Red Bull achieved a 1st and a 3rd place result in the French GP last Sunday. The strategy it meant that they were triumphant and Mercedes were not.
The French GP unfolded in a dramatic style. Off the line Max Verstappen led down into turn 1, a small lock up meant that he was unable to properly make the corner going wide at turn 2 and leaving the door open for Lewis Hamilton to swoop in and take the lead of the race.
Events unfolded from there, Verstappen sat patiently behind Hamilton with Valtteri Bottas doing the same behind the Dutchman. Sergio Perez was ten seconds behind race leader Hamilton by the first stop of the race-leading quadruplet. Bottas was the first of the four to box on lap 18, he came out in fourth. Verstappen was next to pit in hopes of an undercut on Hamilton. He went to the pits on lap 19 and Hamilton on lap 20, Verstappen nailed his out lap and did pull off the undercut.
The master of tire saving Perez was able to stay out until lap 24, then he stopped and put on the hard tires. Lap 32 began and the struggles of the surprising level of degradation meant a two-stop strategy was an option. Verstappen and Red Bull pulled the plug and pitted.
Mercedes surprisingly did not react, meaning Verstappen put fast lap after fast lap in getting Bottas on lap 44 and his teammate following him through on lap 49, capping a frustrating afternoon for Bottas. He was heard on team radio angrily asking for an explanation: “Why the **** does no one listen to me when I say it’s going to be a two-stopper.”
Verstappen pushed and overtook Hamilton on lap 52. This topped a wonderful afternoon for the team that was able to mastermind a fantastic result, which seemed unlikely after opening 18 laps.
After the race, there was a mixed bag of emotions. Bottas, who finished P4, was the most annoyed and said: “It was not fun the last stint… [I felt] like a sitting duck, it’s quite simple. But of course, I tried everything I could, tried to finish on the podium but the tires were completely gone, so no chance.”
“If I did a two-stop, for sure I would have been on the podium and fighting for the win of the race,” Bottas added. “That’s for sure.”
Perez in P3 said: “The team did a fantastic job today with great strategy and making the right calls at the right time so well done to everyone here and back at the factory. On my side, this weekend wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, as drivers we only want to win so I just have to keep working hard, continue improving, and getting better results with the great car that I’ve been given.”
Hamilton also reacted: “Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today. The Red Bulls had better straight-line speed all weekend but considering that we had such a difficult Friday, I’m really happy with this result. Of course, we didn’t win and we had the lead but I had no tires left at the end so unfortunately, we lost the position, but it was still a good race. We’ve got to find some pace, that’s for sure. We didn’t know how strong the undercut was going to be but what was really surprising was just how we ran out of that front tire so early on but obviously, they had a good strategy and it worked really well for them.”
Race winner Verstappen was undoubtedly elated: “Winning this race was an amazing team effort and to have a double podium at a track like this really shows the hard work everyone is putting in here and in Milton Keynes at our factory and Honda’s. You can see how close the two teams are and to win like this on strategy with two laps to go is very rewarding. It was certainly not an easy race and I got caught out at turn 1 and lost the rear which meant I had to go off the track and lost a position to Lewis.”
“In the first stint, I didn’t really have the pace to fight with Lewis so we took the risk to pit first, and to be honest I didn’t expect the undercut to work so well that I would come out ahead. We decided to go for the two-stop strategy which worked out well as our car suited the conditions towards the end of the race as the wind became a little less and the track rubbered in. In the end, we made the right calls for both cars and it is great to be on the podium with Checo.”