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Formula 1 French Grand Prix
Circuit Paul Ricard
Not too dissimilar to Silverstone, which has a functioning heliport due to being built on an old RAF airbase, Circuit Paul Ricard was constructed next door to Le Castellet Airport, which itself is next door to a Hotel & Spa resort, which made the circuit very easy for teams and tyre manufacturers to access for testing in the decades that it was left off the F1 calendar in place of Magny Cours.
Aside from being one of the flattest circuits on the F1 calendar due to being built on a plateau, the really distinctive feature of Paul Ricard, as you’ll see in various videos, is the lack of gravel traps, which are instead replaced by blue and red painted coloured run-off areas, which are created by a mix of asphalt and tungsten, with the red zones serving the same function as heavy gravel.
The only problem with them is they’re annoying as hell to look at from a helicopter shot.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 7: Mad Max, The Road Warrior
After being called off last year, the 61st French Grand Prix returned to Paul Ricard to kick off the first triple-header of the season, and 2021 marks something of a special anniversary for Paul Ricard, because it’s been 50 years since the French Grand Prix was first held at the Le Castellet track, when eventual World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert finished 1-2 for Tyrrell, in what was also Mexican hero Pedro Rodriguez’ final Grand Prix, before he died a week later driving a Ferrari 512 in a sports car race in Germany.
The big talking point since Baku was the Pirelli investigation (With help from the FIA and Red Bull Honda) into the rear tyre blowouts for Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen in Baku, which cost Verstappen a certain win and Red Bull a 1-2 finish, and on Tuesday evening, the Italian tyre manufacturer issued a lawyery press release confirming that there no car faults on either the Aston Martin or the Red Bull, there were no cuts on the tyres due to debris prior to the punctures, and that it was a “Circumferential break caused by the running conditions of the tyre that led to the failures”, despite both teams adhering to Pirelli’s recommended minimum pressures.
In short, it’s your classic Clarke and Dawe “The front fell off”
The other stories of the last fortnight included Esteban Ocon re-signing with Alpine for three seasons, pretty much ending any association with Mercedes after he was effectively signed on loan back in 2019, and McLaren were able to give their late former co-owner Mansour Ojjeh a proper tribute after he died on the morning of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with a tribute included on the engine cover for both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo’s cars:
Moving on from the disappointment in Azerbaijan, Max Verstappen took his second pole position of 2021 by a quarter of a second over Lewis Hamilton, with the Dutchman the only driver to set a sub 90-second lap in qualifying, as Red Bull and Mercedes cleaned everyone’s clock to lock out the first two rows, with Valtteri Bottas in 3rd and Sergio Perez 4th.
Carlos Sainz out-qualified Charles LeClerc to start in 5th, Pierre Gasly started 6th in his home Grand Prix and was predictably excited, with LeClerc starting from 7th, Lando Norris started 8th, Fernando Alonso found himself in a McLaren sandwich in 9th, as Daniel Ricciardo returned to Q3, but could only manage 10th on the grid.
Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel started on the sixth row, Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell started on the seventh row, while the remainder of the grid, including Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo were eliminated in Q1.
It started with Yuki Tsunoda losing the back end and going into the barriers on the outside of Turn 2 early into the session, causing a red flag and making Yuki start from the back of the grid, although AlphaTauri elected to replace several gearbox parts and start him from the pit lane.
The other unfortunate victim was Lance Stroll, who had a fast lap deleted for breaching track limits at Turn 6, which would’ve comfortably had him into Q2, and when the Canadian waited until the end of the session to set a flying lap, Mick Schumacher, who himself was on track to progress into Q2 in a big result for Haas, went into the Turn 6 barrier rear first with 30 seconds to go, red-flagging the session with no realistic time remaining, forcing Mick to start from 15th, as Stroll was left to start from the back of the grid once again.
All the grip on the track was washed away after a heavy downpour overnight, but it was dry running by the afternoon, thanks in part to the morning’s Formula 3 race that saw our own Jack Doohan prove that Doohans are just as good on four wheels as they are two and claim his maiden F3 win, and it was great to see Mick Doohan there to see his son win in person, at the same track where he won the 500cc French GP 25 years ago!
No surprise to see winning runs through the blood of the Doohan family.
A good shout out as well to another Aussie Callan Williams, who claimed his maiden F3 podium on Saturday, and just to cap off what was a great Sunday for the sons of Australian 500cc World Champions, Remy Gardner won the Moto2 race at the Sachsenring.
Race (53 Laps)
At the start, Verstappen had a good start and led into Turn 1, but he suffered had a back end slide after being caught out by the wind and had to turn right and miss Turn 2, handing the lead to Hamilton:
The only other Top 10 positional changes were Alonso and Ricciardo passing Lando Norris on either side of the Brit’s McLaren, forcing the Brit to brake first approaching Turn 1, dropping him down to 10th early on.
Raikkonen and Stroll the biggest movers on the opening lap, climbing 3 places each, while George Russell lost 3 places, and Mick Schumacher couldn’t make the most of his decent start, dropping from 15th to 19th, and he had to drop behind Nikita Mazepin on Lap 5 after Mazepin made a lunge at Turn 3, forcing Schumacher off the track to rejoin the track via the designated area at Turn 4.
Out in front, Hamilton’s lead stayed consistent at 1.5 seconds through the opening laps, with Bottas only a second behind Verstappen until he overshot Turn 3, the Top 7 pretty much maintained the status quo, while Ricciardo’s race depended on passing Alonso for 8th and getting into clear air ASAP, and after consistently being around 0.8s behind the Alpine to attempt a run down the Mistral Straight, Ricciardo finally got within half a second on Lap 11, and his well-documented braking abilities did the rest:
Fernando was probably sick of the sight of Papaya after Lap 11, because Norris the opportunist followed Daniel with a cracking pass on the Spaniard at Beausset after Alonso had to brake early, and with both cars in clear air, McLaren’s afternoon was about to come up Milhouse.
Alonso noted on the radio that everyone (Outside of the Top 4) was starting to struggle with tyre wear, an apparent exception being Sebastian Vettel, who started on the Hard tyres and moved past Alonso into 10th place on Lap 13, while Ricciardo closed right up to LeClerc on Lap 14 and made the move for 7th with DRS, and Ferrari decided that lap was the time to bring the Monegasque driver in, right before Norris could mow him down with clinical ease, while Stroll in the sister Aston Martin was making good progress up to 13th on the Hard tyre, which became 12th after LeClerc stopped, which was giving them a good chance of a double points finish with Vettel running in the points again.
The LeClerc stop would also be the first sign as to how powerful the undercut would prove to be during the race – The only mistake Ferrari made was bringing Charles in way too early.
Meantime, Ricciardo had caught Gasly and was promptly called in at the end of Lap 16 to pull off the undercut on the AlphaTauri, and although he emerged behind LeClerc who had several laps on the fresh Hards, the call paid off when Sainz and Gasly tried to cover him off next lap, only to both emerge behind LeClerc and Ricciardo, and neither Sainz or Gasly would get ahead of the Aussie for the rest of the race.
More importantly, Mercedes pitted Bottas on Lap 17 to try and undercut Verstappen, but Max had enough of a gap to stay ahead when he stopped at the end of the next lap, and despite Bono telling Hamilton to enable Hammertime, it wasn’t enough for the Mercs, because Verstappen, who was 3.1 seconds behind, made the undercut work thanks to a blinding outlap to take the effective lead of the race when Hamilton came in on Lap 19!
Sergio Perez was now in the race lead, but despite the fact he would drop chunks of time to the effective Top 3 of the race in the early phase of their second stints, Red Bull told the Mexican to stick to the strategy, which would pay huge dividends come the end of the race.
Meantime, the cars fighting for 5th needed to pick their way through the cars yet to stop, one of which was Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo, who happily let LeClerc through, but didn’t make life easy for Ricciardo after the Aussie got alongside into Signes, although David Croft assumed Raikkonen was passing Ricciardo, when Kimi was actually ahead in the first place, although Ricciardo did get ahead down the pit straight on Lap 23.
After playing the long game on Medium tyres that didn’t have enough tread left to ignite a bonfire, Perez and Norris finally stopped on Lap 24, and like most of us watching, plus the driver in question, Ted Kravitz was questioning why McLaren in particular had left Norris out for so long, given he’d lost so much time to Ricciardo staying out and was going to rejoin behind Alonso in 15th
As it turned out, McLaren’s alternate strategy worked out quite well much as the same as Red Bull with Perez, because the gap from Norris to the runners at the end of the Top 10 was only around 8 seconds, and he had much younger tyres, which was like a shark getting blood in the nostrils.
Norris quickly dispended with Raikkonen and Ocon, then tried a move on Gasly at Turn 11 on Lap 28, but Gasly fought back, clipped the McLaren and they both ran wide, while Lando complained about being forced off the track:
Although Norris wasn’t going to be denied for long, getting ahead of the local hero on the next lap down the Mistral Straight:
In another crucial McLaren move for what was effectively 5th, Ricciardo passed LeClerc on Lap 28, and it turned out LeClerc was starting to suffer with his Hard tyres after barely 15 laps, because he also lost two more spots to Sainz and Gasly, then Norris made up another place by passing Charles on Lap 30, and that indicated the race was potentially going to turn into a 2-stop race (AKA Plan B), and Paul Di Resta on Sky F1 even mentioned that Bottas had asked the question to Mercedes about switching to Plan B, but obviously Mercedes only value one of their drivers’ opinions, because Valtteri never got a positive answer.
In what must’ve been his sixth overtake in as many laps, Norris passed the fading Sainz for 8th with ease on Lap 32, and now the McLarens were in a very good spot, because the Aston Martins ahead of them had to pit again, and LeClerc was no chance of a point after Alonso got by for 11th on fresh tyres, and Sainz was slowly dropping back through the field, as Ferrari were now starring in some sort of horror show on the Hard tyres.
Out in front, on Lap 32, Verstappen had opened up a 2.2 second lead over Hamilton, Perez had cut the deficit to Bottas down from 18 seconds to 12.5, and after weighing up their options, THE RED BULL PIT WALL PULLED THE TRIGGER AND CALLED MAX IN AT THE END OF LAP 32 FOR A SET OF MEDIUMS!
They’d given up track position to the Mercs, but crucially, Verstappen had clear air, he was 2 seconds a lap faster than the leaders, and Mercedes couldn’t react with Bottas or Hamilton, because they’d drop behind Perez and Verstappen, and it appeared Red Bull had done to Mercedes what Mercedes had done to them at Hungary in 2019 and Barcelona this season… They just didn’t know it yet.
Over a minute behind the leaders, Norris had caught up to Ricciardo in 5th and made the pass on Lap 33, and Daniel didn’t put up much resistance, most likely because attempting to keep Lando behind wouldn’t help either of their races, given they were on alternate strategies and Daniel needed whatever grip he could spare.
Crucially for Verstappen, Perez happily cooperated and let the championship leader into 3rd on Lap 35, and after Max tried telling Checo “Thank you for that” through the radio interference, Checo’s simple response to his engineer was “Tell him to push, let’s get them!”
Gasly finally passed Sainz for 9th on Lap 37, leaving Ferrari at risk of not scoring a point altogether, given Alonso was going to treat his compatriots the same way
After Stroll made it until Lap 35 on Hard tyres that he started the race on, emerging back in 14th, the last driver yet to stop was Vettel, who finally pitted on Lap 38 from 5th, emerging back in 11th, and Seb would have fresh Mediums for the end of the race.
LeClerc was now back in the points in 10th, but for some reason Ferrari decided to make his afternoon even worse and stop him again for Mediums on Lap 38 dropping him down to 16th and a lap down, directly behind Hamilton on track, pretty much ending any chance Charles had of making progress, while Sainz dropped out of the points, and after that, Ferrari were doomed to drop huge ground to McLaren.
Back to the front, it turned out Red Bull and Mercedes were both suffering from radio interference, because Verstappen couldn’t speak to the Red Bull pit wall, and Mercedes couldn’t speak to Hamilton without getting a crapload of static.
Just punch your helmet while you’re driving next time Max, that should work.
With 12 laps to go, Verstappen’s gap to Hamilton was down to 6.9 seconds, but the Red Bull would have to negotiate three lapped cars before he got to Bottas, which he did comfortably, and he entered DRS range of the Finn on Lap 43, but was too far back to make a lunge first time around.
With 10 laps to go, Max was still slightly too far back to make an impact under braking at Turn 8, but Bottas was so focused on defending the Flying Dutchman that he went too deep at Turn 8 and completely compromised his exit at Turn 9, and Verstappen got the run up the inside into Signes to take 2nd place!
So with 9 laps to go, it was only 5 seconds the difference between 1st and 2nd, Mercedes’ last proper line of defence for Hamilton was gone, and Perez was only 3.6 seconds behind Bottas in his pursuit of 3rd, charging at a rate of a second per lap, and now a somewhat frustrated Valtteri let his feelings known to the team about not listening to his 2-stop suggestion.
Mercedes had predicted Hamilton’s tyres would be in real trouble with 5 laps to go, but his lead would be in even more trouble after he lost a second by running off the track at Turn 2, while Bottas on shot tyres just couldn’t keep Perez behind, and after making a defensive move at Turn 9 to keep the Mexican behind, Checo just got a beautiful run out of the corner and passed the Finn for 3rd at the same corner Verstappen got him for 2nd earlier on, despite running off the track limits, which was cleared by the FIA as he’d gotten ahead by that point and thus didn’t ‘gain’ a position.
Apparently the reason Mercedes didn’t bring Bottas in after that and have a go at the Fastest Lap bonus point was because they were waiting for the FIA to make a decision on the Perez move…. Checo ended up more than 5 seconds clear anyway, so a penalty wouldn’t have mattered.
More importantly, after clearing Tsunoda on Lap 50, Verstappen could now see Hamilton with 4 laps to go and a gap of only 2.1 seconds, which he cut down to 1.6 seconds with 3 laps to go, and he was within DRS range before the start-finish line on Lap 52 as Hamilton threw the kitchen sink to keep him behind, and as they approached the Mistral Straight for the penultimate time, Verstappen deployed the DRS, and on his first genuine chance to reclaim the lead…
MAX ONLY WENT AND BLOODY DID IT!
Simply lovely, and after being denied a certain win at Baku, Max Verstappen completed the hat-trick of pole position, the fastest lap and the race win, giving Red Bull their first winning hat-trick as a team since Sebastian Vettel won the final 9 races of 2013, which were also the final races of the V8 era!
Deadset, Honda must have shot their bolt on Sunday night, given Marc Marquez also finally won again in MotoGP… It’s only the second time this century that Honda have won a MotoGP race and an F1 race on the same day, the last coming with Marc’s last win in Valencia 2019, which was the same day Max won the Brazilian Grand Prix!
A gallant Lewis Hamilton would have to accept 2nd place, having only been denied by the better driver on the day, and David Croft pointed out that it was fitting Perez finished podium, given the 20th of June also marked 50 years since Mexican hero Pedro Rodriguez scored his last F1 podium at the ’71 Dutch Grand Prix for BRM.
Bottas was left to fume after his 4th place, McLaren pole vaulted over Ferrari into 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship with Norris and Ricciardo finishing 5th and 6th to take 18 points on what was a very positive afternoon for Duncraig Dan, looking much more comfortable with the McLaren, Gasly finished 7-tenths behind the Aussie in 7th, Alonso finished just behind in 8th in Alpine’s home race, the two Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll (From last on the grid) completed the points after making their long opening stints pay dividends, as Ferrari went pointless for the first time since Abu Dhabi last season, and George Russell’s 12th promotes Williams into 9th in the Constructors over Haas, with both teams still pointless.
That was also Max’s 13th Grand Prix victory, bringing him level with David ‘Granite Jaw’ Coulthard and the 2-time World Champion Alberto Ascari on the all-time list…
There were no Yellow flags during the race, which would be interesting if it hadn’t happened at Monaco a month back, but more interestingly than that…
All 20 runners were classified, which is only the 10th time in Grand Prix history that’s occurred, and the sixth time since the Turbo-Hybrid era of F1 began in 2014.
Still, despite no yellow flags and no retirements, we got an actual exciting race with differing tyre strategies that all had their benefits, in which the race win between the two championship rivals wasn’t decided until the penultimate lap.
Can’t ask for much more than that as a viewer.
Next up: The first leg of the Red Bull Ring races – THE STYRIAN GRAND PRIX THIS WEEKEND.