Beijing: Red Bull's Max Verstappen took his third victory of the 2021 Formula One season at the French Grand Prix on Sunday, catching and passing Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton with one lap to go in an enthralling race which ebbed and flowed as both teams employed different strategies.
Starting from pole position, Verstappen conceded the lead to Hamilton when he ran wide after the start, but the Dutchman retook the position after the first round of pitstops, when he stopped one lap earlier and used the resultant undercut to emerge ahead of Hamilton once the Briton had made his stop on lap 20.
Once back in the lead, Verstappen came under intense pressure from Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas, and radioed his team to say that he would not be able to maintain this pace for the rest of the Grand Prix.
Red Bull duly sacrificed Verstappen's lead to call their man in for a second tyre change on lap 32, but Mercedes did not follow suit, setting the stage for an intriguing finale as the newly-shod Verstappen hunted down Hamilton and Bottas, who were now first and second but struggling on older rubber.
Reeling in the Mercedes pair at an average of over one second per lap, Verstappen made his way past Bottas on lap 44, before hunting down and passing Hamilton on lap 52 of 53 to take a brilliant win.
"At the beginning it was super difficult out there with the wind," Verstappen said after the race. "Really difficult to keep the car stable. Once we made the first pit stop, they were pushing me hard from behind."
"But then when we made the call to do a two-stop [strategy], luckily it paid off, but we had to work hard for it. Very rewarding. The whole race me and Lewis were fighting each other, so it will be like this the rest of the season."
For his part, Hamilton was magnanimous in defeat. "Congrats to Max. He did a great job today. They had the better strength all weekend," the Briton said.
"We didn't win and we were in the lead, but I had no tyres left at the end, but still it was a good race."
"We didn't know how strong [the undercut] would be. Obviously they had a good strategy and it worked well for them. We've still got a good package and I'm not sure how we lost position today."
"[Max] was already quite far ahead and the only option was to stay out as long as possible and hope the tyres held together."
Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez took third to round out the podium places, while Bottas finished an unhappy fourth after complaining that Mercedes ignored his mid-race request to switch to a two-stop strategy, though he did at least take the bonus point for fastest lap.
Behind the top four, McLaren were best of the rest, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo showing well in fifth and sixth. AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly took seventh at his home race, ahead of Fernando Alonso in his Alpine.
Rounding out the points positions were the Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll, both of whom ran long into the race before making their tyre stops.
For only the tenth time in Formula One history, there were no mid-race retirements, as all 20 starters saw the chequered flag.
Verstappen's win sees him extend his lead in the drivers' championship to 12 points, and the Dutchman now has 131 points to Hamilton's 119. Perez sits third with 84 points.
In the constructors' standings, Red Bull still lead the way with 215 points. Mercedes stay second with 178, and McLaren are third with 110 points.
The next race of the 2021 F1 season is the Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on June 27.