RED Bull’s Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix on Sunday and took a huge stride towards a second Formula One title after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc made a costly mistake and crashed out while leading.
Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton finished second for Mercedes in his 300th grand prix, with team mate George Russell third to secure their first podium double of the campaign.
The victory on a hot afternoon at Le Castellet was Verstappen’s seventh in 12 races this season and 27th of his career.
It also left him a hefty 63 points — more than two race wins — clear of closest rival Leclerc at the top with 10 rounds remaining.
“I think we had really good pace from the start, I was putting pressure on Charles,” said the Dutch 24-year-old, who also won at the southern Circuit Paul Ricard last year.
“Following around here, with this heat, the tyres are overheating a lot so I could never really go for a move – only once.”
Leclerc had led away from pole position, with Verstappen needing six laps before he could get close enough to attempt a move.
While he pulled closer on the straights, Leclerc had an advantage through the corners and managed to remain just out of reach with the race shaping up as another private battle between the two.
The Ferrari then appeared to be pulling away and out of range, but with some concern about tyre wear, as Verstappen made his first pitstop on lap 16 and Leclerc stayed out. And then it all changed on lap 18.
The Ferrari driver screamed in rage and frustration over the radio after his car spun mid-corner and plunged into the tyre barrier at Le Beausset.
The Monegasque, unhurt, blamed himself for the unforced error.
Leclerc had led Verstappen by 46 points early in the season but this time his own hand helped push the pendulum further against him.
“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,” he told Sky Sports television. “I’m losing too many points.” (Full Story)
CAUGHT OUTThe safety car was deployed briefly but from then on Verstappen was able to do his race and look after the tyres without much trouble.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez lost out to both Mercedes drivers, Hamilton roaring past at the start and Russell catching him out three laps from the end as a virtual safety car period ended.
The Mexican complained over the radio that Russell had exceeded track limits, while the Mercedes driver felt Perez owed him the place.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff made a radio intervention, urging Russell to stay calm and assuring the driver he could “hunt him down”.
Carlos Sainz was fifth for Ferrari after starting at the back due to engine penalties and storming through the field to secure a bonus point for fastest lap. He was also voted Driver of the Day.
Sainz would have finished higher, having got himself up to third, but the Spaniard pitted a second time with 10 laps remaining in a strategy decision questioned by some.
He also served a five-second penalty for an unsafe release from an earlier stop.
Fernando Alonso was sixth for Renault-owned Alpine, who moved ahead of McLaren and into fourth place in the constructors’ standings.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was seventh and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon eighth after overtaking McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who finished ninth.
Canadian Lance Stroll took the final point in 10th for Aston Martin after fighting team mate Sebastian Vettel to the last corner. — Reuters