The pressure’s on Hamilton and Mercedes as Verstappen takes the fight to them, writes Mika Häkkinen.
Mercedes-Benz, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have a big fight on their hands and the manner in which Max Verstappen won Sunday’s French Grand Prix was the biggest sign of just how strong the Red Bull-Honda package is this year.
The Red Bull team is operating very well, making the right decisions and learning from their mistakes, such as in Spain when they lost out to Mercedes on strategy.
This time, in another highly strategic race, they made all the right calls. Mercedes seemed unable to respond, even though both Lewis and Valtteri were sure the strategy was wrong.
Max’s start was perfect, but when he made a small mistake at Turn 2 and went off the track, it looked like he was handing this race to Lewis. For a long time it seemed that Max was stuck in second place, Lewis was in control and Valtteri was pushing hard in 3rd. Meanwhile Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull started to fade – or at least that’s how it looked.
Lights out and away we go! ????
Max Verstappen runs wide and hands the lead to Lewis Hamilton…
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) June 20, 2021
In fact Sergio was playing a typically clever race. In looking after his tires he was able to make his pit stop seven or eight laps after Valtteri and Max. This put pressure on Mercedes, because when Max overtook Lewis by using the ‘undercut’ – pit stopping before Lewis and using a really quick out lap to retake the lead – the World Champions were afraid of switching to a two-stop strategy because this might enable Sergio to gain better track position.
This race was all about strategy, and very fine margins of decisions. Red Bull got it right, and Mercedes got it wrong.
Max was annoyed to lose the lead at the start of the race, but I think the way he calmed down and focused on delivering the strong two-stop strategy was really impressive. He has matured as a driver, and he now knows what it takes to win consistently. This is the key to winning a World Championship.
Red Bull have won four Grands Prix this year, while Mercedes have taken three. Max should have won at least one more, so while we can say that the Mercedes remains a very competitive race car, Red Bull is delivering a strong, consistent performances across different types of track.
2021 F1 DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP
STANDINGS (After the French GP)… ????????
— KAREN | JUST A NORMAL DAY… ???????? (@f1tennisetc) June 20, 2021
After their disappointing street-circuit performances in Monaco and Azerbaijan, I expected Mercedes to recover well in France. The team will now be worried that, with the next two Grand Prix at Red Bull’s home event in Austria, they risk falling further behind in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships.
Lewis has not won the Austrian Grand Prix since 2016, while Max and Valtteri have both won twice in recent years. The Silver Arrows are going to have to respond strongly in order to avoid Max adding further victories to his impressive season. The pressure is on.