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Formula 1

Verstappen wins French GP as Leclerc crashes out of lead

by Ben Anderson
8 min read

Max Verstappen extended his Formula 1 world championship lead with a comfortable victory in the French Grand Prix, after chief rival Charles Leclerc crashed out while leading.

Leclerc converted pole position and successfully resisted attacks from Verstappen as the lower-downforce Red Bull looked quicker in the early stages than the higher-downforce Ferrari of Leclerc.

But Leclerc’s race ended in the barriers on lap 18 of 53, after he lost control under braking for the long right-hander of Turn 11 and spun his Ferrari, which had looked to be struggling for rear grip throughout the opening stint at a sweltering Paul Ricard F1 circuit.

Leclerc was audibly distraught at having retired from a race while leading for the third time this season, screaming “noooooooo!” over Ferrari team radio as he tried to catch his breath following the crash. Later, he admitted to a simple “mistake” as the reason for the crash.

Verstappen had only recently made a pitstop, after dropping back slightly from the Ferrari, but he was still quick enough in the interim to assume the lead after a mass of pitstops took place when the safety car was deployed to clear up the Leclerc incident.

Successfully negotiating that safety car period was the only real remaining threat to Verstappen, who claimed his seventh win of the season and now leads the championship by a massive 63 points from Leclerc.

Mercedes was baffled to qualify almost a second off the pace on Saturday, at a circuit the team expected to perhaps challenge for victory at with its updated car, but Lewis Hamilton was relatively more competitive in the race – passing Sergio Perez’s Red Bull off the start and finishing second following Leclerc’s crash.

Ending the race just over 10 seconds behind Verstappen represented Hamilton’s best result of the season so far, in his 300th grand prix start.

Perez threatened Hamilton in the early stages of the race before dropping back, complaining of a lack of rear grip in his Red Bull. Perez struggled for pace throughout the rest of the race but still looked set to complete the podium until he was caught napping by George Russell’s Mercedes at a virtual safety car restart – the VSC having been caused by Zhou Guanyu coming to a halt – with three laps left.

Russell had earlier attempted a lunge down the Red Bull’s inside and complained that Perez cut the Mistral chicane to stay ahead, but the stewards ruled ‘race on’ given Russell had not allowed Perez’s a car’s width of space in the middle of the chicane.

Russell ultimately just fended off Perez’s Red Bull, which suddenly came to life after being overtaken, to complete a double podium for Mercedes, while Carlos Sainz ended the race fifth (with fastest lap) after starting from the back row of the grid in the second Ferrari.

Sainz climbed from 19th to run as high as third, including a round-the-outside pass of George Russell’s Mercedes at Signes and some feisty racing with the Red Bull of Perez – but Ferrari chose to make a late second pitstop, which robbed Sainz of crucial track position.

Sainz initially chose to overrule his team’s decision to pit, and passed Perez for third on track at the final corner, but then chose to follow instruction. The time loss from this second stop (including a five-second penalty for an unsafe release at his first stop) in what was generally a one-stop race meant Sainz went from having an outside chance of clinging on for a podium to finishing a distant fifth.

Fernando Alonso briefly ran ahead of Russell’s Mercedes after a fast start, and finished a strong sixth for Alpine after a typically intelligent drive.

Lando Norris, who split the two Mercedes in qualifying, finished seventh in the updated McLaren-Mercedes, while Esteban Ocon (who feels there is something fundamentally amiss with his Alpine) finished eighth, ahead of the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.

Lance Stroll rose from 15th on the grid to claim the final point for Aston Martin, though he had to survive a late challenge from team-mate Sebastian Vettel, which included a collision at the final corner on the last lap of the race.

Race Results

Pos Name Car Laps Laps Led Total Time Fastest Lap Pitstops Pts
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 53 35 1h30m02.112s 1m37.491s 1 25
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 1 +10.587s 1m37.668s 1 18
3 George Russell Mercedes 53 0 +16.495s 1m37.548s 1 15
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 53 0 +17.31s 1m37.78s 1 12
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 53 0 +28.872s 1m35.781s 2 11
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 53 0 +42.879s 1m38.16s 1 8
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 53 0 +52.026s 1m39.037s 1 6
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 53 0 +56.959s 1m38.684s 1 4
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 53 0 +1m0.372s 1m39.133s 1 2
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 53 0 +1m02.549s 1m39.185s 1 1
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 53 0 +1m04.494s 1m39.044s 1 0
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Red Bull 53 0 +1m05.448s 1m38.786s 1 0
13 Alex Albon Williams-Mercedes 53 0 +1m08.565s 1m39.199s 1 0
14 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 53 0 +1m16.666s 1m37.963s 1 0
15 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 53 0 +1m20.394s 1m39.068s 1 0
Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 47 0 DNF 1m39.368s 2 0
Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 40 0 DNF 1m39.65s 3 0
Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 37 0 DNF 1m39.265s 3 0
Charles Leclerc Ferrari 17 17 DNF 1m38.088s 0 0
Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Red Bull 17 0 DNF 1m40.216s 2 0
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