An anguished cry over Leclerc’s team radio summed up another frustrating day for Ferrari, after the Monegasque driver – having led from pole – crashed into the wall at high speed on lap 18.
It’s the third time this season that the 24-year-old has failed to finish a race after leading. Leclerc has converted just two of his seven pole starts into wins, the last giving Verstappen the opportunity to open a 63-point gap in the drivers’ championship.
And the reigning Red Bull world champion – after asking his team if Leclerc was okay – got it right by winning his 27th career Grand Prix, and his second in a row at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
“The car was fast today,” said Verstappen. “Bad luck for Charles, I hope he’s fine, but I just did my race and took care of the tyres.
“I always try to get as many points as possible. Some moves, you see they’re on, and sometimes you just have to back off and wait for the end of the run. That’s what we did.
“There are a lot of other races to come where you have to score points. From that point of view, today was a great day.
More misery for Leclerc
A first win since April had looked set to push him back in the championship chase, and the Ferrari driver started strong in France, escaping well and starting to gradually build a lead over Verstappen.
But disaster struck on lap 18 when Leclerc appeared to lose the rear of his car before the fast Turn 11, spinning into the wall. A safety car soon followed, but the 24-year-old emerged from the car unscathed.
“Nope!” he shouted over the team radio, initially appearing to blame a throttle problem that nearly cost him the race in Austria, but later admitted it was his mistake.
“I said I think I’m performing at the highest level of my career, but if I keep making these mistakes there’s no point in performing at a very high level,” Leclerc told Sky Sports.
“If we lose the championship by 32 points at the end of the season, I will know where they are coming from and that is unacceptable. I have to master these things.
“It was a very difficult weekend for me. I struggled a lot with the balance of the car…when it’s hot like this it’s very difficult to be consistent.”
The Spaniard had discussed a possible pit stop on team radio ahead of a tense battle with Perez. Pushing to pass the Mexican, Sainz was wheel to wheel with his rival when his pit lane team radioed in to offer advice on pit stop strategy.
“Not not, not now,” Sainz shouted over team radio, later adding, “Come on guys.”
Perez was then embroiled in another thrilling battle with Russell, falling behind the Englishman with just two laps to go after reacting slowly at the end of a virtual safety car.
Russell took the lead and held on to his lead to cap off a great day for Mercedes, as they edge within a point of Sainz in the Drivers’ Championship, with a happy – albeit exhausted – Hamilton 16 points adrift .
“It was a tough race because my drink bottle didn’t work, but what a great result considering we’ve been so far from these guys all weekend,” Hamilton said.
“Reliability is something my team is amazing at, congratulations to the factory team and the team here, without them we wouldn’t get this podium. George has also done an amazing job.”
You Can Read Also