Lewis Hamilton’s wish for a closer F1 title battle comes true.
And Max Verstappen looks like a stagnant rival, judging by his impressive victory at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.
Verstappen was his second win in three races, extending his lead to Hamilton to 12 points. Each driver had two pole positions and three wins, neither of which scored points in the other races.
It proves a remarkable contest between the 36-year-old defending champion and the 23-year-old crown throne.
It’s also far more exciting considering Hamilton’s breakthrough last year, with 124 points, 87 points in 2019 and 88 points in 2018.
It looks much closer this year.
Verstappen overtook Hamilton on Sunday’s race on lap 53 and lap 52. He used the DRS system to overtake him inward before zooming in on his 13th victory in his career. Fastest lap bonus points were a great day for Red Bull, who has never defeated Mercedes at the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.
But it was a close call as Mercedes locked him out with the same tires and Red Bull’s gambling in Verstappen’s two-stop strategy was countered by Hamilton’s one-stopper.
With five laps remaining, Hamilton advanced 3.5 seconds.
Verstappen quickly broke into the lead, staying calm and positioning himself perfectly to attack the long straights, as Hamilton did countless times with his record 98 wins.
“Fortunately, when I called for two stops, it paid off,” Verstappen said. “We had to work hard for it.”
Verstappen, who won in 2.9 seconds, scored 131 points against Hamilton’s 119 points.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez overtook the disappointed Valtteri Bottas to take third place and strengthen Red Bull’s lead in the Constructors’ Championship. It is 215 points compared to 178 points of Mercedes.
“I pulled the trigger and used two stoppers, but it worked, and Sergio is doing a great job of doing a one-stop job,” said Christian Horner, principal of the Red Bull team. “The strategist is processing the numbers and is aiming for it.”
Verstappen took an impressive pole position ahead of Hamilton and his teammate Bottas.
Verstappen escaped cleanly, but made the basic mistake of cutting a curb on Turn 1 and gave Hamilton a lead.
“At first it was very hard with the wind. It’s really hard to stabilize the car,” Verstappen said. “I just lost the back and tried to fix it, fixed it, fixed it, but it continued.”
He made up for it and confidently headed to the Styrian Grand Prix a week later on Red Bull’s home track. A week later, the Austrian Grand Prix continued on the same circuit, surrounded by the mountains of Styria.
Verstappen has already achieved his best career of the season with three wins, which looks like a big threat to Hamilton, who is trying to win his eighth F1 title, ahead of Michael Schumacher.
Red Bull has thrown a huge marker at Mercedes, which has won the championship of all drivers and constructors since 2014. For the past four years, Red Bull doubles have been manipulating Sebastian Vettel, and Mercedes is currently under pressure.
“I think it will be like this for the rest of the season,” Verstappen said with a laugh.
Red Bull has won three consecutive races, another race to Perez, and Hamilton has expressed concern.
“We need to find some pace, that’s for sure,” said the British driver. “Most of the time we lost today was straight.”
Lando Norris finished fifth at McLaren, defeating Pierre Guthrie’s AlphaTauri and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso again with experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo in eighth and sixth. ..
It was another disappointing day for Bottas, who is fighting to retain his seat next year.
He is only fifth behind Norris and Perez.
First, because Red Bull’s undercut didn’t work, Bottas was overtaken by Verstappen, and Perez overtook him almost as easily as Verstappen.
“Why didn’t anyone listen to me when I said this should have been a two-stopper?” A frustrated Finnish driver barked on the team’s radio.
Verstappen, anticipating a similar move from Mercedes, led the team three seconds when the team made their second tire change on lap 34.
Red Bull seemed to make a mistake, but Verstappen proved to them the right to hit in a thrilling title battle.