Max Verstappen fought back to overtake Lewis Hamilton and claim a brilliant victory in the French Grand Prix to extend his championship lead.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team bet on an extra pitstop, sacrificing the lead to come back to Hamilton with cooler tires to overtake the Mercedes with two laps to go.
And Mercedes spoiled a strategic error in which they left Hamilton one lap too many and lost their minds.
It came after Verstappen took first place in Hamilton with a mistake at the first corner of the race.
After a thrilling battle between the two title contenders and their teams, Verstappen takes a 12 point lead in the championship after seven races after Red Bull’s third consecutive victory.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez took last place on the podium ahead of Hamilton teammate Valtteri Bottas in the final laps as the Finn’s tires faded.
How did it happen?
Paul Ricard in the south of France is known to produce boring races, but this one was a stunner as the battle between Verstappen and Hamilton hovered between the two.
But Mercedes will regret their mistake by allowing Verstappen to regain the lead after following the Dutchman’s mistake on the track in the first lap with theirs in the strategy room.
“This one is on us,” chief quarterback James Vowles told Hamilton radio after the race, admitting the mistake. “Thank you for doing all you can to get this race back. “
Verstappen appeared to have given Hamilton an unexpected opportunity when he slid wide in the first corner and left the track, allowing Hamilton to slip into the lead.
This gave Mercedes control of the race, but they ceded their position with a bad error in the timing of Hamilton’s pit stops.
Hamilton was leading with Verstappen second and Bottas third entering the pit stop period, and Mercedes called Bottas first, trying to take second place from Red Bull.
Bringing Hamilton in next time around, like Red Bull did with Verstappen, would have secured Hamilton’s lead and he probably could have controlled the race from the front for a comfortable victory afterwards.
Instead, they left Hamilton out for a second lap and Verstappen used his new tires to produce a brilliant lap, and when Hamilton came out of the pits Verstappen passed him to take the lead.
Hamilton tracked down Verstappen in the following laps, apparently much faster than Verstappen, as both drivers radioed to their pits that their tires were already in trouble.
Hamilton asked his team to make sure they brought him in before Verstappen for a second save, but Red Bull jumped first again, bringing Verstappen for a second save on lap 32, just 13 laps after his first save.
Verstappen joined almost 20 seconds behind but immediately started to move closer to the Mercedes.
He caught up and passed Bottas on lap 44, then headed for Hamilton, plunging into the chicane on lap 52, with a lap and a half to go.
A frustrated Bottas, who phoned his team to ask, swearing why they didn’t believe him when he said it would be a two-stop race, backed off and lost third place to Perez in the 49th lap then that Red Bull rubbed salt into Mercedes’ injuries.
The show side
Lando Norris was the best of the rest for McLaren, after a solid race despite coming out of the top 10 on the first lap, overtaking several cars with superb style as he moved up the field.
His teammate Daniel Ricciardo was part of it and the Australian finished sixth, ahead of Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, Fernando Alonso of Alpine and the Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll.
The Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were 5th and 7th after the first lap but were poorly erased in the race to finish in points, Sainz 11th and Leclerc, in great difficulty with their front tires, 16th.
Pilot of the day
What happens next?
It was the first of three races over consecutive weekends, and the next two will take place at the Red Bull track in Austria. The battle – one for the ages – continues against the glorious backdrop of the Stryian Mountains.