'What on earth': F1 world in disbelief over 'horrendous' drama

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·Sports Editor
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Max Verstappen, pictured here overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap of the French Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap of the French Grand Prix. Image: Getty/F1

The F1 world was left in disbelief on Sunday when a major tactical blunder from Mercedes allowed Max Verstappen to claim victory at the French Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver roared past world champion Lewis Hamilton on the penultimate lap to win a pulsating race and strengthen his lead in the Formula One championship race.

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Verstappen pitted one more time than his Mercedes opponents in Sunday's race after Red Bull rolled the tactical dice and outfoxed their rivals.

Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were both left questioning a series of strategic calls by Mercedes after the former led the opening exchanges of the race.

Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez also fought his way past Bottas to take third place, with the Finn fourth, McLaren's Lando Norris fifth and his Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo sixth.

Hamilton led the first 19 of 53 laps, but Mercedes blinked first when they called Bottas into the pits on lap 17 in the hope of leapfrogging Verstappen. 

But 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.

Max Verstappen, pictured here on the podium with Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton.
Max Verstappen stands on the podium with third placed Sergio Perez and second placed Lewis Hamilton. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

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.

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"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."

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."

“I think the winning strategy today was a two-stop. It is easy to say afterwards but that is how it is,” Bottas told Sky Sports

“As a team I think we were too focused on completing the one stop thinking it was the best, but it wasn’t.

“I had no front tyres left for the last 10-15 laps so it was really just trying to get the car home. It was not fun the last stint.”

Fans and pundits were also left stunned by Mercedes' tactical gaffe.

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with AAP

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