bull scooting across the run-off area, a less than impressed Russell lit-up the radio claiming he had been in front and that Perez should hand the place back.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff however stepped in to calm an animated Russell who had seen a podium finish turn to fourth in a few seconds.
Matters then took another twist as Sainz headed for the pits after being told a few laps prior to change tyres just as he overtook Perez for third.
The bizarre call transpired further as, apart from pitting for new rubber, the Spaniard also copped a five second penalty for having been released into the path of the Williams of Alex Albon during the safety car period.
This effectively dropped Sainz out of the contention as he came out in ninth position with eleven laps still left.
With four laps to go, a virtual safety car made its “appearance: after the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu came to a stop on the exit of the Ste Baume corner that leads onto the Mistral straight.
This resulted in the field slowing down with the restart catching Perez off-guard as Russell, who had been less than a second behind, demoted the Mexican to fourth place in an opportunist move between turns 12 and 13.
Behind the top four came a frustrated Sainz, followed by Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, the McLaren of Lando Norris and the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon, who had to overcome a five second penalty for tagging the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda on the second lap at the Mistral chicane.
The final point’s paying position went to Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll who crossed the line behind the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo and just in front of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Along with his teammate, who retired with damage as a result of the coming together with Ocon, Pierre Gasly ended another miserable weekend for AlphaTauri by finishing 12th ahead of Albon, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and the Haas of Mick Schumacher.
Despite not finishing, Zhou was classified 16th and final finisher unlike Leclerc, Tsunoda and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, who got together with the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen on lap 37.
With Verstappen having extended his lead his the driver’s championship to a massive 63 points over Leclerc, the series next moves to Hungary and the Hungaroring on 31 July for the final race before the European summer break.
Results (Top 10)
- Max Verstappen – Red Bull
- Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes: +10.587 sec
- George Russell – Mercedes: +16.495 sec
- Sergio Perez – Red Bull: +17.310 sec
- Carlos Sainz – Ferrari: +28.872 sec
- Fernando Alonso – Alpine: +42.879 sec
- Lando Norris – McLaren +52.026 sec
- Esteban Ocon – Alpine: +56.959 sec
- Daniel Ricciardo – McLaren: +1 min 00.372
- Lance Stroll – Aston Martin: +1 min 02.549
- Max Verstappen – 233 pts
- Charles Leclerc – 170 pts
- Sergio Perez – 163 pts
- Carlos Sainz – 144 pts
- George Russell – 143 pts
- Lewis Hamilton – 127 pts
- Lando Norris – 70 pts
- Esteban Ocon – 56 pts
- Valtteri Bottas – 46 pts
- Fernando Alonso – 37 pts
- Red Bull – 396 pts
- Ferrari – 314 pts
- Mercedes – 270 pts
- Alpine – 93 pts
- McLaren – 89 pts
- Alfa Romeo – 51 pts
- Haas – 34 pts
- AlphaTauri – 27 pts
- Aston Martin – 19 pts
- Williams – 3 pts