Verstappen overcame first lap error to win French Grand Prix

Max Verstappen made a penultimate lap overtake to beat his title rival Lewis Hamilton, with an aggressive and unexpected two-stop strategy key to his victory at Paul Ricard.

Verstappen had earlier lost the lead by running off track ahead of the race’s second corner, before gaining first position back when the power of the undercut caught out Mercedes at the first pitstops.

But, with all the drivers struggling more with tyre degradation than had been expected in what were cooler conditions at Paul Ricard on race day compared to the rest of the weekend, this time it was Red Bull that gave up track position for the second half of the race to set up another grandstand finish along the lines of the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix and the 2021 race in Spain.

At the start of the French Grand Prix, Verstappen led Hamilton away from the front of the grid and looked in command as he ran through Turn 1, but as he swept around the fast left-hander and began to move towards the Turn 2 right, the Red Bull driver had to catch a sudden slide.

Verstappen was suddenly heading right when he should have been positioning his car to the left ahead of Turn 2 and had to run off track as he caught the slide, keeping tight to the bollards on the inside of the second corner.

As Verstappen was catching his slide and running off, Hamilton steamed around Turn 2 and the Red Bull inside kerbs to easily move into the lead.

From there, Hamilton built a 1.4-second lead by the end of the first lap, despite having to catch his on lurid slide coming onto the pit straight at the end of lap one of 53.

The leaders quickly dropped Sergio Perez, running in P4 in the second Red Bull, as Hamilton ran untroubled up front and Bottas pressured Verstappen’s second place – dipping in and out of DRS threat towards the end of the opening ten laps.

The three leaders were the only cars able to lap regularly in the low-mid one minute, 39 seconds throughout the opening stint, where Hamilton calmly built a solid lead over Verstappen.

The gap had just about reached three seconds when Mercedes brought Bottas in at the end of lap 17 to switch his starting mediums for hards, after drivers who had stopped earlier and were running in the pack – Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo – made gains with an undercut.

Red Bull reacted by bringing Verstappen in at the end of the following lap and the Dutchman was able to return comfortably in net P2, now also on the hard tyres.

Hamilton made the same switch a lap later, but Verstappen stunned him by making into Turn 1 ahead as the Mercedes, which was stationary for a tenth of a second less at its stop compared to the Red Bull, was still getting back to speed.

Verstappen was back in front by under immense pressure from both Mercedes, who ran in DRS range behind the net leader (Perez led until he stopped at the end of lap 24 having cycled to the front when the runners in front came in).

For the ten laps after Verstappen retook the lead, Hamilton was able to run within a second, but, as the leaders discussed the possibility of turning their expected one-stop strategies into two stops, the gap began to edge out.

By lap 32, Verstappen led by 2.2 seconds as he was able to stay in the one minute, 37 seconds bracket, while the following Black Arrows cars slipped beyond that into the mid one minute, 38 seconds, but at the end of that lap Red Bull called the leader in to go back to the mediums.

Once he had completed his out-lap, Verstappen had an 18 seconds gap to close back to the lead and he began to carve into that advantage by around two seconds a lap as he ran in the mid one minute, 36 seconds versus Hamilton’s mid one minute, 38 seconds.

Perez waved Verstappen by at Turn 11 on lap 35, with Mercedes telling Hamilton the catch would depend on how long it took his title rival to battle by Bottas and if Verstappen could keep his mediums in better shape than most drivers managed in the first stint.

Verstappen reached Bottas with ten laps to go, his rate of catching the two Mercedes cars slowing after his initial onslaught, with Hamilton in particular getting back to regularly lapping in the one minute, 37 seconds, as they all had to make their way through backmarker traffic.

On lap 44, Verstappen closed on Bottas with DRS down the first half of the Mistral Straight, and when the Mercedes defended to the inside of the first part of the Turns 8/9 chicane Bottas ended up losing momentum.

That allowed Verstappen to get alongside on the run down the rest of the straight and he retook second as they swept through Turn 10, Signes, which gave Verstappen 5.1 seconds to close on Hamilton over the final nine laps.

The gap initially only came down in small bursts, but as Hamilton toured back in the one minute, 38 seconds as the distance to go ticked under five laps, Verstappen was able to gain the best part of a second a lap as the traffic between the leaders disappeared.

At the start of the penultimate lap, Verstappen was finally within DRS range – the gap at 0.7 seconds – and he seized the lead back at the first opportunity, heading into the chicane on the Mistral Straight.

Verstappen had closed in rapidly with DRS, and although Hamilton defended to the inside, the Red Bull as able to get alongside on the left-hand side approaching Turn 8 and Verstappen sealed the lead at the apex of the first part of the chicane/

He pulled clear over the final lap and a third, winning by 2.9 seconds, with Perez coming home third ahead of Bottas as the Mexican driver was able to bring his offset one-stopper tyre life advantage to bear in the closing stages.

Perez took third sweeping around the outside of Signes on lap 49, with Bottas furious he had not be switched to a two-stopper.

Lando Norris was another driver to make late stop on the one-stopper work to his advantage, as he climbed the order to finish fifth and ahead of teammate Ricciardo.

Pierre Gasly finished seventh ahead of Fernando Alonso, with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll coming home in the final points paying positions after starting on the hards – Stroll from the last row of the grid – and running deep into the race before coming in.

Leclerc, the first driver to pit in the race, tumbled down the order as his hards wore out, and he was eventually put on a two-stopper, which left him down in P16.

Carlos Sainz Jr also struggled for tyre life in his Ferrari, finishing 11th having started fifth, with George Russell beating the pitlane-starting Yuki Tsunoda to P12.

So excellent race to victory from Max Verstappen. After giving away his lead on the opening lap with a slide, the Red Bull strategy played a major part in strategy and Max’s speed was so awesome and to pass championship rival Lewis Hamilton on the lap 52 was great. Really enjoying this title fight this season.

French Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:27:25.770
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2.904
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 8.811
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 14.618
5 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 64.032s
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 75.857s
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 76.596s
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 77.695s
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 79.666s
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 91.946s
11 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 99.337s
12 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
14 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1 lap
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +1 lap
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +1 lap

Verstappen wins pole position showdown from Hamilton

Max Verstappen has beaten his championship contender Lewis Hamilton to pole position at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

After the Red Bull driver finished the final practice session by over 0.7 seconds, Verstappen led the way again after the first runs in Q3, with a 0.386 seconds advantage over Hamilton.

The defending world champion found enough time on his final run to out-do Verstappen’s first flying effort in the final segment of qualifying, but the championship leader had already put the P1 benchmark out of reach as he led the top four runners to the line, as they ran at the rear of the pack on the final laps.

Although Hamilton ultimately came away with the best time in the first sector, purple sectors for Verstappen in the second two thirds of the lap, after he’d put in his own personal best in the opening sector, resulted in a one minute, 29.990 seconds.

Hamilton ended up 0.258 seconds adrift, but beat his Mercedes teammate Bottas for the first time in the weekend, as Valtteri finished 0.386 seconds down on Verstappen after topping Q2.

Perez was followed by Carlos Sainz, who led the way in qualifying for Ferrari for the second time in 2021, with Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc taking sixth and seventh – Gasly needing to deliver on his final Q3 run after losing his first time for running too wide through Turn 6.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were separated by Fernando Alonso’s ninth-placed Alpine, as the trio rounded out the top ten.

All of the top ten runners will start the race on the medium tyres, after traversing the middle segment on the harder rubber, which is expected to perform much better than the softs in race conditions on Sunday.

In Q2, Esteban Ocon set a personal best on his final lap in the middle segment but was knocked out by 0.121s behind Ricciardo – who had switched to run the softs on his final Q2 lap, which he abandoned when it was clear he was through to ensure he will start the race on the preferred medium starting strategy.

Sebastian Vettel’s final run in Q2 was nearly a slower than his personal best as he ended up P12, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Williams driver George Russell.

The latter pair ran contra tyre strategies for the Q2 runs, with Giovinazzi copying the rest in taking the mediums at the start of the segment, while Russell went for the softs.

When they swapped compounds for their final laps, Russell nipped ahead into P13 as he ran the mediums, but the soft-shod Giovinazzi got back ahead at the chequered flag fell to end the middle segment, and both drivers will be free to pick any starting compound for the race.

Mick Schumacher made it through to Q2 for the first time in his Formula 1 career, but only after he had ended Q1 25 seconds early when he crashed at Turn 6, the long right-hander that feeds into the Turn 7 left kink and the Mistral Straight early in the lap.

The rear of the Haas came around midway through the corner as he went to complete on final Q1 run and he went off backwards at high-speed, facing the wrong way across the runoff before hitting the barriers backwards on the outside, which damaged his rear end and the left-front was knocked off as the car snapped back around in the impact.

That stopped any late improvements, and kept Schumacher in a Q2 berth he could not take up, finishing P15 in qualifying’s provisional classification, with Nicholas Latifi leading the eliminated drivers in P16 – the Williams driver knocked out by just 0.002 seconds behind Russell, who had been set to complete a much faster late Q1 time before having to abandon the lap when the red flags came out.

Kimi Raikkonen and Nikita Mazepin were trapped in P17 and P18, while Lance Stroll ended up P19 with no competitive time set.

Stroll had lost a time that would have got him through Q1 in the top ten for running too wide through Turn 6 earlier in the opening segment and getting his lap deleted.

He had enough time to complete two runs before the scheduled end to Q1, but after abandoning the first lap and setting up for one final run, he was caught out by the late red flag and unable to set a time under two-minutes as the session was not restarted.

The opening segment had already been disrupted by a red flag after just three minutes, when Yuki Tsunoda spun off backwards into the tyre barrier behind Turn 2.

The AlphaTauri driver had clipped the kerbs on the inside of Turn 1 as he started his first flying lap, which unsettled his car and sent its rear quickly swinging around as he went off the track backwards before reaching the second corner.

The AlphaTauri’s rear suspension wing were already oscillating wildly as the car went backwards off the track, before being damaged against the barriers, from which Tsunoda was unable to get engage a car and drive away.

He eventually climbed out of the board and will start last, with Q1 suspended for ten minutes, after which the first times of qualifying were finally set.

So congratulations to Max Verstappen in scoring Pirelli’s 250th pole position in Formula 1. Fantastic P1 effort with title rival Lewis Hamilton alongside him on the front row. Roll on race day!

French Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:29.990
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.248
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:30.376
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:30.445
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:30.840
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:30.868
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:30.987
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.252
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:31.340
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.382
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:31.736
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:31.767
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:31.813
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:32.065
15 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari No time
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:33.062
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:33.354
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:33.554
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 2:12.584
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda No time

Perez wins dramatic Baku race

Sergio Perez claimed his first win for Red Bull Racing in a crazy and yet dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix following Max Verstappen’s tyre failure and Lewis Hamilton’s restart overtake went wrong.

Verstappen’s incident led to a red flag with three laps remaining, which became a two-lap shootout following a second standing start, where Hamilton challenged Perez for the lead at Turn 1.

The Mercedes driver’s brakes were smoking heavily ahead of the second start, but he made the better getaway from the front row and was ahead of Perez as they braked for the first corner.

But Hamilton’s right-front wheel locked and he sailed into the deep run-off area, falling out of the championship points and eventually coming home in a disappointing P15, as Perez ran clear in the lead to claim his first victory for Red Bull Racing, finishing ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Over two hours earlier, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had led briefly from pole before the long-time top three powered by, with the race split in two by a safety car period that followed Lance Stroll also suffering a tyre failure along the main straight, before the Verstappen incident added an unexpected late drama.

At the initial start, the top three on the grid pulled away, with Leclerc staying in command from pole as Hamilton and Verstappen slotted in behind in grid order, with Perez the main player as he moved from P6 to fourth by taking advantage of Carlos Sainz losing momentum fighting Pierre Gasly and then battling by the AlphaTauri into Turn 3 at the end of the back straight.

Leclerc ended the first lap just 0.3-seconds ahead, but his lead did not lost much longer as Hamilton was able to close in and shoot by as they ran back across the grid for the second time.

Debris falling ahead of the Turn 15 fast left where several cars have crashed this weekend appeared to cause Leclerc to cut the corner, which gave Hamilton the momentum he needed to get a run on the Ferrari and take the lead.

Leclerc was able to stay with the Mercedes for several laps, with Verstappen in close attention behind, but when he dropped out of DRS range at the end of lap six of 51 the Red Bull bounced.

Just as lap seven began, Verstappen swept by on the outside run to Turn 1, with Perez doing likewise to drop Leclerc to fourth in similar fashion one lap later.

Hamilton was able to run clear of Verstappen’s DRS for the next few laps, but the Red Bull was just beginning to close in when the pitstop phase kicked off.

Two laps after Leclerc came in at the end of lap nine from behind the three leaders, Hamilton came in to change his softs for hards, but a delay waiting for Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri to pass by the Mercedes pits cost him significantly.

Verstappen was lighting up the timing screens on the next tour, his in-lap, but 1.9 seconds stop for hards compared to Hamilton’s 4.3 seconds meant he came out comfortably ahead in the net lead.

Perez also delivered a stunning in-lap on the next time by, which became crucial as he was able to jump Hamilton too despite a slow left-rear change meaning he was stationary for 4.3 seconds.

Hamilton had DRS to look to attack Perez into Turn 3 on his out-lap, but the Mercedes couldn’t get close enough to make a move, as the net leaders settled down in their new order while running behind Sebastian Vettel’s long-running Aston Martin.

Verstappen gradually eased away from his teammate as Hamilton chased Perez for much of the next phase of the race, with the trio cycling back into the proper lead when Vettel pitted for hards on lap 18, rejoining behind Leclerc, who lost out to Gasly in the stops, in sixth and seventh.

By lap 15, Verstappen’s advantage over Perez was 3.1 seconds, where it stabilised for the next ten laps as the leaders made sure not to over consume their tyre life, with Hamilton eventually slipping out of Perez’s DRS range during this stage.

A string of fastest laps as he lapped and then pulled away from Nikita Mazepin meant Verstappen’s advantage reached five seconds just past the half-distance mark, with Perez losing time to both his teammate and Hamilton on the lap where he came to pass the Haas.

Verstappen’s lead was approaching seven seconds when the race was interrupted by a shocking tyre failure for the yet-to-stop Stroll, who had started P19 but suffered a left-rear tyre blowout as he came to lap Mazepin as they ran down the main straight at the end of lap 30, with Stroll running in an elevated fourth place.

The tyre blowing out sent the Aston Martin spearing to the inside wall nose-first and coming to a stop near the high-speed pitlane entry, with debris strewn across the track and so the safety car was quickly deployed and the pitlane closed.

Stroll was able to climb out unharmed, with five laps passing behind the safety car as the wreckage was cleared.

The race restarted at the start of lap 36, with Verstappen dropping Perez as they reached the grid with the green flags waving and then racing clear to a two-second lead by the end of the first lap back at full speed.

Hamilton was got close to Perez at the restart but never looked like being able to make a move, as the top three again moved clear of the pack, which was soon headed by Vettel – who nipped by Leclerc exiting Turn 1 at the restart after the Ferrari had tried to repass Gasly, with the AlphaTauri then losing out in a drag race with the Aston down the main straight ahead of lap 37 beginning as Vettel gained two positions in less than one tour.

Verstappen quickly pulled out his lead again and looked in full control and easing to a second victory in succession, his advantage reaching 4.4 seconds at the start of lap 46, at the end of which his race ended in shocking fashion.

Just before the Red Bull reached the start/finish line at top speed, his left rear tyre gave away in a similar fashion to Stroll – with the Red Bull pitched into the outside wall opposite the pits.

Verstappen was sent around several times after going into wall nose-first and as he climbed from his wrecked RB16B and kicked the destroyed left-rear tyre, the safety car had been called.

But after a few laps with the safety car leading the pack through the pits, the race was stopped – just after Red Bull had suggested to the FIA that such a development would allow all cars to change tyres given it had had no warning of Verstappen’s failure, per team sporting director Jonathan Wheatley.

After a delay of 35 minutes, the final shootout took place with all the cars back on soft tyres, proceedings beginning again with another standing start restart, where it all went wrong for Hamilton and Perez’s path to a second career win was eased, winning by 1.3 seconds.

Vettel came home an excellent second thanks to Hamilton’s off, with Gasly fending off a determined attack by Leclerc on the final lap to seal third position for AlphaTauri.

Lando Norris had battled back from a poor initial start to climb to eighth before the red flag, which was became seventh thanks to Verstappen’s absence, and he gained two positions at the second start to rise to fifth, ending up very close to Leclerc as the Ferrari challenged Gasly.

Fernando Alonso had led a pack of four cars to take a second stop when the pitlane reopened just before the Stroll-incident safety car came in, but was set to finish at the tail end of the top ten before the stoppage.

The Alpine driver also had an excellent second start to climb to sixth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Sainz, with Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen rounding out the top ten.

George Russell could not take the restart as he lost drive approaching the grid on the second warm-up lap and crawled back to the pits, where he joined Esteban Ocon as the other non-finisher.

Ocon stopped at the end of lap four after he reported a loss of power, with a puff of smoke coming from his car as he exited the final real corner before he pulled into the pits.

So yeah, well done Baku with a crazy race. Congratulations to Checo Perez in taking the flag in P1. His Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen should’ve won this and had this in the bag, but that rear tyre failure changed everything in terms of the championship. At least his title rival Lewis Hamilton was unable to score following a mistake on the second start.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, race results:
1 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 3:33.686
2 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1.385
3 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 2.762
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 3.828
5 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 4.754
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 6.382
7 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 6.624
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 7.709
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 8.874
10 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 9.576
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 10.254
12 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 11.264
13 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 14.241
14 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 14.315
15 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 17.668
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 42.379
17 George Russell Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda DNF
– Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes DNF
– Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault DNF

Leclerc survives Baku qualifying to take pole

Charles Leclerc achieved his second successive shock Formula 1 pole position as Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying ended in similarly bizarre circumstances to Monaco with a late Q3 red flag.

The Scuderia Ferrari driver led the way after the first runs in Q3, but Yuki Tsunoda crashing at Turn 3 with just a few seconds of the session remaining – and Carlos Sainz also hitting the barriers just behind the AlphaTauri – secured Leclerc’s pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

The session had already been heavily disrupted and delayed by three other red flags, caused by Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi crashing in Q1 and Daniel Ricciardo doing likewise in Q2.

Leclerc’s time of one minute, 41.218 seconds initial lap in Q3 came as he led the pack around, but crucially picked up a significant tow when he caught up with Hamilton – completing a second warm-up lap running behind teammate Valtteri Bottas – in the closing stages of the track.

This boosted Leclerc to a 0.232 seconds advantage over Hamilton when the Mercedes drivers did complete the first of what should have been two runs in Q3, with Bottas ending up down the order as he had towed Hamilton.

Red Bull, the favourite for pole position, ended up with Verstappen in third as he could not match Leclerc on the opening Q3 runs despite being towed by teammate Sergio Perez.

Pierre Gasly took an excellent fourth as the AlphaTauri drivers completed their first Q3 laps in the middle part of the segment when the rest of the top ten were in the pits preparing for the final goes that were ultimately aborted.

Tsunoda towed Gasly around – the rookie’s lap ending up being good enough for P8, with Bottas shuffled down to P10.

Along with the rest, he never got the chance to improve as Tsunoda – who had stayed out for a second go following a cool-down lap where the AlphaTauri drivers became mixed in with the rest of the pack, now preparing for their final runs – crashed at Turn 3 – the 90-degree left at the end of the back straight early in the first sector.

He braked too late and locked his left-front, which sent him nose-first into the barriers, with Sainz “losing the focus” as he followed Tsunoda’s lock-up and crashed, the Ferrari’s rear swinging around and its front wing being knocked off against the wall on the inside of the Turn 3 run-off area.

Behind the polesitter, Hamilton, Verstappen and Gasly came Sainz, Lando Norris and Perez, while Fernando Alonso was sandwiched between Tsunoda and Bottas in P9.

Norris faces a post-qualifying investigation for a possible red flag procedure infraction during Q1.

Q2 ended 90 seconds early after Ricciardo locked up his front left and slide straight into the wall on the outside of Turn 3.

The McLaren’s right front was knocked off in the impact and the middle segment was not restarted, which meant several drivers – including Ricciardo – were eliminated based on their initial run times.

Sebastian Vettel was vocally livid to miss a Q3 spot by 0.029 seconds as he ended up P11, ahead of Esteban Ocon, who had clipped the wall with his right rear exiting the same corner as where Ricciardo, who qualified P13, would later crash.

Kimi Raikkonen was P14 ahead of George Russell, who maintained his 100 percent progression from Q1-Q2 for Williams in 2021.

This came after he missed the opening minutes of Q1 as his team worked to switch him back to a previously used engine as the new one he had been running in FP3 suffered a water pump leak and had to be removed.

In Q1, the incidents involving Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi meant the opening segment lasted over 40 minutes.

Both drivers hit the wall at the fast Turn 15 left – the turn heading downhill at the end of the second sector where Leclerc and Verstappen crashed in FP2 and FP3 respectively – with Stroll’s occurring first just three minutes into Q1.

The Aston Martin driver struck the wall nearly square-on with his right front after sliding to the incident with understeer.

The impact snapped the suspension and he pulled over to the inside of the track’s final real corner, with the red flags brought out when only Leclerc had completed a timed lap, as he had been running at the end of pack.

After a 12-minute delay, the session restarted, with the Mercedes pair switched from mediums to the softs that the rest of the field were running, but proceedings only lasted a further five minutes before Giovinazzi hit the wall.

The Alfa Romeo driver locked his left-front and went further into the barriers than Stroll, with Giovinazzi stopping immediately with the right-side of his car heavily damaged.

The red flags returned with the Mercedes drivers among those still yet to set a time, although Hamilton eventually took his used softs to the fastest time in the opening segment.

When Q1 eventually finished, Nicholas Latifi and the Haas duo were eliminated, with Mick Schumacher leading Nikita Mazepin, who had to take to the escape road at Turn 4 on his final flying lap – where he was running just in front of Hamilton.

So a dramatic qualifying session with four red flags. In the end, Charles Leclerc survived the chaos to take the fastest lap and pole position in Baku.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.218
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.450
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:41.563
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:41.565
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:41.576
6 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.747
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:41.917
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:42.211
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:42.327
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:42.659
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:42.224
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:42.273
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.558
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:42.587
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:42.758
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:43.128
17 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:44.158
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:44.238
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes No time
20 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari No time

Verstappen wins at Monaco and becomes new championship leader

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen drove a brilliant race to take victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and becomes the new Formula 1 championship leader.

Verstappen dominated from the front and finished ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, after polesitter Charles Leclerc could not start and Valtteri Bottas was forced to retired.

Following his late Q3 crash, Leclerc reported a problem with his gearbox on his only pre-race lap to the grid – although Ferrari later announced a damaged driveshaft meant he could not take the start.

Lewis Hamilton could only finish in seventh, frustrated with Mercedes strategy call after he lost two positions during the single pitstop phase.

When the five red lights went out, Verstappen immediately moved to block Bottas’s run to the inside line for Ste Devote from his P2 grid spot, cutting off the Mercedes, which had made a slightly better launch off the line from third.

Verstappen’s aggressive defence easily kept him in the lead, with Bottas briefly locking his left-front as the pack steamed into the first corner.

The two leaders quickly surged clear of Sainz’s third place, the Ferrari initially unable to match their pace.

The opening stage of the 78-lap race featured the leading drivers managing their pace as they worked to create a pitstop gap to the runners using the medium and hard tyres in the pack behind.

Verstappen controlled the pace up front – his laps gradually getting quicker – with Bottas running just out of DRS range in second, as Sainz closed again on the two leaders until his gap to Bottas almost reached the two-second mark, where it remained.

The leader’s advantage extended to nearly three seconds by the one-quarter-distance mark, after Mercedes had asked Bottas to show his best pace, as the Finn in fact fell further back towards Sainz.

Bottas could not match Verstappen’s pace in the low one minute, 16 seconds at this stage and the gap between them grew to nearly five-seconds once 25 laps had been completed.

After Hamilton had kicked off the pitstops by stopping for hards at the end of lap 29, in a doomed attempt to undercut Pierre Gasly’s fifth place, Bottas came in the next time around.

But a disastrous pitstop where the right-front soft remained stuck on Bottas’s W12 because the wheel nut machined onto the axle and could not be removed, which meant the Finn’s race was ended.

Sainz came in two laps later, now comfortably in second, while Red Bull waited until lap 34 to bring in Verstappen, who emerged with a 6.5 seconds lead over the Ferrari once all the stops had shaken out.

In the immediate phase after the stops, Sainz managed to cut Verstappen’s lead in half as he lapped in the low 1m15s, before the Red Bull upped its pace and the gap between the pair stabilised.

They regularly ran in the mid-1m14s during the middle phase of the race, exchanging quicker times over several tours, but the difference between them remained steady.

Heading into the final 15 laps, Verstappen was able to pull away slightly as he asserted control over the gap to second once again, eventually coming home with a winning margin of 8.9s as Sainz faded as the completed laps built up.

The result gives Verstappen the lead of the drivers’ standings for the first time in his career.

Bottas’s retirement meant Lando Norris moved up to third as McLaren negotiated the pitstop phase smoothly, with the Briton having something of a lonely race for the majority of the event to take the final spot on the podium behind the dominant leaders.

Norris did struggle for tyre life in the closing stages, with Sergio Perez closing in rapidly in the second Red Bull but he was unable to find a way by ahead of the finish.

Perez, who had started a net eighth with Leclerc’s absence, was the big winner during the pitstops, where Hamilton ended up immensely frustrated at Mercedes’ strategy.

Being the first driver to stop did not pay off for the world champion, as Gasly was able to stay ahead when he came in one lap after Hamilton, who then lost a place to Sebastian Vettel as well when the Aston Martin driver jumped up two spots by staying out longer and overcutting the AlphaTauri and the Mercedes.

But Red Bull left Perez out in clear air even longer, the Mexican eventually coming in one lap 35 having lapped in the mid 1m14s bracket as he enjoyed strong pace in clear air.

Perez actually cycled through to temporarily lead just before he stopped and handed his teammate back the P1 stop Verstappen would not lose again, as Perez rejoined well clear of the Vettel-Gasly-Hamilton train.

After initially failing to make much in-road on Norris’s advantage in third, he rapidly cut the gap approaching the final 15 laps, but his chase ended up stalling with the gap to Norris just over a second, with the margin at the finish exactly 1.0 seconds.

Vettel came home solidly in fifth, with Hamilton trailing Gasly by 14.3 seconds at the flag after stopping to move back to softs late on to chase the fastest lap point.

He successfully managed that quest, setting a new track record of one minute, 12.909 seconds.

Lance Stroll gained from his net P12 starting spot by running the hard tyre from the start and then staying out until lap 58, where he maintained the eighth place he had risen too after switching to the softs.

Stroll was investigated for potentially crossing the pit exit line as he rejoined after his stop, but the stewards took no action and he came home untroubled in eighth.

Esteban Ocon defied late pressure from Antonio Giovinazzi, as the Alpine and Alfa Romeo drivers rounded out the top ten – the former struggling for tyre life after being given mediums at his stop compared to the hards on his rival’s machine.

Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo were not far behind at the finish – the latter ending up a lap down on his McLaren teammate – with Fernando Alonso 13th a chunk further back.

With Bottas the only retirement and Leclerc not starting, the rest of the finishers were Williams pair George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, Yuki Tsunoda – who stopped last of all on lap 65 and ended up with the second fastest race lap, 1.128 seconds slower than Hamilton’s effort – and the Haas duo Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

So congratulations to Max Verstappen with this Monaco Grand Prix victory. He becomes the new Formula 1 championship leader. What a drive in the Red Bull-Honda.

Monaco Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:38:56.820
2 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 8.968
3 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 19.427
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 20.490
5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 52.591
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 53.896
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:08.231
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
15 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +3 laps
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +3 laps
– Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF
– Charles Leclerc Ferrari DNS

Leclerc takes Monaco Grand Prix pole position despite crashing

Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix in a bizarre circumstances as he crashed with seconds remaining in Q3, which prevented any of his rivals improving.

Leclerc had claimed provisional pole with a time of one minute, 10.346 seconds lap after the opening runs in Q3, where the drivers were each taking several warm-up laps to get their tyres to the best operating temperatures.

He led Max Verstappen by 0.230 seconds, with the Red Bull leading the pack around to start the final runs.

Verstappen had just set the session’s fastest time in the first sector when, ahead of him on the track and about to finish his final flying lap of the session, Leclerc clipped the inside barrier at the second part of the Swimming Pool.

That broke the Ferrari’s right-front suspension and sent him into the barriers on the outside, with the red flags showing with just over ten seconds remaining on the clock.

The Q3 session was not restarted, which meant Leclerc’s lap from earlier stood as the pole time, with Valtteri Bottas ending up third position behind Verstappen.

Carlos Sainz Jr took fourth, with Lando Norris fifth for McLaren – taking an contra-approach in Q3 by running in the middle of the segment and returning to the pits ahead of the final runs.

Pierre Gasly finished sixth, with Lewis Hamilton only seventh for Mercedes.

The world champion struggled with oversteer throughout the session, never looking like he was set the threaten the top spots, and at one point late in Q3 appearing to clip the barrier at Portier.

Sebastian Vettel was eighth ahead of Sergio Perez and Antonio Giovinazzi, who gave Alfa Romeo its first Q3 appearance of the season.

Esteban Ocon found a chunk of time on his final lap in Q2 but ended up 0.077 seconds slower than Giovinazzi as the highest faller in the middle segment.

Behind him, Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen all found time on their last laps but were also knocked out.

George Russell qualified P15 after continuing his record of progressing from Q1 at every event so far in 2021. He went faster again in Q2, but could not climb any higher.

In Q1, where all the field completed several laps to build up to speed – Verstappen and Norris had the joint lowest lap count, seven – all the fallers completed their best times in the opening segment on their final runs.

But those improvements where not enough for Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso, who became to surprise exits for AlphaTauri and Alpine respectively.

Behind them came Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin, with the latter’s teammate, Mick Schumacher, set to start the race in last after his FP3 shunt at Casino Square.

The damage to the rear and left-hand side of Schumacher’s Haas chassis was so severe that he could not take part in qualifying, with the team continuing to evaluate just how much damage had been done ahead of the session starting.

So an anti-climax end to qualifying as Max Verstappen was about to challenge Charles Leclerc for pole position. But Leclerc misjudged the apex at the Swimming Pool section and into the barriers. At least he achieved the fastest time to take P1 for Ferrari.

Monaco Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:10.346
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:10.576
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:10.601
4 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:10.611
5 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:10.620
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:10.900
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:11.095
8 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:11.419
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:11.573
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:11.779
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:11.486
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:11.598
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:11.600
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:11.642
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:11.830
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:12.096
17 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:12.205
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:12.366
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:12.958
20 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari –

Hamilton and Mercedes wins strategic battle to take victory

After scoring his 100th pole position, Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix thanks to a superior pitstop strategy to rival Max Verstappen.

The two title contenders came extremely close to touching at Turn 1, with Verstappen making an aggressive move to get ahead, which forced Mercedes into making two bold strategy calls to get Hamilton back into a position to win his 98th Grand Prix.

At the start, Verstappen appeared to make a faster getaway from the front row, but dipped in behind Hamilton once the Mercedes shot up to speed.

But Verstappen stole to the inside for the first corner and boldly held on to take the racing line through Turn 2, which meant the two leaders came very close to touching – Hamilton backing out and a collision avoided by the barest of margins.

Bottas followed the top three through the opening two turns, but as he trailed Hamilton through Turn 3 he was overtaken by Charles Leclerc roaring around on the outside line – emulating Fernando Alonso’s similar move at the start of the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

Leclerc muscling into third meant the top two easily began to romp away in the closing stages of the 66-lap race, with Verstappen and Hamilton the only drivers lapping in the one minute, 23 seconds.

Verstappen was able to edge clear to a near two-second lead before Hamilton had just begun to close back in when the race was suspended by a safety car period called on lap eight so Yuki Tsunoda’s car could be recovered from the outside of the reprofiled Turn 10 – the AlphaTauri appearing to shutdown on Tsunoda as he approached the long left-hander.

When the race restarted on lap 11, Verstappen dropped Hamilton exiting the final chicane and weaved across the main straight to try and disrupt the tow going back the Mercedes, which was in any case close to the following Leclerc.

As DRS was suspended for the first two laps after the restart, Hamilton could not get close while running at just under a second behind and Verstappen was able to just creep his advantage up above the critical one-second threshold when DRS was reactivated.

Much like at the start, Verstappen and Hamilton quickly pulled clear of Leclerc and Bottas – again lapping at a low one minute, 23 seconds pace that the rest of the pack could not match.

As the race moved past the end of its first third, Hamilton began to heavily pressure Verstappen, who pitted at the end of lap 24 to take the medium tyres – but had to endure a 4.2 seconds stop as the Red Bull’s new left-rear tyre was still coming out of the garage when the Dutchman arrived at his box.

But Mercedes did not bring Hamilton in to cover the Red Bull stop on the next tour – team boss Toto Wolff heard complaining to race director Michael Masi about Nikita Mazepin holding up Hamilton on the lap after Verstappen came in.

Hamilton was left out for three further laps before he came in to take the mediums, with Leclerc following him in far behind and emerging well adrift of Bottas, who had pitted the lap before Verstappen.

Verstappen comfortably retook the lead with Hamilton in the pits and had a 5.5s lead at the end of the Mercedes driver’s out-lap.

But Hamilton’s tyre offset meant he could run at a much quicker pace – the world champion carving into Verstappen’s lead by around 1.5 seconds a lap as he logged successive laps in low-to-mid one minute, 21 seconds.

By the start of lap 34, he was just a second behind the leader and continued to home in – with Mercedes even telling Bottas that his pace in third was good enough to catch the Red Bull by the end.

In the subsequent phase of the race, Hamilton was in and out of Verstappen’s DRS range, but was unable to get really close to the leader, who had upped his pace significantly to reach the one minute, 21 seconds bracket when Hamilton reached the critical on-second deficit.

With the gap at the front relatively stable, Mercedes made an aggressive call to pit Hamilton again at the end of lap 42 for another set of mediums – these ones used from earlier in the weekend.

At the end of Hamilton’s out-lap, he faced a 22 seconds gap to close, with Red Bull opting to leave Verstappen out on a one-stopper to the finish as he had no medium tyres left heading into the race.

Hamilton again carved into Verstappen’s lead – regularly setting fastest laps and going over 1.5 seconds quicker – but he did appear to lose time at one point passing Bottas just as the final 15 laps approached, with the second Mercedes ordered not to hold up the other car, but Hamilton still having to make closer-than-comfortable move into Turn 10 on lap 53.

But once Hamilton was clear he continued to rapidly close in on Verstappen with a string of fastest laps and reached the leader again on lap 59.

As they ran down the pit straight at the start of the next tour, Verstappen weaved to break the tow once again, but Hamilton’s pace was so much higher with DRS that he shot ahead on the outside line and swept back into the lead at the exact spot he had lost it on the opening lap.

Red Bull immediately then opted to pit Verstappen for a second time to chase the fastest lap bonus point – a tactic Mercedes had already taken with Bottas.

Hamilton came home with a comfortable 15.8 seconds lead at the finish, with Verstappen winning the battle to take the fastest lap with a one minute, 18.149 seconds.

Leclerc finished a lonely fourth – Bottas had had to pass him with a DRS blast in the closing stages after the Mercedes driver’s late second stop – well clear of Sergio Perez, who came home fifth after winning a lengthy mid-race scrap with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Carlos Sainz finished seventh ahead of Lando Norris, who received a black-and-white flag sanction for an aggressive late move to defend against the Ferrari into Turn 1 as the race entered its final quarter.

Esteban Ocon lost ground from his fifth place grid spot at the start and he eventually came home ninth ahead of Pierre Gasly, who came out on top of an intense fight with the pack just outside the top ten – which was at the time headed by Fernando Alonso, who eventually came home P17 – in the final laps.

Gasly had to serve a five-second penalty at his first stop for lining up too far over of his grid spot for the start.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in winning the Spanish Grand Prix from title rival Max Verstappen. The two-stop strategy was far superior even though track position is key around this circuit. Better grip and speed will reward a great result.

Spanish Grand Prix, race results:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33:07.680
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 15.841
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 26.610
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 54.616
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:03.671
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:13.768
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:14.670
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
17 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
– Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda DNF

Hamilton achieves his 100th career pole position

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton achieved his 100th Formula 1 career pole position at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, edging out main rival Max Verstappen for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas will start third in the other Mercedes, with both Black Arrows cars and the leading Red Bull joining the rest of the Q3 runners in getting through the middle segment of qualifying on the soft tyres, on which they will start the race.

Hamilton led the way after the opening runs in Q3 with a one minute, 16.741 seconds, with Verstappen slotting in 0.036 seconds behind.

But none of the top three went faster on their second runs, with Hamilton falling from a personal best in the first sector to end up behind overall – particularly losing a chunk sliding wide and onto the big kerb at the exit of the penultimate corner.

That gave Verstappen a chance to steal ahead, but failed to improve on his best times in any of the Barcelona track’s three sectors, as did Bottas.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc did set a personal best on his final Q3 lap to take P4 ahead of Alpine driver and Carlos Sainz, who had headed Leclerc throughout Q1 and Q2.

Daniel Ricciardo surged back from his Portimao Q1 elimination to take seventh for McLaren and beat Sergio Perez, who spun heading into the downhill Turn 13 right ahead of the final chicane on his opening run in Q3.

Perez had dipped his left-side wheels into the gravel and violently spun around as a result, but was able to get away from the danger spot before Hamilton, who was running behind the Red Bull on his way to set what was the pole time, came through.

Lando Norris finished ninth in the second McLaren ahead of Fernando Alonso.

In Q2, Ricciardo’s improvement on his final flying lap – which included the segment’s best time in the first sector – knocked out Lance Stroll.

Pierre Gasly had looked rapid in Q1 but was eliminated in Q2 for the first time this season, finishing just ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who did not set a personal best with his final flying lap and ended up P13.

Antonio Giovinazzi beat George Russell to P14 after the pair had escaped Q1 together for the second race in a row.

Russell ran out of sequence with the rest of the Q2 runners, setting his time ahead of the final runs in what was a single effort that was significantly off the pace in the middle part of the session.

Giovinazzi took a sighter on the mediums early in Q2 and then improved when switching back to the softs for a final run in the session’s final moments to comfortably slot in ahead of Russell.

Q1 had several big moments involving traffic backing up ahead of their flying laps, one of which, where Norris was coming to complete a hot lap and caught three cars at the final chicane, with two more going slowing out of the sequence, is being investigated now qualifying has finished.

Yuki Tsunoda was the shock elimination in Q1, after the AlphaTauri driver had pushed on during his warm-up lap to overtake Leclerc to run at the head of the pack.

He set a personal best time on his last lap, as did all the other drivers knocked out in Q1, but Tsunoda was shuffled back down the order as others improved, with Russell completing the final flying lap to edge out Tsunoda at the very last moment.

Kimi Raikkonen ended up P17 ahead of Mick Schumacher, who scored his best on-merit Formula 1 qualifying position in P18 (the Haas driver also finished P18 in Imola qualifying, after Tsunoda had crashed out at the start of Q1).

Nicholas Latifi ended up behind Schumacher after damaging his car running heavily over the kerbs at the exit of Campsa mid-way through Q1 – an incident that also smashed the Williams’s left-hand side wing mirror.

Nikita Mazepin brought up the rear of the field in the Haas.

So a wonderful achievement by Lewis Hamilton to grab his 100th career pole position in the sport. He is number one in Formula 1’s history in terms of starting at the sharp end of the grid. Congratulations.

Spanish Grand Prix, qualifying positions:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:16.741
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:16.777
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:16.873
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:17.510
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:17.580
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:17.620
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:17.622
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:17.701
9 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:18.010
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:18.147
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:17.974
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:17.982
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:18.079
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:18.356
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:19.154
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:18.556
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:18.917
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:19.117
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:19.219
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:19.807

Hamilton is victorious at Portimao

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton was victorious in the Portuguese Grand Prix, finishing ahead of Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas.

Such was Hamilton’s commanding position approaching the finish, Verstappen and Bottas stopped for an extra pitstop to chase the fastest lap bonus point, which extended his gap at the chequered flag.

At the start, Bottas leapt off the front row best, with the polesitter then racing down to the rapid right-hand Turn 1 to extend his advantage as Verstappen had a half look at passing the Hamilton before backing out.

Behind the leaders, Sergio Perez lost fourth position with a slow getaway, which allowed Carlos Sainz to jump up to fifth on the run to Turn 1, with Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris battling over sixth further around lap one – the McLaren driver moving by on the outside run through Turn 11.

Valtteri’s lead at the end of lap one of 66 was 0.8-seconds, but that was soon gone as the safety car was called out to allow the Portimao track marshals to clear debris caused by Kimi Raikkonen after colliding with his Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi as they started lap two.

The collision, with Raikkonen closing on Giovinazzi, broke the 2007 world champion’s front wing, which became wedged under his car and meant he skated straight on into the gravel at Turn 1, where he retired.

The race resumed at the start of lap seven – the pack brought twice through the pitlane under the suspension as the main straight was cleared – Bottas waited until he reached the grid hatchings before roaring back to speed, which caught out Hamilton.

Verstappen was therefore able to close in on the world champion and pass him with a thrilling move around the outside of Turn 1 before chasing after Bottas.

For the next few tours it looked as if Hamilton was struggling to hang onto the leaders, but Verstappen sliding coming out of the penultimate corner on lap ten gave the Mercedes driver the chance to attack as the Red Bull lost DRS to Bottas.

Hamilton attacked at the first chance, using DRS to shoot to the inside line at Turn 1, sealing the move before Verstappen attacked back on the outside of the ever-tightening right of Turn 3, where Hamilton ran him out of road on the outside and chased on after Bottas.

For the rest of the race’s opening third, Bottas and Hamilton edged slightly clear of Verstappen, but he remained resolutely in play as they all worked on keeping their medium tyres in shape.

After a cagey period with Bottas holding firm in front as the leaders regularly lapped in the mid-to-high 1m22s, Hamilton gained considerably running onto the main straight at the end of lap 19, and with DRS at the start of the next he attacked for the lead.

Bottas defended the inside line, but Hamilton swept around the outside line to seize the lead for first time, quickly scampering out of DRS range ahead of his teammate.

As the race approached half-distance, Hamilton had worked his lead above three seconds, with Verstappen remaining within DRS range of Bottas but unable to get close enough to mount a move for lap after lap.

Just as Verstappen dropped out of DRS threat, Red Bull called him to take hard tyres at the end of lap 35 – the Dutchman locking up both front tyres approaching the speed limit line.

Mercedes brought Bottas the following time by, where a stop taking one-second longer than Verstappen’s – 3.3 seconds versus 2.3 seconds – meant the Red Bull was able to get close going through the opening turns after Bottas rejoined.

The Mercedes driver lost momentum with cold tyres coming out of Turn 3, which gave Verstappen his chance to pounce with warmer rubber, and he attacked out of Turn 4 and took second down Bottas’s inside at the hairpin.

Up front, Hamilton came in at the end lap 37, also taking hards – albeit a slightly used set compared to the brand-new ones on Verstappen’s car.

Once the pitstop sequence had shaken out, Hamilton’s lead was 3.2 seconds over Verstappen, who initially started to eat into that advantage before falling back again over the next few laps as Hamilton recorded a string of fastest laps.

Hamilton’s lead was never under threat from there, although he had to make one more pass for the lead – an easy DRS overtake on the main straight to get by Perez, who had cycled into the net lead by completing a very long opening stint, the second Red Bull only coming in at the end of lap 51 and taking softs.

Hamilton’s margin of victory was 29.1 seconds at the flag, with Verstappen initially just keeping Bottas at bay over the initial laps of the second stint, much as the Finn had done in reverse towards the end of the first half of the race.

The gap between the pair was then grew when Bottas spent two laps approaching the final ten laps losing two seconds each time to Verstappen due to an exhaust temperature sensor briefly robbing him of top speed.

As Bottas was far enough ahead of Perez, who had taken the fastest lap with his softs, Mercedes brought its second car in with three laps remaining to try and sneak back the bonus point.

Bottas did achieve that with a one minute, 19.865 seconds, but only because Verstappen’s one minute, 19.849 seconds was deleted for running too wide exiting the penultimate corner on the final lap.

Behind the top three came Perez, who had run behind Norris after the restart after the pair had shuffled Sainz back.

The Red Bull then soon brought its pace advantage to bear to retake fourth and Perez began his long drive to extend the life of the mediums he had started on.

With Perez gone ahead, Norris saw off Ferrari’s attempt to undercut at the pitstops – where he and Sainz exchanged softs for mediums – and the Briton then kept the softer rubber alive much better than his former teammate.

Sainz tumbled to P11 at the flag, with the drivers initially behind him taking hard tyres at their stops and enjoying much fastest pace across the rest of the race.

Norris did not face this problem, as he came home fifth ahead of Charles Leclerc, who had been the first driver to start Sainz’s plunge shortly after half distance.

Ocon finished seventh ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso, who made notable progress the longer the race went on, enjoying his time on the hard rubber to the finish.

Daniel Ricciardo rose brilliantly from P16 on the grid in the early stages, making up several places in the early laps, then executing a long first stint that meant he was on the attack late-on, albeit passed by Alonso when the Alpine was demonstrating superior pace.

Pierre Gasly rounded out the top ten ahead of Sainz.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton by scoring his 97th career win in Formula 1. A super impressive achievement. The battle between Max Verstappen continues as the Spanish Grand Prix follows next weekend.

Portuguese Grand Prix, race results:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34:31.421
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 29.148
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 33.530
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 39.735
5 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 51.369
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 55.781
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’03.749
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1’04.808
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1’15.369
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1’16.463
11 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1’18.955
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari Alfa 1 lap
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1 lap
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1 lap
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1 lap
16 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1 lap
17 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 2 laps
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 2 laps
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 2 laps
– Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari DNF

Bottas takes pole position at Portimao

Valtteri Bottas denied his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by coming out on top in qualifying for 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix with Imola winner Max Verstappen only third for Red Bull Racing.

The sport’s top two teams opted for different tyre strategies for the final runs in Q3, with the Mercedes drivers returning to medium compound with which they had dominated in Q2, and used to top qualifying at Portimao in 2020, while Verstappen stuck with the softs throughout.

But the tyre change did not work for either of the Black Arrows drivers, as Valtteri’s lap of one minute, 18.38 seconds that was set on the first Q3 runs on the softs ended up being the pole time.

Both Bottas and Hamilton could not improve on their final efforts, which meant the former’s 0.007 seconds advantage from the soft tyre runs gave him his first pole of 2021.

Verstappen had lost his first Q3 saving an oversteer snap to the right as he ran through Turn 4 and beyond the track limits onto the back straight and so was under extra pressure for the final runs.

The Red Bull driver was also only taking a single warm-up lap on the tricky low-grip surface compared to the two most other drivers completed.

Despite having to pass traffic on what would be his sole legal Q3 lap, Verstappen reached third but ended up 0.398 seconds slower than Bottas.

Behind the leaders came Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz, who outqualified Charles Leclerc for the first time as a Ferrari driver.

Esteban Ocon was sixth ahead of Lando Norris and Leclerc, with Pierre Gasly ninth for AlphaTauri.

Sebastian Vettel, making his first Q3 appearance since the 2020 British Grand Prix, took tenth for Aston Martin. This is a great result for the four-time world champion after a difficult period of racing. Hopefully this will build up his confidence.

In Q2, the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers progressed through on the medium tyres as has become typical to start on the preferred rubber for the opening stint of the race, but here they were joined in this by Leclerc.

Both Ferrari drivers started Q2 on the mediums, but while Sainz switched to softs to ease his Q3 progression, Leclerc preserved with the harder rubber and did enough to get by with a personal best on his second flying run on the same set at the end of the end of the segment.

Behind the top ten runners, George Russell took P11 for Williams, ending up 0.057 seconds adrift of Gasly’s P10 time in Q2 – crossing the line as the last of the runners setting flying laps in the middle segment.

Behind him came Antonio Giovinazzi for Alfa Romeo, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda – the trio all completing personal best laps on their final Q2 runs but still being eliminated nevertheless.

Kimi Raikkonen could not improve on his final run and ended up P15 as a result in the Alfa Romeo.

In Q1, Daniel Ricciardo suffered a shock exit ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, with Norris putting the other McLaren second in the opening segment, which featured Alonso spinning exiting the penultimate corner and Perez losing the rear running through Turn 4 and spinning through the gravel on the exit.

Ricciardo and Stroll not finding enough time on their final efforts in Q1 preserved Russell’s perfect record of getting through to Q2 at all three races so far in 2021, as they failed to jump ahead of the Williams.

But it was Ocon’s late jump to fourth on his last lap that meant Ricciardo could not progress.

At the back, Nicholas Latifi led the two Haas cars, with Mick Schumacher finishing ahead of Nikita Mazepin.

So congratulations to Valtteri Bottas with pole position. After his big crash with George Russell at Imola, this P1 is the perfect result following a tricky start to the championship. The two title contenders are behind and it’s going to be fascinating in the race. Bring it on.

Qualifying position, Portuguese Grand Prix:

1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:18.348
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:18.355
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:18.746
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:18.890
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:19.039
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:19.042
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.116
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:19.306
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:19.475
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:19.659
11 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:19.109
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:19.216
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:19.456
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:19.463
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:19.812
16 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.839
17 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:19.913
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:20.285
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:20.452
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:20.912