French Grand Prix: Max Verstappen produces brilliant late charge to deny Lewis Hamilton victory

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French Grand Prix - Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the race - REUTERS/Yves Herman
French Grand Prix - Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the race - REUTERS/Yves Herman

Max Verstappen passed Hamilton on the penultimate lap to win a pulsating French Grand Prix. Verstappen stopped one more time than his rival after Red Bull rolled the tactical dice and outfoxed their Mercedes rivals.

Indeed, Hamilton will be left questioning a series of strategy calls by his team after he led the opening exchanges of the race.

Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez also fought his way past Bottas to take third place, with the Finn fourth and Lando Norris fifth for McLaren.

Verstappen, who crossed the line 2.9 seconds clear of Hamilton, extends his championship lead to 12 points.

Hamilton led the first 19 of 53 laps. Verstappen appeared to have delivered the perfect getaway after beating the Mercedes driver to the opening corner.

But the Dutchman carried too much speed into the left-hander and fell off the track allowing Hamilton to assume the lead.

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Verstappen rejoined the track to keep Bottas behind and that is how the order remained until the opening round of stops.

Mercedes blinked first, calling Bottas in on lap 17 in the hope of leapfrogging Verstappen. The Red Bull driver stopped on the ensuing lap and emerged ahead of Bottas.

Curiously, Mercedes kept Hamilton out for an additional lap, and Verstappen took advantage of his fresh rubber to move ahead of his rival.

"I am not sure what happened there, mate," Hamilton's race engineer Peter Bonnington told his frustrated driver after seeing the Red Bull man assume the lead.

Hamilton kept Verstappen on his toes, moving to within half-a-second of the championship leader but failing to make a real impression.

Verstappen was on the radio, warning his team that they would not be able to keep up the relentless pace without stopping again.

And sure enough, with 21 laps to go, Verstappen came in for a second change of tyres.

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It was a bold call by Red Bull, but one which would win them the race. Mercedes knew that Verstappen would retake the lead if they brought Hamilton in, so elected to keep the Briton and Bottas out in the hope they would be able to get to the flag.

For Verstappen, the Dutchman had an 18-second deficit to overhaul in 20 laps. With the bit between his teeth, Verstappen posted back-to-back fastest times, at one stage taking 2.5 secs out of Hamilton on just one lap and and with nine laps remaining he passed Bottas after the Finn, struggling with his worn rubber, missing the chicane.

"Why the f--- did no-one listen to me when I said it was going to be a two-stop race," yelled. Bottas. "F------ hell."

Hamilton was five seconds ahead, with Verstappen eating into the world champion's lead as each lap passed.

With three laps remaining, Verstappen was just 1.5 secs behind Hamilton and on the following lap he made his move at the chicane, with Hamilton powerless to prevent him passing.

03:06 PM

Interesting chat between Toto Wolff and Christian Horner on Sky Sports F1

Nico Rosberg suggested to his former boss that they could have been "greedy" in trying to pit Bottas first for him to jump Verstappen, leaving Hamilton vulnerable. Wolff said in response that Bottas's tyres were finished and he had vibrations, so they had no choice.

If you refresh your page you can read Phil Duncan's race report.

02:51 PM

Verstappen wins driver of the day as well

Fair enough. Can't argue with that. A hugely significant win for Red Bull today.

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02:49 PM

Updated constructor standings

Not quite as much ground made by Red Bull on Mercedes this time as in Monaco and Baku but 41 points to 30 will do very nicely. Good afternoon for McLaren in the battle for third with Ferrari, too.

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02:43 PM

Updated driver standings - Top 12

Verstappen got the fastest lap bonus point so it's actually 12 points his lead over Hamilton. Feel a bit sorry for Bottas, who had a good race but was hung out to dry a little on old tyres and he just cannot cling on to them as much as Hamilton.

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02:42 PM

Hamilton speaks

They just had the better strength all weekend. Considering we had such a difficult Friday I'm really pleased. I had no tyres at the end. We've got to find some pace, that's for sure. Most of the time we lost today was on the straights. We've got to dig deep and find out why that is. I'm not really sure where we lost position today. What was really surprising was to run out of that front tyre so early on.

02:40 PM

Verstappen speaks

Once we made the first pit stop and you could clearly see on the hard tyres they were pushing me from behind. We had to work hard for it but, of course, very rewarding. The whole race we were fighting each other, I think it will be like this for the rest of the season.

02:39 PM

Fantastic race

Always said Paul Ricard was a brilliant track and that we definitely didn't need rain to make it lively...

02:36 PM

Hamilton speaks on the radio

"I did tell you this morning re: pace. It's all good man. We did our best. We still got good points."

"This one's on us," says James Vowles. It nearly worked, but then it didn't. A reverse Bahrain, sort of.

I think Red Bull have learned some lessons from Portugal and Spain. Three in a row for Red Bull now.

02:34 PM

FRENCH GRAND PRIX - PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

  1. VER

  2. HAM

  3. PER

  4. BOT

  5. NOR

  6. RIC

  7. GAS

  8. ALO

  9. VET

  10. STR

  11. SAI

  12. RUS

  13. TSU

  14. OCO

  15. GIO

  16. LEC

  17. RAI

  18. LAT

  19. MSC

  20. MAZ

02:33 PM

MAX VERSTAPPEN WINS THE 2021 FRENCH GRAND PRIX!

Two stopper wins it! What a brilliant drive from Verstappen. And Hamilton drove brilliantly as well, on a fairly duff strategy. Perez takes his second podium for Red Bull and Bottas ends fourth and he seemed pretty peed off with his team.

Red Bull Racing team members celebrate on the pitwall as Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda crosses the finish line to win during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Red Bull Racing team members celebrate on the pitwall as Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda crosses the finish line to win during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Norris fifth and Ricciardo sixth.

02:31 PM

FINAL LAP!

Verstappen has this, unless something strange happens. This has been a masterclass in strategy and driving from Red Bull and their drivers. They have done Mercedes like a kipper. And I think Mercedes probably had the quicker car in race trim today, too.

The move between Bottas and Perez is under investigation, not sure why.

02:30 PM

Lap 52 of 53 - How close can Verstappen get going into the chicane?

He needs a good exit onto the straight, he gets DRS and he's close...

Verstappen goes through the inside of the chicane on the Mistral straight and TAKES THE LEAD!

Softly, softly catchee monkee...

Brilliant stuff.

02:28 PM

Lap 51 of 53 - Verstappen closes up to within DRS range

It's 0.9s as they go through the chicane on the back straight...

He's much, much close towards the end of the lap... he might get two chances at this if he's wise and keeps it tidy. Hamilton driving superbly on these old tyres.

  1. HAM

  2. VER

  3. PER

  4. BOT

  5. NOR

  6. RIC

02:27 PM

Lap 50 of 53 - Hamilton leads Verstappen by 2.3s

Here we go...

This could be fun. The gap briefly comes down to 1.5s... Verstappen has lost the life in his tyres a bit. It's 1.6s as they cross the line with three laps to go...

He might only get one chance, like Bahrain...

02:25 PM

Lap 49 of 53 - This is going to be close...

Verstappen now 2.1s behind Hamilton. Seems to be making up a lot of time in the start of the lap.

Pérez finally gets Bottas for third around the outside of Signes as Verstappen starts his charge. Wonder if he's saving battery charge for the final few laps. We are in the final few laps now...

02:24 PM

Lap 48 of 53 - Hamilton says he hit a big kerb

He did indeed. And he loses a fair amount of time to Verstappen through it. The gap is down to 3.4s... but the laps are running out. Pérez now a lot closer to Bottas, who is driving a very wide Mercedes.

"Just leave me to it," Hamilton says. FIVE LAPS TO GO.

02:23 PM

Lap 47 of 53 - That's better from Verstappen

Takes 0.8s out of Hamilton that time around. Perez not making a huge impression on Bottas at the moment. Still within DRS range but far from all over the back of him.

02:21 PM

Lap 46 of 53 - Verstappen brings the gap down...

...but not by much. Pérez is now within DRS range of Bottas as the Mercedes mechanics come out in the pits. For him, presumably.

Has Verstappen taken too much life out of his tyres? He's not taking any time out of Hamilton now...

02:20 PM

Lap 45 of 53 - Verstappen now has to hunt down Hamilton

Hamilton did his best lap of the day last time but Verstappen, even duelling with Bottas, was pretty much the same time. But on this lap Hamilton is holding the gap. For now...

"Why the f--- does nobody listen to me when I said it was a two-stop? F---- sake!" Bottas said on the radio.

02:17 PM

Lap 44 of 53 - Verstappen gets Bottas... but he has to work for it

He runs very wide and ends up side-by-side through the long corners at the end of the lap but Verstappen makes it stick. And Bottas will have a load of rubbish all over his tyres.

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Hamilton leads Verstappen by five seconds but Bottas is not there between them any more...

A lapped Charles Leclerc is, though...

02:16 PM

Lap 43 of 53 - Verstappen now within DRS range of Bottas

Not sure he'll be able to put up much resistance even if he wants to. Pérez five or so seconds behind his team-mate.

Bottas has to keep Verstappen behind him as much as possible. The Red Bull starts sliding around in the dirty air but the Mercedes is sliding even more on duff tyres.

02:14 PM

Lap 42 of 53 - Bottas dropping back a lot now

Verstappen only 2.5s behind. Hamilton set a 1:37.685 last time around and Verstappen did a 1:37.081. So still half a second but not much more. Mercedes keep telling their drivers it'll be the last four laps that will be hard. Bottas says it's already pretty bad. He is told he is vulnerable to Pérez at the end of the race.

02:12 PM

Lap 41 of 53 - Hamilton leads Bottas by 3.2s

Bottas lost six-tenths to Hamilton last lap and 1.7s to Verstappen... I think backmarkers were involved, though.

Hamilton says his tyres are not feeling great. Not an easy track to drive with wrecked tyres, mind you, what is?

No sign of that rain, by the way, but we haven't really needed it.

02:10 PM

Lap 40 of 53 - Running order

  1. HAM

  2. BOT

  3. VER

  4. PER

  5. NOR

  6. RIC

  7. GAS

  8. ALO

  9. SAI

  10. VET

Bad day for Ferrari. Decent day for McLaren. Leclerc has just stopped and comes out in 16th.

02:09 PM

Lap 39 of 53 - Hamilton leads Bottas by 1.7s and Verstappen by 8.7

Verstappen closing by a second or so a lap at the moment. Sometimes more, sometimes not. Radio problems for Hamilton now, who cannot hear his engineer. Full order update incoming.

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02:07 PM

Lap 38 of 53 - A few radio problems for Verstappen

His team can't here him. And neither can we. Vettel finally pits.

The question is now whether the mediums of Verstappen have the pace to take him to the win. Alonso passes Sainz for eighth place.

15 laps to go.

02:06 PM

Lap 37 of 53 - Likely too late for Mercedes to bother a two-stopper here

Unless something strange happens like severe tyre degradation or a safety car. 20 cars still running. Still, it means Verstappen will have to pass both Mercedes if he is to win this race. But at this pace he will be up at them in seven or eight laps...

02:04 PM

Lap 36 of 53 - Has Mercedes passivity cost them this race?

Red Bull definitely the more active here. Hamilton was more than two seconds quicker than Hamilton the last time around.

Top six and gaps"

  1. HAM

  2. BOT +2.4

  3. VER +12.3

  4. PER +14.8

  5. VET +51.7

  6. NOR +55.6

Vettel yet to stop in fifth but should come out towards the end of the points.

02:02 PM

Lap 35 of 53 - Verstappen two seconds, pretty much, quicker than Hamilton that lap

Hamilton in traffic? Verstappen only a second quicker than Bottas, so maybe. Pérez lets his team-mate through. They're not running the same race today, so that's fair enough. Pérez's eyes are on third and Bottas. And maybe even Hamilton?

02:01 PM

Lap 34 of 53 - Verstappen only 2s behind Perez

And 17.2s off the leader Hamilton. Perez will have to get right out of the way when Verstappen approaches. Let's have a look at the lap times.

01:59 PM

Lap 33 of 53 - Interesting that Red Bull did that

Hamilton now leads Bottas. Will Mercedes switch their strategies or put both men on two-stoppers. Red Bull have given up track position but have asked a question of Mercedes. If Mercedes leave either man out then Verstappen will have to pass them on track (and his team-mate).

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Looks like Hamilton stays out for another lap... if he is going to stop he needs to do it soon, you'd think.

01:57 PM

Lap 32 of 53 - Hamilton dropping back

He's now 2.5s off the back off Verstappen and Bottas is 3.7s behind his team-mate. Pérez within 13s of Bottas. This is going to be an interesting final 21 laps...

Leclerc dropping down the order quickly now. Alonso gets him for 11th now with a simple move.

Verstappen pitting this lap!

01:56 PM

Lap 31 of 53 - Some doubt at the front as to whether the tyres will last

Not sure exactly if that's the case. "We can't keep this up" does not necessarily mean the tyres won't last, as per Red Bull's message. But Hamilton thinks that he might not be able to keep it up, either, but says he wants to be the first one in this time...

That's the issue, isn't it? When do you pull the trigger... harder for Red Bull in the lead.

01:54 PM

Lap 30 of 53 - Full order

  1. VER

  2. HAM

  3. BOT

  4. PER

  5. VET

  6. STR

  7. RIC

  8. SAI

  9. NOR

  10. GAS

  11. LEC

  12. ALO

  13. RAI

  14. TSU

  15. RUS

  16. LAT

  17. OCO

  18. GIO

  19. MAZ

  20. MSC

Norris means ahead of Leclerc for ninth. Leclerc then slips behind Gasly.

01:52 PM

Lap 29 of 53 - Verstappen: "We cannot keep this up until the end of the race, that's for sure"

Sounds a bit like Hamilton. We've been here before, haven't we? He has escaped Hamilton's DRS zone as it were. Verstappen's lap time last time around was similar to Pérez's.

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01:51 PM

Lap 28 of 53 - Not seeing anything here that suggests the Red Bull is the better race car

As much as Verstappen is in the lead, he is well and truly clinging on. Think this is already better than the 2018 and 2019 races here – even if nothing happens.

Could be interesting towards the end if Pérez can keep his pace up. Another decent race from him today, dropped back at the start but then started putting in decent lap times. On a different strategy to the front three and that could work for him. If not, fourth is not a disaster.

01:49 PM

Lap 27 of 53 - Top 10 and gaps

  1. VER

  2. HAM +0.7

  3. BOT +2.1

  4. PER +18.3

  5. VET +33.0

  6. STR +42.5

  7. LEC +47.5

  8. OCO +49.1

  9. RIC +50.3

  10. SAI +50.6

Vettel and Stroll yet to stop. Pérez lapped 1.5s quicker than Bottas the last time around.

01:48 PM

Lap 26 of 53 - This is how close it was when Hamilton came out of the pits

Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during the race - REUTERS/Yves Herman
Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during the race - REUTERS/Yves Herman

01:46 PM

Lap 25 of 53 - Pérez pits from the lead

And comes out in fourth, but a whole 18s behind Bottas in third. He will have a seven lap tyre advantage over Bottas, though.

This is going to have to be a masterclass in defensive driving for Verstappen. If Hamilton is able to follow behind this closely and not lose too much performance, that is a bad sign for Verstappen.

Just 1.5s between Verstappen and Bottas in third.

01:43 PM

Lap 24 of 53 - Perez still leads

Going long here. Verstappen now has Hamilton back within a second, who has Bottas within a second.

Can't disagree with Karun Chandhok here.

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01:42 PM

Lap 23 of 53 - Hamilton drops back a bit

Happened towards the end of the last lap. Now out of DRS range of Verstappen ahead. Bottas within DRS range of Hamilton in front... A tiny bit of respite for Verstappen. He needs it.

01:41 PM

Lap 22 of 53 - Running order

  1. PER

  2. VER

  3. HAM

  4. BOT

  5. NOR

  6. VET

  7. STR

  8. OCO

  9. GIO

  10. RAI

  11. LEC

  12. RIC

  13. SAI

  14. GAS

  15. ALO

  16. TSU

  17. RUS

  18. MAZ

  19. LAT

  20. MSC

Pérez yet to stop. Verstappen very agitated over the radio about something. Think he wants to know the gap behind. It's close. Hamilton is closing, closing, closing. The gap is less than a second. Much less than a second. With DRS into the chicane on the back straight is the best place to overtake but he's not close enough this time.

01:39 PM

Lap 21 of 53 - Well, Verstappen back ahead of Hamilton then

Hamilton a bit frustrated by that, no doubt. "Not sure what happened there, Lewis," Pete 'Bono' Bonnington says over the radio. One for the debrief. How costly will it be?

Mercedes do look to have better pace at the moment, though. But Hamilton does have to look behind as well as forward right now.

01:37 PM

Lap 20 of 53 - Nice stop from Mercedes

Pérez inherits the lead....

How close is going to be with Verstappen and Hamilton? Very, very, very! They go into the first corner together but Verstappen takes the lead!

Done by the undercut Mercedes, there. They tried to jump Bottas on Verstappen but in doing so they sacrificed Hamilton...

Now Bottas is closing up on Hamilton and has DRS.

01:36 PM

Lap 19 of 53 - Verstappen keeps second place...

... by 1.1s. Close. Hamilton is told to put his foot down. Verstappen now has a chance to make up time on these tyres and gain on Hamilton. He was three seconds behind, though, and that will be hard to make up in one lap unless there's a pit mistake by Mercedes.

In comes Hamilton, race leader...

01:34 PM

Lap 18 of 53 - A decent stop for Bottas, for once

He comes out in fourth, but well behind Pérez. Frantic action in the pits. Looks a bit of a slow stop for Gasly. Well, 3.1s. Ricciardo jumps him and also jumps Sainz! Big undercut effect. Will it work for Bottas on Verstappen? It could do...

In comes the Dutchman, it's a 2.3s stop...

01:32 PM

Lap 17 of 53 - Bottas told to "bring it"

He is 2.5s behind Verstappen, who is three seconds behind Hamilton.

Daniel Ricciardo brought in for a quick stop so he can undercut Gasly, who he wasn't yet able to get on track.

Bottas into the pits... Verstappen will need to follow.

01:30 PM

Lap 16 of 53 - Ricciardo is flying, no doubt

Lapping a whole second faster than Gasly and Sainz in front of him, pretty much.

Verstappen is now three seconds behind Hamilton and it's all becoming a bit familiar at the front, I'm afraid.

01:29 PM

Lap 15 of 53 - Top 10 and gaps

Leclerc pits from eighth.

  1. HAM

  2. VER +2.7

  3. BOT +5.4

  4. PER +9.0

  5. SAI +26.0

  6. GAS +27.8

  7. RIC +28.8

  8. NOR +30.0

  9. VET +31.9

  10. ALO +34.5

01:28 PM

Lap 14 of 53 - Replay of Bottas running wide at turn two/three

He doesn't use the escape road, though. Is that a penalty? Not sure. Would have to have another look.

Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas in action during the rac - REUTERS/Yves Herman
Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas in action during the rac - REUTERS/Yves Herman

Ricciardo now past Leclerc for seventh. Norris now having a look at his mate.

01:26 PM

Lap 13 of 53 - Alonso out of the points now

As he's taken by Vettel. The other Aston Martin, Stroll, is down in 14th after starting 19th. Hamilton's medium tyres have an extra lap on them, for what it's worth at this stage...

01:25 PM

Lap 12 of 53 - Hamilton leads Verstappen by two seconds now

Three tenths out of the Dutchman on the last lap. Bottas has dropped back by 1.5s off Verstappen in the last couple of laps. Pérez closing up incrementally on the Finn, 3.5s the gap now.

Wonder if Red Bull might be going long here. With one or both cars.

01:23 PM

Lap 11 of 53 - Ricciardo closing up on Alonso

But, much closer this time. Down the inside at the chicane and he makes it stick! Eighth place for Ricciardo for now but Alonso comes back... and now Norris goes down the inside at Le Beausset and it's a double overtake for McLaren! Alonso slips back to 10th in the space of two corners and has Vettel right up behind him too...

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01:21 PM

Lap 10 of 53 - It's fairly status quo at the moment

Pérez's race pace is now a lot closer to the three cars ahead of him. Wonder if he's playing the long game. He does have an extra set of mediums available but, unless there is a safety car, they are not likely to be very useful given he needs to use another compound in this race.

01:19 PM

Lap 9 of 53 - Top six and gaps

  1. HAM

  2. VER +1.6

  3. BOT +2.8

  4. PER +7.4

  5. SAI +14.6

  6. GAS +15.4

01:18 PM

Lap 8 of 53 - Hamilton leads Verstappen by 1.7s

Ricciardo in ninth within DRS range of Alonso, who is complaining about his tyres. The Alpine seems to be good in a straight line though and the Australian doesn't get a look at the chicane on the back straight.

"Tyres are getting hot," Hamilton says. They might be but I wouldn't worry.

01:16 PM

Lap 7 of 53 - Verstappen coming under pressure from Behind

He can't quite keep up with Hamilton. Is this Mercedes' better race car coming to the fore again?

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton drives ahead of Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, on June 20, 2021 - CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton drives ahead of Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, on June 20, 2021 - CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images

"Anything is possible," Bottas is told.

01:14 PM

Lap 6 of 53 - Running order

  1. HAM

  2. VER

  3. BOT

  4. PER

  5. SAI

  6. GAS

  7. LEC

  8. ALO

  9. RIC

  10. NOR

  11. ET

  12. OCO

  13. GIO

  14. RAI

  15. STR

  16. TSU

  17. LAT

  18. RUS

  19. MAZ

  20. MSC

01:13 PM

Lap 5 of 53 - Verstappen loses 0.3s to Hamilton last lap

The Mercedes the only cars under 1:40 last time around. Hmmmm. Pérez is falling back from the fight in the tip three which means he is looking likely to be outside of undercut range when it happens.

Bottas sets the fastest lap last time around and is within 1.1s of Verstappen, who is now 1.4s behind the leader.

01:11 PM

Lap 4 of 53 - Hamilton leads Verstappen

"I couldn't keep the car under control so I couldn't turn to the right," Verstappen told his team.

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Gasly within DRS range of Sainz in fifth but little other action at the front as it stands.

01:09 PM

Lap 3 of 53 - Verstappen sets fastest lap on lap two

Pérez has dropped back 2.2s behind Bottas. Verstappen went in a bit fast to the first corner and couldn't slow it down, getting a bit of a tank slapper on. A bit twitchy.

Verstappen ends the lap with another fastest lap and is close to within DRS range of Hamilton now.

01:08 PM

Lap 2 of 53 - Norris goes off at turn two

There is an escape road that they have to take if they miss the corner. He drops down behind team-mate Ricciardo. Vettel gets Ocon for 11th but the Frenchman comes back into Signes... but has to lift off.

Hamilton wants his rear left checked. The Mercedes was sliding around all over the place at the end of the lap.

Top 10:

  1. HAM

  2. VER

  3. BOT

  4. PER

  5. SAI

  6. GAS

  7. LEC

  8. ALO

  9. RIC

  10. NOR

01:06 PM

THE 2021 FRENCH GRAND PRIX IS GO!

A decent start from both Hamilton and Verstappen – who leads into turn one... but he locks into turn two, goes off the track and hands the lead to Hamilton! He comes back out into second but that is not what he wanted. Obviously.

Pérez got a big bogged down at the start and was threatened by Carlos Sainz but keeps fourth behind Bottas. Verstappen coming under pressure from Bottas towards the end of the lap.

Hamilton leads Verstappen by 1.5s at the end of the lap.

01:04 PM

Here we go...

The cars are lining up on the grid. Verstappen or Hamilton into the first corner first? Let's find out...

01:01 PM

Hamilton asking if he should point towards Verstappen

He is told just focus on going straight. Fair.

Anyway, the formation lap is go. Everyone away cleanly, Yuki Tsunoda starting from the pit lane actually.

12:59 PM

Starting tyre types

Top 10 all on mediums, Ocon, Vettel and Giovinazzi in 11th-13th and Raikkonen, Mazepin and Stroll in 17th-19th on hards too. Everyone else on the mediums. Should be a simple one-stopper.

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12:56 PM

I think it is inevitable that Hamilton and Verstappen will collide at some point this season

If they keep vying for the same bit of track then something will have to give. Will it happen today? Only takes one of them to slightly misjudge their braking at the start...

Four minutes until lights out.

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12:51 PM

Weather update

It looks pretty gloomy in the distance but the sun has started to come out at the track. Nico Rosberg on Sky Sports F1 was quite worried about the tailwind into the first corner, which he said could cause havoc. Vettel went into the back of Bottas here in 2018, which rather ruined the Finn's race. Track is a fair bit cooler than yesterday, though.

12:48 PM

Mick Schumacher crashed in qualifying yesterday

But... he did make it into Q2, technically. His best qualifying of the year, but would it have been the case if he didn't crash? Probably not. Bittersweet, I guess.

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12:39 PM

What can Gasly do from sixth on the grid?

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He is having an exceptional season again. Think he'll be happy with finishing where he started. 31 points for him so far this season – 5.17 per race, which is not bad at all. Keep that up and he will end up on 118 points at the season's end.

12:33 PM

Speaking of people binning it...

Sainz has run wide and says he has flat-spotted his starting tyres on the way to the grid. Not great...

Oh my, it was a big lock up at Le Beausset. Had no choice otherwise he'd have been in the barriers.

12:25 PM

Final starting grid for the race

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Unless anyone bins it on their lap to the grid...

12:21 PM

Looks pretty dry actually

On the live pictures. The pit lane is about to open and the cars are out on slicks, so...

12:15 PM

Has it started raining?

Even a bit? Maybe...

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12:12 PM

Current driver standings: Top 10

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12:03 PM

Great to see fans back at the track in their thousands

Wonder if this might be the best attended race since the coronavirus pandemic. Fingers cross also for a full house at Silverstone in a few weeks' time.

The F1 drivers wave to fans from the back of a truck to show their appreciation to the fans around the circuit prior to the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Peter Fox/Getty Images
The F1 drivers wave to fans from the back of a truck to show their appreciation to the fans around the circuit prior to the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Peter Fox/Getty Images
Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri (right) waves to the crowd from the back of a truck with Mick Schumacher of Germany and Haas F1, Nikita Mazepin of Russia and Haas F1 and Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Scuderia AlphaTauri to show their appreciation to the fans prior to the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Peter Fox/Getty Images
Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri (right) waves to the crowd from the back of a truck with Mick Schumacher of Germany and Haas F1, Nikita Mazepin of Russia and Haas F1 and Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Scuderia AlphaTauri to show their appreciation to the fans prior to the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Peter Fox/Getty Images
Formula One F1 - French Grand Prix - Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 General view of fans in the stands waving flags of France before the race - REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Formula One F1 - French Grand Prix - Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France - June 20, 2021 General view of fans in the stands waving flags of France before the race - REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

11:57 AM

Onboard for Max Verstappen's pole lap

Only his second this year, strangely enough. Seems like more.

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11:55 AM

New gearbox for AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda after yesterday's shunt

Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda of Japan crashes during the qualifying session ahead the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The French Grand Prix will be held on Sunday.  - AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda of Japan crashes during the qualifying session ahead the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The French Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. - AP Photo/Francois Mori)

A new floor as well. He was due to start 20th anyway, so no real difference. Needs to cut out these crashes – they are becoming a habit.

11:39 AM

Here is the Met Office's update for Paul Ricard

Hmmmm. Marginal, isn't it?

Weather forecast shows a 60 per cent chance of rain for the next three hours - Met Office
Weather forecast shows a 60 per cent chance of rain for the next three hours - Met Office

11:37 AM

French Grand Prix: Qualifying times

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull 1:29.990

  2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1:30.248

  3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes 1:30.376

  4. Sergio Pérez, Red Bull 1:30.445

  5. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari 1:30.840

  6. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri 1:30.868

  7. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari 1:30.987

  8. Lando Norris, McLaren 1:31.252

  9. Fernando Alonso, Alpine 1:31.340

  10. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren 1:31.382

  11. Esteban Ocon, Alpine 1:31.615

  12. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin 1:31.736

  13. Antionio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo 1:31.767

  14. George Russell, Williams 1:31.813

  15. Mick Schumacher, Haas 1:32.942

  16. Nicholas Latifi, Williams 1:33.062

  17. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo 1:33.354

  18. Nikita Mazepin, Haas 1:33.554

  19. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin 2:12.584

  20. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri (no time)

11:09 AM

Good afternoon F1 fans

And welcome to our liveblog coverage for the 2021 French Grand Prix from Paul Ricard. It's not the track with elicits the highest level of enthusiasm from F1 fans – and maybe even the drivers – but this season has been a fine one so far, so we may be surprised.

Perhaps the biggest factors in its favour – and the hope that we will get a far better race than we had in 2018 and 2019 – is a) the weather and b) the tightness at the front. Rain has been falling at various points during the morning and the F3 race that finished around 11.30BST finished with a mixture of drivers on wet and dry weather tyres. There is a high chance of at least a bit more rain falling in the next 90 minutes or so before the race starts, too. But then again, it may not and the F3 cars did a good job at creating a dry line.

The closeness at the front has been replicated throughout much of the year. Yesterday it was Max Verstappen who held the upper hand, finishing 0.25s ahead of championship rival Lewis Hamilton. In fairness, it was testament to Mercedes and Hamilton that he got the gap down to just a few tenths after struggling throughout the weekend. But, then again, that's Hamilton.

 Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 19, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Getty Images/Dan Istitene - Formula 1 
Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 19, 2021 in Le Castellet, France - Getty Images/Dan Istitene - Formula 1

Verstappen spoke after qualifying:

"To be able to put it on pole here, on a track that has not been our favourite in terms of performance, is very promising and a big boost for the Team. We really did not expect it so I am of course very happy. Everything has been working really well all weekend and from today even compared to yesterday we made a good improvement through hard work and maximising set up."

"I was confident after FP3 but you never really know where you are or what everyone else will bring in qualifying, so we should be very happy with this performance so far. There is a long run to Turn 1 so we have to get a good start tomorrow and for sure they will be very close but our long run pace in FP2 looked good so I expect another tight battle."

He currently has a four-point championship lead over Hamilton. Can he extend that today? The problem for Red Bull on the more traditional circuits, has been that Mercedes have the better car on race day. If it is raining then that could give us the drama we want (remember Imola?) but even if it isn't then the run to the first and second corners will be crucial.

The race starts at 2pm BST and we will be here for all the build-up, latest updates and reaction from Paul Ricard.

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