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Mercedes received a huge boost at the start of the French Grand Prix when a mistake by polesitter Max Verstappen let Lewis Hamilton take the lead.
But like so often so far this season, the world champions failed to capitalize and let Red Bull’s Verstappen back in for a victory which extends his lead in the drivers’ standings to 12 points.
The decisive factor was Verstappen having two pitstops while Hamilton went in only once. The speed of Verstappen’s in and out laps following his stops also contrasted positively with Hamilton’s.
After big problems in Monaco and Baku too, all is not right at the Silver Arrows at present and they suddenly look second favourites for the titles for the first time in eight years. “We didn’t win and we had the lead but I had no tyres left at the end so unfortunately we lost the position. We’ve got to find some pace, that’s for sure,” defending champion Hamilton said.
Another issue for Mercedes is the future of Valtteri Bottas. He was tasked with trying to hold up Verstappen as he hunted down Hamilton but the Finn went too wide and the Dutchman easily passed him.
The team has openly criticized Bottas this season and after George Russell’s starring drive for Mercedes on loan from Williams when Hamilton had coronavirus last year in Bahrain, the Finn’s days at Mercedes are numbered.
There is even speculation in the paddock that Bottas could be replaced before the end of the season. His frustration was summed up by an angry exchange with his engineers as his tyres wilted and he ended up fourth behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
“Why does no one listen to me when I say this is a two-stopper?” he moaned.
Afterwards he was more conciliatory.
“I gave it everything I could to try to finish on the podium, we thought with the cooler temperatures the tyres would hold on for longer but they didn’t, our predictions in terms of tyre life didn’t quite match the reality,” Bottas said.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has much to ponder. But his team finally have a real challenger and that can only be good for F1.A one-stop strategy backfired for Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton was passed close to the chequered flag by Max Verstappen at Paul Ricard. Valtteri Bottas was meant to help hold up the Dutchman but his struggled may hasten his exit from the team.
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