'That's soft': Former teammate's brutal swipe at Lewis Hamilton

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·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
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Lewis Hamilton is pictured preparing for the start of the 2021 French Grand Prix.
Reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton's defence against Max Verstappen was labelled 'soft' by former Mercedes teammate and rival Nico Rosberg. (Photo by Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

A former teammate of reigning F1 champion Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes star put up a 'soft' defence against Max Verstappen in the dying stages of the French Grand Prix.

Verstappen was able to blast past Hamilton on the penultimate lap of the grand prix, thanks to a two-stop pit strategy that gave him fresh rubber to attack the slowing Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

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Rosberg, who won the 2016 championship as Hamilton's teammate at Mercedes, was harshly critical of both of the team's drivers after the race.

The ease with which Verstappen was able to get past Hamilton, who was battling to the end on worn rubber, was a particular sticking point for Rosberg.

He said Hamilton should have at least tried to hold up Verstappen with so little time remaining in the race.

"Close the damn door, no?" he queried.

"Usually, Lewis is the best one-to-one racer and I'm surprised he didn't try. At least try, brake late and try to keep him on the outside. 

"A bit soft there from Lewis, somehow."

Rosberg and Hamilton's racing rivalry boiled over during the 2016 season, notably culminating in a lap one crash at that year's Spanish GP which took both Mercedes cars out of the race.

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Bottas wasn't spared from Rosberg's criticism either, with the Finnish driver coming under increasing pressure amid speculation he may lose his seat to Williams' George Russell.

"Valtteri did a rubbish job, honestly, in defending because he blocked completely unnecessarily, he braked way too late and went straight on so Max had such an easy time getting past," Rosberg said.

"Maybe he would have got past anyway but at least cost him a bit more lap time. It was not a very good way of defending and could have been done in a much more smart way."

Major tactical blunder ruins Mercedes' race

Verstappen could be heard 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.

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.

Verstappen had an 18-second deficit to overhaul in 20 laps. With the bit between his teeth, he passed Bottas with nine to go and with three laps remaining, was just 1.5 secs behind Hamilton.

On the following lap he made his move at the chicane, with Hamilton powerless to prevent him passing.

"When we made the call to do a two-stop strategy, it paid off," said Verstappen following his third win of the season. "We had to work hard for it but it was very rewarding.

"The whole race we were fighting each other so it is going to be like this for the rest of the season."

Max Verstappen celebrates atop his Red Bull F1 car after winning the French GP. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
Max Verstappen celebrates atop his Red Bull F1 car after winning the French GP. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Hamilton said: "I am not sure how we lost the position today. We didn't know how strong that [undercut] was going to be.

"They had a good strategy and it worked well for them. The only option I had was to stay out as long as possible and hope the tyres hold together."

Following the chequered flag, Mercedes' chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton, saying over the radio: "That one is on us."

Bottas was seething after the race, saying on team radio: “Why the f*** does no one listen to me when I say it’s going to be a two-stopper?! F***ing hell."

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