Nick van der Meulen, our resident Formula One writer, shares his thoughts on the most recent race in this piece F1 review France 2021, covering the seventh round of the current F1 season.
Formula 1 racing cannot run without the French Grand Prix, for it was the French who introduced us to the sport we love so much. The first motor racing event was held in 1894 (the Paris-to-Rouen Horseless Carriage Contest) while the first French Grand Prix was staged in 1906.
The French Grand Prix, held at various circuits, was a regular on the F1 calendar until 2006 when Bernie Ecclestone, who ran F1 at the time, did not renew the contract and France remained out in the cold for nine seasons. The French Grand Prix returned in 2017, with racing taking place at Paul Ricard – a circuit owned by a certain Mr. Ecclestone…
Since returning to Paul Ricard, the event was dominated by Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, however, that was all due to change in 2021. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing-Honda) blitzed the field to take pole position ahead of archrival Hamilton, but the Dutchman botched his start and the Englishman surged past into the lead.
The two drivers spent most of the race sizing each other up, with Verstappen emerging in the lead after the first pit stops. The top three drivers, Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) was in close contention for the battle for the lead, all stated over the radio that the hard compound tyre would not keep its grip with the blistering pace. Only Verstappen decided to stop for a second time, a move that decided the race in his favour. He blasted past his rival on the penultimate lap to take an emphatic victory.
Round and round
It is clear that tyres had a big role to play in the race, as teams who were expected to perform on race day, such as Ferrari and Alpine, failed dismally while, on the other hand, McLaren-Mercedes had a good day at the office after struggling in qualifying. Mercedes were perplexed, as they were outfoxed again on race day.
Bottas, normally mild-mannered, was extremely vocal about the fact that his team did not listen to his recommendation for a two-stop strategy. His tyres dropped off in the closing stages of the race, allowing Sergio Perez to push his Red Bull Racing-Honda past the Finn into third position, further rubbing salt into the wounds of Mercedes management.
Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren-Mercedes) did solid work to come home as the best of the rest, albeit 50 seconds behind the top four finishers! Local hero Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri-Honda) crossed the finish line seventh, while Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin-Mercedes) and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin-Mercedes) are to be commended for their efforts for scoring points after struggling in the mid-field earlier on.
This may be the turning point of the season, as Red Bull outperformed their rivals Mercedes in every way… and Toto Wolff knew it. The frazzled look on his face made it clear that he was currently on the losing side. Christian Horner must be feeling very smug at present…
The eighth round of the world championship takes place at Spielberg Austria, next weekend. It is the home circuit of Red Bull Racing-Honda and the circuit will be used for two consecutive weekends (“Steiermark” and Austria). Will the Austrian team be able to capitalise on its home ground advantage?