Red Bull have learnt the lesson this time. At the French Grand Prix this weekend, The Austrian team opted for a bold two-stop strategy and it paid off when Max Verstappen breezed past Lewis Hamilton on the Mistral straight line on the penultimate lap of the race.
Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion and pundit for the French channel Canal +, was left bewildered when he saw the Dutchman pitting for a second time for fresh tyres, arguing it was not the right call since Verstappen had undercut Hamilton after the first stop (lap19). Surprisingly, the Red Bull driver switched back to medium compounds on lap 32 and embarked on a frantic hunt for first position.
Valtteri Bottas had one job during this race: blocking as much as he could Verstappen. However, he swiftly failed when he went wide at Chicane Nord allowing his opponent to pull alongside before completing the move at Courbe de Signes. The gap between the two title contenders rapidly dropped and Verstappen flew past a defenceless Hamilton with two laps to go to claim victory, ending Mercedes domination since the return of the French Grand Prix on the calendar in 2018.
Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner said before the race that if his team could beat Mercedes around Paul Ricard, they could beat them anywhere. If Red Bull’s strategy proved successful last weekend, it hadn’t been the case in the inaugural race in Bahrain where Red Bull went for a second stop but Verstappen failed to pass the seven-time world champion.
In Spain, Verstappen remained on worn-out tyres while Hamilton strapped on fresh tyres to eventually catch and overtake a struggling Verstappen. Red Bull emulated Mercedes during the French Grand Prix and Verstappen now leads the driver’s championship from Hamilton and has a 12-point cushion before back-to-back races in Austria in the next two weeks.
Despite the second place in France, Hamilton didn’t seem frustrated and hailed “the great job” of his team. He said: “We did a great job today it just did not work out. I am not massively disappointed, I did the best job I could. Of course, there were things we could have done slightly better but overall they were quicker than us all weekend, it is a true reflection of the pace they have.”
Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff claimed Mercedes were faster than Red Bull but were outsmarted by the Austrian team. He said: “Our performance was good, I think we had the quicker car. Probably we lost the race at the stop thinking that we had enough protection against the undercut which we didn’t. From then on we were on the back foot. We got it wrong on Sunday.”
A confident Red Bull team will now head to Austria, their home race, for the Styrian Grand Prix this weekend before the Austrian Grand Prix the following weekend. Red Bull has often shone on the ultra-fast track with Verstappen winning on Austrian soil in 2018 and 2019.
The Dutchman will aim to keep the momentum going after a solid performance in France and Verstappen knows how competitive they are around the Red Bull Ring. “I’m looking forward to it, first of all, because it’s like a home Grand Prix. We’ve had good results in the past but it’s not a guarantee. We have to again set up the car well there and read the conditions well. I’m expecting it to be close again,” he said.
Sergio Pérez completed the podium, crossing the line third at the French Grand Prix, and the Mexican driver has shown he can be competitive and beat Bottas, which Verstappen’s formers teammates have failed to do in the past.
In the constructors’ championship, Red Bull are 37 points ahead of Mercedes.