Honestly, the 2021 French GP was WAY more exciting than what we expected. Based on the races in France in 2018 and 2019, we thought this race would be boring. Those 2 races gave the Circuit Paul Ricard a reputation of being bad for racing. I even published a YouTube video on F1ntastic Gaming showing an improved version of the circuit, thinking that the race this year would be boring as well (be sure to check that video out btw).
But this season of Formula 1 has launched the F1 world with MANY surprises. For the first time in many years, we have a genuine championship fight that is bringing us to the edges of our seats. Races like the 2021 Spanish GP and the 2021 French GP have been absolute thrillers. Remember, these are races that were expected to be boring because they were boring in previous years. But somehow in 2021, they’ve been very exciting.
Max Verstappen taking the win in this race is a HUGE event in the 2021 season. Red Bull have won all of the last 3 races, and have a championship lead of 37 points. This is the first time since the beginning of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014 that a team other than Mercedes is displaying any major signs of winning this championship!
The midfield battle is just as fierce as the battle for the championship win. McLaren and Ferrari have been fighting very closely for 3rd in the constructors’ championship. McLaren seemed to have the upper hand in the early races, but Ferrari came on really strong form in the 2 or 3 races leading up to the French GP.
But at the 2021 French GP, McLaren was far too strong for Ferrari to compete with them. The Ferrari drivers finished 11th and 16th and suffered a horrendous race. Ferrari’s pace just fell right off the cliff. After claiming pole position in the last two races, Ferrari suddenly struggled like crazy in this race. Their qualifying pace was pretty good, with Sainz and Leclerc qualifying 5th and 7th. But in the race, Ferrari had no pace. Their tires just wore out like crazy, and it happened to both of the drivers, meaning it must be an issue with the car. Ferrari revealed that they struggled with tire wear and graining in France in previous years too, meaning there is a problem with Ferrari’s car in general that needs to be fixed by next year.
The McLarens, however, finished in a fantastic 5th and 6th. They struggled in quali, but they did fantastic in the race. The drivers brought home 18 points for McLaren and put the team 16 points clear of Ferrari. This midfield battle just got A LOT spicier, because there’s a double-header in Austria coming next. And the Red Bull Ring isn’t exactly Ferrari’s strongest track, as proven by their poor performances last year.
The Aston Martins also had a fairly good race, finishing in 9th and 10th, with Lance Stroll ahead of his teammate. Ahead of Stroll was Alonso, who brought home the points for Alpine in their home race. And ahead of Alonso was Pierre Gasly, with the French driver having a pretty good home race. The other French driver, Esteban Ocon, finished in 14th; a fairly disappointing race for him, since Alpine was looking strong enough to score more points than they actually did.
George Russell had a good race for Williams, finishing in P12, while Yuki Tsunoda finished in P13. Tsunoda has been struggling to match his teammate Pierre Gasly. However, P13 is a good finish, considering how Tsunoda started the race from the pitlane.
As always, exciting races give us plenty of things to review. So in the 2021 French GP Race Review, we’ll be looking at how Red Bull got payback and beat Mercedes here in France. I think that this is very significant, because it’s a serious blow to Mercedes’ title fight, and it literally used Mercedes’ tactics against them. Let’s get into it!
How Red Bull Left Mercedes With Their Heads Hanging
It’s quite rare that Mercedes mess up with their strategy. The Mercedes and Red Bull strategists are both fantastic groups of people and are great at their job, but there are always races where one team excels more than the other. But it’s still rare that Red Bull beat Mercedes this clearly. I mean, Red Bull literally pulled off the same strategy that Mercedes did at the 2021 Spanish GP.
So going back a couple of races, Red Bull faced a lot of embarrassment after Lewis Hamilton beat Verstappen to the Spanish GP win. Hamilton won that race by pitting for the 2nd time and then overtaking Verstappen using his fresher tires. And at the 2021 French GP, that’s exactly what Red Bull and Verstappen did.
The tire wear at the 2021 French GP was incredibly high. Since the Circuit Paul Ricard is a very high-speed circuit, meaning the tires undergo a lot more stress than normal. The higher the cornering speeds, the more pressure on the tires. Also, the track temperatures were lower, meaning the drivers were struggling to get used to the new track conditions. Since the stress on the tires was so high, drivers were coming into the pits at around Laps 17-19. Valtteri Bottas came into the pits on Lap 17, Verstappen a lap later, and Hamilton a lap after that.
This was very crucial to the outcome of the race. At the start of the race, Verstappen lost the rear end at Turn 2 and went off track, hence he lost the lead to Hamilton and went down to 2nd place. Since Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas were all racing on the medium tires at the start, Red Bull had to get the strategy on point if they wanted to get Verstappen back into the lead of this race. And that’s exactly what happened because Verstappen pitting a lap earlier than Hamilton gave Verstappen an extra lap on the fresh Hard tires, which allowed Verstappen to overtake Hamilton just as Hamilton came out of the pits. It was incredibly close, but it was just about enough.
Hamilton must’ve initially thought that he’d come out ahead of Verstappen. But Verstappen just took the lead down into Turn 1. The thing is, the tire degradation was higher than the team strategists expected. It was heavily debatable whether the drivers would have to stop once or twice during this race. So we’re on Lap 19 now, and Verstappen is just ahead of Hamilton. When the race progressed to around Lap 32, Verstappen had made a 3-second gap to Hamilton.
That was quite massive considering how close Hamilton and Bottas were to overtaking Verstappen after he took the lead of the race. But about a lap before Lap 31, Charles Leclerc showed some serious signs that his tires were absolutely gone. Leclerc’s tires just had no grip. That’s when Red Bull made the call that Verstappen was going to pit on Lap 32. Verstappen had already been complaining a little since Lap 28, but this is the time when Red Bull decided that the tires Verstappen was currently on wouldn’t make it to the end.
So Verstappen pitted onto the medium tires, and the fans started to get closer and closer to the edges of their seats. The fight was on! So Verstappen had to make up around 20 seconds or so to win this race, and he had around 20 laps left, meaning he would have to gain a second per lap on Hamilton. And on top of that, Verstappen had to overtake Bottas and Perez before overtaking Hamilton. And of course, catching a driver and overtaking a driver are two different stories.
Verstappen and Perez’s good relationship as teammates showed when Perez played the team player and let Verstappen through. And on Lap 44 of 53, Verstappen caught up to Valtteri Bottas. Bottas being a Mercedes driver means that you would expect him to hold Verstappen up as much as possible. To some extent, Bottas did hold up Verstappen, but Bottas did make a mistake that made it much easier for Verstappen to overtake him. After that overtake, Verstappen had just over 13 laps till the end of the race.
While Verstappen was catching Hamilton, his teammate Perez was on a charge too. Perez pulled off a smart and difficult strategy as well at the 2021 French GP. He once again used his fantastic tire management skills. He pit from the medium to the hard tires on Lap 24. That is an extremely late pitstop given how much the Circuit Paul Ricard wears out the tires. By having fresher hard tires, Perez caught up to Bottas and passed the Mercedes to take P3 and give Red Bull their first double-podium of 2021. It takes some serious tire management skills to gain time on a one-stop strategy in a race that is clearly a two-stopper, as Bottas outlined in his angry radio message.
Perez got the overtake done on Lap 49, but Verstappen was still pushing and pushing until he caught up to Lewis Hamilton on Lap 42. Verstappen got into DRS range at around Lap 50, which was only 3 or 4 laps before the end of the race. Hamilton extracted every bit of pace he could from his hard tires, but Verstappen eventually caught him. And on Lap 52, Verstappen gained enough time for an overtake. He used DRS down the Mistral straight, and gained and gained and gained. Hamilton defended the inside line, Verstappen aggressively went for whatever space Hamilton left on the inside. And into the chicane, Verstappen took the lead of the 2021 French GP!
Another strategic masterclass took place in the 2021 F1 season, and this time, it was payback for the 2021 Spanish GP! All of this excitement made the 2021 French GP a fantastic race and race to remember. We expected the race to be boring due to how it was in previous races, but this time, it was far from boring. Stay safe, stay on the lookout for new posts, and enjoy F1ntastic!