KEY POINTS

  • Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing pull off a gutsy win over Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in France
  • The two-stop strategy proved to be the difference-maker for Verstappen
  • Hamilton may have found a worthy contender on his path to the title 

Lewis Hamilton’s drive for five back-to-back titles is in jeopardy of being taken away by Max Verstappen.

Many have been waiting to see who will finally knock off the British superstar from winning the Driver’s Championship, and Verstappen may be the one to do it.

The Belgian-Dutch driver for Red Bull Racing pulled off the upset in Sunday’s French Grand Prix after overtaking the 36-year-old Hamilton on Lap 52 of 53.

Verstappen perfectly zoomed past Hamilton on the inside with the Drag Reduction System (DRS) propelling him to the 13th win in his very young career.

Mercedes’ decision to stick to a one-stop strategy came back to haunt them as it meant that Hamilton would have to pace himself and rely on teammate Valterri Bottas in blocking out the rest of the competition from getting to the seven-time world champion.

Verstappen had pole position for the race after finishing 0.258 seconds ahead of teammates Hamilton and Bottas, who took the second and third spots on the grid respectively.

The 23-year-old Verstappen made an extremely crucial mistake on the entry into the second turn of the race as he went off-track for a bit and allowed Hamilton to speed past him and take pole position.

Going into Lap 20, Hamilton was coming off the pit stop and Verstappen had a clear shot at going up to the second place, which he successfully pulled off as the Mercedes pit crew’s 2.2 second pit time was not enough to get the Brit driver off in time.

In Lap 44, Verstappen started his chase of Hamilton. Bottas had been successful at keeping the Belgian-Dutch at bay. However, a wide turn in the corner allowed the 23-year-old to slip through into second place.

Bottas voiced his frustration on the team radio about his pre-race prediction of it being a two-stop race in Lap 49 as he attempted to hold off Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

Perez successfully got behind Bottas and used the tiny window of slipstream to pass Bottas, with Red Bull currently holding the second and third positions.

In the end, Red Bull’s risky two-stop strategy allowed them to pull off the double podium finish for the first time this season and gave Verstappen a 131-119 lead on Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton places second in F1 Grand Prix of France JUNE 20: Second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20, 2021 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) Photo: Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

“When we made the call to do the two-stop, luckily at the end that paid off. We had to work hard for it,” said Verstappen to ESPN.

Though concerned with how Mercedes allowed to let this win slip, Hamilton has probably been looking forward to a much closer fight for the world championship this year after handily winning the title the past three seasons.

The Hamilton-Verstappen rivalry is set to continue with the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria next weekend.