Who were the winners and losers of the French Grand Prix?

20-06-2021 18:01
Column
Who were the winners and losers of the French Grand Prix?

Typically known as a track that fails to deliver exciting races, Circuit Paul Ricard defied the odds and provided fans with an absolute spectacle of a 53-lap race in 2021. It was Max Verstappen who took victory, and whilst the front two on the starting grid was the one-two by the time the chequered flag was raised, it was far from a procession, and we were treated to a race as exciting as any so far this season.

With tyre degradation more extreme that any of the teams were anticipating, strategy played a pivotal role in the final result, and it was Red Bull who played their cards right as they helped Verstappen to victory, despite surrendering the lead after the very first corner. 


You can find our race report here, but who were the winners and losers in Le Castellet?


Winner - Lando Norris


It’s Lando Norris’ third appearance in our winners section this season, but he’s here on merit. He remains the only driver on the grid to score points in all seven races in 2021, and he’s also only finished outside the top five on one occasion; that’s an incredible record, and his stock is rising by the week as he looks to close the gap to the top two teams.


In France, it was a fifth place finish for Norris as, thanks to a clever strategy, he recovered from a poor start to climb back up the order and put it another strong display. 


After dropping behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo and out of the points after the first lap, Norris then came out 14th once he’d pitted on lap 25, but having pitted far later than his midfield rivals, he was on much fresher tyres and he began his assault up the order.


The likes of Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso were dealt with, before Norris managed to pass his teammate using DRS and settle in P5.


That performance has seen him keep his fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship, and is now 17 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas in P5.


At a circuit he’s driven well at before, Norris turned up again; 2021 really is his year.


Winner - Lance Stroll


For all the impressive drives at Paul Ricard, someone who finished 10th may not spring to mind as a particular winner, however given the circumstances, Lance Stroll certainly should.


After being eliminated in Q1 for failing to set a time, thanks to track limits and a red flag, Stroll started 19th, with only Yuki Tsunoda in the pit lane behind him. However, with the Aston Martin machinery far quicker than the Haas and the Williams for example, he was able to climb up the field before the pit stop window opened. In fact, by lap 17, he was up to 12th.


Then came Aston Martin’s somewhat trademark strategy, they left him out. Starting on the hard tyre, Stroll was able to go long on his first set of tyres, and just as they did in Monaco and Baku, Aston Martin were able to reap the rewards of a long first stint.


Stroll was up to sixth at one point, and once he pitted he dropped out of the points. However, having pitted on lap 34, he was on fresher tyres than his rivals and he clawed his way into a top 10 finish.


Quite how Aston Martin managed to achieve a double points finish after starting P12 and P19 I’ll never know, but one thing is for sure, their strategists are the best in the business.


Constructor Winner - Red Bull


On the topic of strategists, Red Bull’s team deserve all the acclaim after they managed to secure a double podium and a win thanks to their strategy. Sure they were quick all weekend, but there’s every chance that the script could’ve been flipped if Red Bull weren’t up to scratch in the strategy department.


Verstappen’s early mistake was rectified once they opted for a two-stopper, and the Dutchman managed to close the gap to Lewis Hamilton, and successfully pass him with just over a lap to go.


Not only did Verstappen secure victory, but the decision to pit Perez far later than the Mercedes’ also worked a treat as the Mexican finished on the third step of the podium.


Verstappen extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 12 points, and Red Bull are now 37 points ahead of Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship; all in all, it was an almost perfect weekend for the Austrian team.


Loser - Valtteri Bottas


When “why the f**k does no-one listen to me when I say it’s a two-stopper” was shouted down his radio by Valtteri Bottas, it highlighted the fragility of his relationship with Mercedes right now. 


Having asked to pit for a second time, Bottas was told to stay out by his team in an effort to keep the Red Bull of Verstappen behind. However, with his tyres degrading lap-by-lap, Bottas was helpless when Verstappen eventually caught up with him, and the misery kept on coming when Perez was also able to overtake him.


Mercedes’ strategy left Bottas out to dry, and he lost an almost guaranteed podium in the closing stages.


Of course, it’s harsh to blame Bottas as it was mainly his team’s fault, but his failure to secure a podium is yet another reason pointing in George Russell’s favour, especially as the Brit finished in P12 in his Williams, despite there being no DNF’s.


It’s not his fault he’s in our losers section, but Bottas will want to forget his Sunday in the south of France.


Constructor Loser - Ferrari


Rather than having two drivers and one constructor in our losers section this weekend, we’ve changed the format because of how poor Ferrari’s race was.


Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are losers this week, after a poor showing at Le Castellet. After qualifying P5 and P7, things were looking promising for the Prancing Horses, but their race pace simply wasn’t there.


Whilst the track caused everyone to have tyre degradation issues, it seemed to affect Ferrari the most, and they were forced to pit Leclerc after just 14 laps. Sainz was also brought in after just 17 laps, but they were still in the running.


However, as the race wore on, so did their tyres, and they slowly started dropping down the order after lap 30. 


After securing two pole positions in a row before this weekend, Ferrari were on the up but with an 11th place finish for Sainz, and a P16 finish for Leclerc, behind Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi, it was not a good day at the office.


They won’t have much time to reflect either, as the F1 circus heads to Austria in just a few days' time.

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