Charles Leclerc and Ferrari were fast on Sunday. They looked to be in control at the French Grand Prix. And in a flash it was all over, Leclerc spinning at Turn 11 at Circuit Paul Ricard and nosing into the tire barriers.
His race was over.
"My throttle stuck open," he exclaimed over his radio, then accentuated that with a guttural scream.
That made things a relatively simple Sunday drive for defending series champion Max Verstappen, who took over at the front and then set about setting fast lap after fast lap on his way to the win, somehow making the set of hard-compound tires he took on at Lap 15 last until he took the checkered at Lap 53.
"I was putting pressure on Charles but following around here with this heat, the tires are overheating, I could never really go for a move, only once into Turn 11," Verstappen said on the broadcast at the finish. "But we just tried to stay calm, try to stay close. We pitted a bit early and from then onwards you never know how the race is going to go. But the car was quick today, and of course, it was unlucky for Charles. I hope he is okay."
Behind him, Lewis Hamilton was a comfortable second with teammate George Russell third after he used a bit of legerdemain at the close of a virtual safety car period to catch Sergio Perez napping to relegate the Red Bull driver to fourth.
It was sweet revenge for Russell, who came together with Perez earlier and said that he should have been given the spot as Perez ran into him.
The race stewards saw it differently then, and Perez held onto third until Russell made the pass work with two laps left.
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
- George Russell, Mercedes
- Sergio Perez, Red Bull
- Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari
- Fernando Alonso, Alpine
- Lando Norris, McLaren
- Esteban Ocon, Alpine
- Ricciardo, McLaren
- Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
- Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
- Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
- Alexander Albon, Williams
- Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
- Mick Schumacher, Haas
- Zhou Guanyu, Afla Romeo
- Nicholas Latifi, Williams
- Kevin Magnussen, Haas
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
- Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
What we learned
At Austria, Ferrari honestly not only didn't put a wheel wrong -- it got every call out of the pit box right. Leclerc looked fast, confident and in command the entire race. The way he passed Verstappen at Austria looked like a man playing among boys.
What happened to that team at France? They seemed tentative again, particularly late in the race with Carlos Sainz Jr., who was battling for position with Sergio Perez. Granted, Sainz had still not come into the pits and performed his five-second penalty, and it was a gamble not just with points but with the driver's health and possibly his competitors to keep him out with that right-front tire looking so raggedy.
But just when they decide to pit him, he's not only past the pit entrance, he's finally managed to work his way past Perez and into third place. Sainz went to begging to come in for fresh rubber to refusing to come into the pits. When he relented and came in, serving the penalty and getting fresh rubber, he drove from ninth back up to fifth, which is likely where he would have finished had he not pitted and the stewards added the penalty on at the end.
Then there's Leclerc, who was screaming into his radio that his throttle stuck open on Lap 18 when he spun at Turn 11, only to say near the conclusion of the race broadcast that he "made a mistake. It's trying to push too much, and I lost the rear. If we lose the championship by 32 points, I know where they came from."
Perhaps he was able to look at the data and realized that, or perhaps he was told that's what he was going to say the problem was. In any case, Ferrari has some things to clean up by Hungary on July 31.
At the other end of that is Mercedes, who still don't seem to have the raw performance of Red Bull or Ferrari, but certainly doesn't look as lost as it did at the beginning of the season. It's four podium finishes in a row now for Hamilton, and Russell put on a display of race craft and guile at the finish to join his teammate on the podium by making that surprise pass on Perez two laps from the finish.