Leclerc’s Crash Gifts Verstappen F1 French GP Win
Mistakes continue to plague both Ferrari and Charles Leclerc.
Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix for Red Bull for the second year in a row but the story of the day was one of continued mistakes by Charles Leclerc and team Ferrari. The race started out as expected, with Leclerc leading from pole position, Verstappen behind him, and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in third, after he jumped ahead of Red Bull's Sergio Perez. That trio of drivers remained in the top three until lap 18, when Charles Leclerc spun into a tire wall.
After the crash, Leclerc told Sky TV that it was a mistake on his part, blaming himself for the spin. "A mistake, a mistake. I've been saying I think I'm performing at my highest level in my career but if I keep doing those mistakes then it's pointless to perform at a very high level. I'm losing too many points."
However, there's actually a bit of mystery surrounding his crash. During the post-race broadcast, a replay of Leclerc's turn ten spin showed that he wasn't driving much differently than he had been all race. Also, immediately after the crash, Leclerc was heard over the radio talking about a stuck throttle, which is something that he fought through during his win in Austria two weeks ago. Analysts, such as Former F1 champion Nico Rosberg, said during the race that it seemed the car was to blame and that a stuck throttle could have been the problem. Following the race, though, Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said that the crash was due to driver error. He said that Leclerc's stuck throttle happened after the crash, which didn't allow Leclerc to reverse out of the tire wall and back onto the circuit.
Leclerc's crash caused a yellow flag, which allowed most drivers to pit for fresh tires. Following the crash, Verstappen and Hamilton took first and second place, respectively, positions neither driver would give up. However, the battle for third became very interesting, especially in the closing laps.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was battling Sergio Perez for third place in lap 42 but his tires were wearing quickly and showing visible signs of damage, so Ferrari wanted him to pit. However, Sainz felt that his tires would have held up for the remaining 11 laps and wanted to keep pushing. As he was making a brilliant move on Perez for third place, Ferrari came over the radio telling him to pit, to which he responded: "Not now!" He overtook Perez but was then forced to pit just a lap later, giving up his podium position. He also had to suffer a five second penalty for a dangerous pit exit earlier in the race, which pushed him back to ninth following his pit stop. However, outstanding driving allowed Sainz to finish fifth and earn himself Driver of the Day.
One of the bright spots of the French GP was Hamilton's heroic driving, which allowed him to keep Red Bull and Ferrari off his tail all day. Hamilton and team Mercedes will admit that their cars don't have the straight-line speed to keep up with Red Bull and Ferrari, so Hamilton wasn't able to catch Verstappen. However, his expert driving allowed him to take second place, score some crucial points, and keep Mercedes alive. His teammate George Russell also finished third, giving Mercedes its first two-place podium finish all season.
Verstappen's victory at Circuit Paul Ricard gives him a total of 233 points and a comfortable lead over Charles Leclerc (170 points) in the driver's championship standings. Leclerc and Ferrari were faster than Verstappen and Red Bull both in qualifying and during the GP. However, mistakes continue to plague team Ferrari, costing both the team and Leclerc precious points.