Formula 1 lessons from France: Verstappen looks like a world champion

Formula 1 lessons from France
Verstappen looks like a world champion

Verstappen won the French Grand Prix late, but deservedly. Red Bull actually seems to be at least equal to Mercedes in the 2021 Formula 1 season. And finally wins the duel of the second driver. The German pilots still have room for improvement.

Verstappen can break the Mercedes dominance

There are increasing signs that, for the first time since 2013, the Formula 1 world champion is not behind the wheel of a Mercedes. Despite his only 23 years of age, Verstappen is finally ready for the title, and his Red Bull finally has the necessary all-round qualities. Until this weekend, Le Castellet was considered a Mercedes track, but Red Bull was the dominant force in the south of France. And: Even with the strategy, in the past often a Mercedes trump card in tricky situations, this time the World Cup challenger had the better hand.

In addition, it appears that Red Bull has finally fixed its “problem” in the second car. Neither Pierre Gasly nor Alexander Albon had managed to consistently make it into the top four in previous years. This is exactly what Sergio Pérez is doing now. After a bumpy start to the season, he crossed the finish line four times in the past five races, at least fourth, and three times in a row he also scored more points than Valtteri Bottas, number two at Mercedes. And so Red Bull leads the constructors’ championship, and with an impressive lead of 37 points (Red Bull 215, Mercedes 178).

Mercedes cannot punish Red Bull’s mistake

Mercedes is therefore challenged as hard as it has been in the last seven years. In 2017 and 2018 Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel presented the permanent world champion with problems at times, but the silver players always had their moments of dominance – and ultimately won the title with ease. This dominance is missing this season, despite three Hamilton victories in seven races, because none of his triumphs was clear, and Verstappen is also already in the first three places. The difficulties in Monaco and Baku hurt, but were taken into account to some extent. The fact that at Le Castellet they couldn’t even take advantage of a mistake by Verstappen, which braked with serious consequences in the second corner, worries Mercedes.

At Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, there are increasing indications that he will lose his place after the season. As fifth in the World Cup, he is well behind Pérez, the duo Verstappen / Hamilton has long been out of reach for the Finn. At Le Castellet, at the end of the race, he was helpless to be overtaken by both Red Bulls. The one-stop strategy left him with no grip on the tires. Correspondingly annoyed, he radioed the box: “Why is nobody listening to me when I say that this is a two-stopper?” And even if team boss Toto Wolff said: “I think that’s great. He’s finally criticizing” – that George Russell will be in the Mercedes by the new season at the latest becomes more likely with every point that the series winner loses to Red Bull.

Vettel is on the right track

The Heppenheimer could not continue his soaring of the city races in Monaco and Baku with the ranks five and two, but he should get over it. The 33-year-old and Aston Martin have found a certain balance, and ninth place was a decent result. Red Bull and Mercedes are way ahead, McLaren is establishing itself as the third force. Directly behind it is the realistic “home” of his team in normal races. He is doing better than his ex-racing team Ferrari. The Scuderia probably only has one car for a quick lap in qualifying, at Le Castellet Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc missed the top ten. Or as the Reds themselves put it in the race report on their website: “A nasty setback”.

Aston Martin, on the other hand, scored both cars in the points for the second time this season, albeit with the minimal possible return of three points – two for Vettel (9th place), one for Lance Stroll (10th place). “I’m not completely satisfied, but it’s great that we have both cars in the points,” said Vettel afterwards, nevertheless, emphasizing the positive after he had won the team-internal duel for the third time in a row.

Schumacher experienced ups and downs

The statistics books will read: 15th place and thus the best qualifying result to date for Mick Schumacher. But you have to take a differentiated look at the rookie’s weekend. Due to his accident in Q1, he brought the session to an early end, other drivers could theoretically have overtaken him with their last attempt. And: Schumacher himself again worked overtime for his mechanics after his two training accidents in Monaco. In the race he was inconspicuous and quickly fell back to the end of the field – according to the potential of his Haas car.

“The start was okay. After that it knocked me out as a group. It took a lot of laps to get back up,” summed up the 22-year-old, who seems to have earned some respect in the paddock despite the defeated car. “In the second stint things went better and we were able to keep up with Williams in terms of lap times,” said Schumacher, who was 19th at least to ensure that in Haas’ internal duel with team mate Nikita Mazepin in qualifying and racing after seven races to have been placed six times better.