French GP Driver Ratings: Max Verstappen triumphs in latest Lewis Hamilton duel to stretch F1 lead

French GP Driver Ratings: Max Verstappen triumphs in latest Lewis Hamilton duel to stretch F1 lead

Max Verstappen: 9.5

Qualified 1st, Finished 1st

Overtaking F1’s most successful driver on the penultimate lap for a win? It doesn’t get much better than that. What a weekend for Max Verstappen, who well and truly put his Baku disappointment behind him by extending his title lead in style.

Red Bull certainly deserve immense credit for out-manoeuvring Mercedes on strategy, but none of it would have been possible without their Dutch star.

And it was by no means easy.

The pole-sitting Verstappen had to recover from an uncharacteristic lead-losing error on the first lap and then, after a super lead-gaining undercut, kept both Mercedes behind despite their DRS. Then came Red Bull’s gamble, and Verstappen made the two-stopper work to perfection by showing immense pace, before dispatching Valtteri Bottas and, critically, Lewis Hamilton with a minimum of fuss.

This was very much a world champion’s drive from a man who has dominated the last three race weekends, and who now holds a 12-point lead in the standings. Verstappen will take some stopping in the Austria back-to-back.

Lewis Hamilton: 9

Qualified 2nd, Finished 2nd

Hindered by Mercedes’ race strategy in the end, but this was still a good weekend’s performance from Lewis Hamilton after the disappointments of Monaco and Baku. Put aside balance difficulties on Friday to take the fight to Verstappen’s faster Red Bull in qualifying, claiming the second front-row berth, and then was surer on the brakes racing into the headwind down to the first chicane than his title rival to take over a race lead that he maintained impressively through the first stint.

Had Mercedes stopped him one lap earlier compared to one lap later, then he may well have won, but the strategy wheels did not turn in the world champion’s favour and, ultimately, Hamilton’s attention had to turn to preservation rather than outright pace as he attempted to take his increasingly-worn set of hard tyres through 34 laps and to a race win.

It did not quite happen for him this time, but Hamilton was right to still feel satisfied with his weekend’s work.

Sergio Perez: 8

Qualified 4th, Finished 3rd

A hard-fought podium for Sergio Perez as the Mexican driver backed up his Azerbaijan win with a less-competitive yet still vital performance at Paul Ricard, for there’s a big chance Red Bull’s victory over Mercedes would not have been possible without him.

Half a second off Verstappen in qualifying, Perez was distant from the top three in the first half of the race but still close enough that it probably dissuaded Mercedes from pulling the eventual race-winning two-stop strategy before Verstappen. Perez’s long first stint then paid off after his stop as he was significantly quicker than both Bottas and Hamilton at the end of the race, overtaking the Finn for third place. He likely would have caught Hamilton with a few more laps, too.

Red Bull are seeing the benefits of a strong second driver, while after a typical tyre-friendly drive, Perez continues to prove he is getting to grips with the RB16 car.

Valtteri Bottas: 7.5

Qualified 3rd, Finished 4th

Given how dismal Baku was for Valtteri Bottas, this was a much better weekend for the Finn, even if the race still ended with that all-too-familiar feeling of frustration. Back in the groove with the W12 straight away from Friday, he beat Perez to third on the grid in qualifying and then looked competitive behind team-mate Hamilton and Verstappen through the race’s first stint.

But having flat-spotted his medium tyres to trigger the first stops for the leaders, Bottas’ long stint on the hard tyres from there, in his own words, “wasn’t fun at all” as he increasingly struggled for grip and pace. While being overtaken by Verstappen was not a surprise, given the Dutchman’s big tyre advantage after a second stop, losing out to Perez too would have hurt. Valtteri expressed his annoyance with the team’s one-stopper loud and clear over team radio, a vocal approach that his team boss actually welcomed rather than criticised afterwards.

Lando Norris: 9

Qualified 8th, Finished 5th

This was not the flashiest of Lando Norris’ many super 2021 weekends, but he is still managing to drag out results even after setbacks – and that is now six top-five finishes in seven races for the young British driver. A superb return.

Norris’ Sunday did not get off to the best of starts as he lost two places, including to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, on the first lap, and he then looked to have lost more ground as most of his rivals pitted early and undercut him. But extending the first stint worked a treat, and Norris was brilliantly quick after his stop, getting the better of Pierre Gasly in a feisty duel before passing the two Ferraris, who McLaren certainly have the edge over on race days on these kind of tracks. Getting ahead of Ricciardo was the icing on the cake, and Norris eventually finished more than 10s clear of his team-mate.

Now on 76 points for F1 2021, Norris is still fourth in the championship.

Daniel Ricciardo: 8

Qualified 10th, Finished 6th

An equal-best finish of sixth for Daniel Ricciardo since moving to McLaren as he played his part in a strong two-car result for the Woking team. Although there is still work to do in his adaptation to the MCL35M, particularly with his feeling on the brakes, this was certainly much better for the Australian than either Monaco or Baku, running in the top 10 all weekend.

Although he felt he could have qualified a little higher, Ricciardo again moved ahead of team-mate Norris on the first lap and pulled a classic on-the-brakes move on Fernando Alonso through the first stint. Although the sister McLaren finished ahead of him in the end after running longer on his tyres, Ricciardo can certainly be pleased with his day’s work from row five to give him some momentum heading into legs two and three of F1 2021’s first triple-header.

Pierre Gasly: 8.5

Qualified 6th, Finished 7th

Where would AlphaTauri be without Pierre Gasly? Not fifth in the championship, that’s for certain.

With his rookie team-mate still finding his feet, Gasly continues to single-handedly carry his team’s fight towards the front of the midfield, and after out-qualifying both McLarens he fought them valiantly in the race before having to settle for seventh.

He understandably wanted more than that at his home race, but if you look at the drivers and cars he finished ahead of, and where his team-mate finished, this was still another great weekend from Gasly. Parent team Red Bull, and indeed other outfits in the paddock, will certainly be taking notice, with Gasly’s future far from certain.

Fernando Alonso: 8

Qualified 9th, Finished 8th

The quicker Alpine driver for two consecutive races now, Fernando Alonso enjoyed another solid weekend and delivered an eighth-place race finish that seemed to just about match the team’s competitiveness at their home race.

Alonso’s race had seemed to be going awry when he was overtaken by both McLarens and Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin as his medium tyres degraded midway through his first stint, but the car’s pace improved on the hard compound after his lap-18 stop and he finished on the tail of Ricciardo and Gasly.

Sebastian Vettel: 7.5

Qualified 12th, Finished 9th

His two-race Driver of the Day streak is over, but Sebastian Vettel enjoyed another strong weekend in the Aston Martin. Once again running a different tyre strategy to his rivals, Vettel could have been well in the hunt for sixth on fresh tyres if not for a small error at the end of his first stint, which ultimately dropped him back behind Alonso.

“Maybe we could have finished a bit higher up if things had been perfect,” admitted Vettel, but his encouraging run of form continues.

Lance Stroll: 7

Qualified 19th, Finished 10th

Taking the final point from 19th on the grid represented a good save in the end for Lance Stroll. A lap time deletion for track limits at the start of Q1 had come back to bite by the end of that session when the red flags came out for Mick Schumacher’s crash, meaning Stroll failed to clear the first qualifying hurdle for the second successive race.

But in the race he was able to get himself back in contention for the top 10 via a 34-lap opening stint on the hard tyres. Returned in 14th place and, with a tyre advantage, crept back forwards until taking 10th off Carlos Sainz with five to go.


Carlos Sainz: 7

What a difference 24 hours makes for Carlos Sainz, who just had no chance of competing with his rivals let alone hold on to his superb fifth place in qualifying due to Ferrari’s tyre degradation issues. “Cars that yesterday we were three tenths quicker than like the McLarens, today they were, towards the end of the race, two seconds faster per lap,” said Sainz, summing up Ferrari’s problems.

No points is a blow to the Spaniard, but he should still take heart from a competitive weekend compared to team-mate Charles Leclerc, who he outqualified for the second time this season. Out of all the new signings for 2021, Sainz has been the most consistent from the off.

George Russell: 9

“Probably the best race I’ve ever had with the team,” was a beaming George Russell’s assessment of his run to a 12th-place finish on a day of 100 per cent reliability in France. A result all the more impressive if you consider the Williams man had ended lap two down in 18th place. On many other days finishing in front of an AlphaTauri, an Alpine and even a Ferrari would have yielded a point or two but it’s perhaps just George’s luck at Williams where the top 10 is concerned that all 20 cars finished the race for just the 10th time in the sport’s 71-year history. Still, this was a very fine performance at surely an important time looking at 2022.

AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda caused a red flag in France after crashing out early on in qualifying

Sky Sports 1:38
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda caused a red flag in France after crashing out early on in qualifying

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda caused a red flag in France after crashing out early on in qualifying

Yuki Tsunoda: 5

Yuki Tsunoda’s weekend was essentially wrecked by his mistake into Turn Two on his very first lap of qualifying. Rookie errors can certainly be forgiven, but that is three times now that Tsunoda has crashed in qualifying and twice that he has crashed out in Q1 to leave him well and truly on the back foot. His race day was a lot better, although he still could not get anywhere near the pace of Gasly when in clear air.

Esteban Ocon: 5

He went into his first home grand prix in three years armed with a bumper new long-term contract, but the Paul Ricard weekend ended up falling flat for Esteban Ocon. Saying that, practice had looked promising and, although he just missed out on Q3 in 11th place, he appeared handily placed to move into the top 10 on Sunday. Or that was the theory anyway; Ocon instead lost a position at the start and struggled for pace on both his sets of tyres. He finished 14th.

Antonio Giovinazzi: 6.5

Make that 5-2 in Antonio Giovinazzi’s favour in his qualifying head-to-head vs Kimi Raikkonen but the Italian was unable to replicate his competitive one-lap pace on the Sunday, slowed down by traffic in his first stint and blue flags in his second. “After two good races in the points and a promising qualifying, it was a rather difficult afternoon for the team,” said Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur.

After finishing 16th, Charles Leclerc described the French Grand Prix as one of his most difficult races in Formula One.

Sky Sports 1:15
After finishing 16th, Charles Leclerc described the French Grand Prix as one of his most difficult races in Formula One.

After finishing 16th, Charles Leclerc described the French Grand Prix as one of his most difficult races in Formula One.

Charles Leclerc: 5

Charles Leclerc has certainly had a rollercoaster few weeks in the SF21. The fastest man of qualifying on the streets of Monaco and Baku knew a pole hat-trick was not going to be on the cards at Paul Ricard, but neither he nor Ferrari surely sure the extent of their race-day struggles coming. Already outqualified by team-mate Sainz, Leclerc was the first driver to pit on lap 14, and although the undercut on those ahead initially paid dividends in terms of net position, severe tyre degradation soon told more conclusively. Shuffled out of the points, his plight was such that a second pit stop for fresh tyres on lap 38 was required to try and change the situation. It changed nothing.

Kimi Raikkonen: 6

Hampered by the red flag in qualifying and then struggling for pace in the race, Kimi Raikkonen’s weekend never really got going, while it nearly finished with a crash after bumping wheels with the Ferrari of Leclerc. He will be hoping for more Alfa pace in Austria.

Nicholas Latifi: 5.5

Nicholas Latifi had been in the running for Q2 – just 0.002s behind team-mate Russell – when Schumacher brought out the end of Q1 red flags, but 16th on the grid was still a decent starting berth for the Canadian. “I had a good start and did well in the opening corners, but after the first lap I had no grip coming from the tyres and was sliding around for a lot of the race,” said Latifi of his race, having initially moved ahead of the sister Williams on lap one before being overtaken on lap 13. He wound up finishing 15 seconds behind.

Mick Schumacher: 7

A distant 19th in the race and ahead of only his team-mate may sound like a familiar weekend for Mick Schumacher. But the German rookie did manage an F1 first by dragging his Haas into Q2, an impressive achievement even if it was sealed by crashing at the end of Q1. Holding onto 15th was always going to be difficult in that car, and it turned into mission impossible after dropping four places on the first lap. He’d finish in that position of 19th, after a few more battles with Nikita Mazepin.

Nikita Mazepin: 5.5

The only one of the three rookies not to crash out in Q1, Nikita Mazepin nonetheless lapped 0.6s slower than team-mate Schumacher in the laps that did count in the disjointed first phase of qualifying. Strong-armed his way ahead of the other Haas on lap four but his hard-medium alternative tyre strategy did not work out as well and he slipped back behind Schumacher at his sole stop.

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