Toto Wolff insisted Mercedes had to pit Valtteri Bottas first at the French Grand Prix and allow Red Bull to set up Max Verstappen for a stunning undercut.

After an early Verstappen error, the championship leader was running in third, between two Silver Arrows.

Lewis Hamilton led, with Bottas back in third, but Mercedes team principal Wolff explained the Finn had issues with his tyres that meant he had to head for the pit lane.

That call prompted Verstappen to pit next and he enjoyed an out lap described by Wolff as "phenomenal" while Hamilton followed him in and narrowly lost the lead.

Red Bull took a further risk by bringing Verstappen in a second time to attack the Mercedes pair on fresh medium tyres, but the first stop proved pivotal, accommodating that bold two-stop strategy.

Verstappen won the race, with runner-up Hamilton a fraction under three seconds behind him.

Wolff pondered if Mercedes had "misjudged" the undercut and added it was "something to improve".

However, he told Sky Sports: "We knew we were going to trigger the stops too early, but we had no choice."

Wolff said: "It went back and forward. We were in the lead because Max made the mistake, so that was a bit inherited.

"Then our pace was good, probably a little bit of a margin even. But then we had just about three seconds gap for the undercut, to protect the undercut, but it wasn't enough.

"We were lacking a second. Somewhere we lost it."

Red Bull boss Christian Horner added: "I think it's been a great race. You can see how close it is.

"It's been a great win for us today, but you've only got to look how tight it is between the two teams. It's going to be nip and tuck all the way through this championship, but we're going to be very happy leaving here.

"I think I'm visibly ageing with each grand prix, but we'll give Toto a few grey hairs by the end of the year as well."

A delighted Max Verstappen reflected on his "very rewarding" win at the French Grand Prix in which Red Bull's risky strategy delivered in dramatic fashion.

Championship leader Verstappen had pole position but swiftly slipped behind Lewis Hamilton when he lost his rear at Turn 2 on the opening lap.

From there, though, Red Bull provided a hugely effective rescue package, first by executing an undercut that allowed Verstappen to edge back in front despite a solid Hamilton pit stop.

The Dutchman's battling qualities came to the fore as he held off both Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, before Red Bull opted to take a gamble.

Verstappen went in for a second stop and faced a sizeable deficit on fresh medium tyres, albeit with time on his side.

The 23-year-old had to stay patient, but Bottas put up little fight and Hamilton was then passed on the penultimate lap to open up a 12-point gap at the top of the drivers' standings.

"Thank you so much, so good," Verstappen told his team, and he was then asked on the podium if he had enjoyed a gripping race.

"Towards the end, yes," he replied.

 

"In the beginning, it was super difficult out there with the wind, so one lap you had an okay balance and then the next lap you were just sliding everywhere. It was really difficult to keep the car stable.

"Once we made the first pit stop, you could clearly see on the hard tyres they were pushing me hard from behind. 

"But when we made the call to do a two-stopper, luckily in the end that paid off. We had to work hard for it, but of course it's very rewarding."

On his attempts to reel in Hamilton, Verstappen added: "It was difficult, because there was quite a lot of backmarkers to go through, but luckily they all did well so we could have a good fight to the end."

And talk predictably then turned to the title picture, with seven-time champion Hamilton finally facing a fight again.

"You could see the whole race we were fighting each other, so I think it will be like this for the rest of the season," Verstappen said.

Hamilton added: "We've got to find some pace, that's for sure.

"You could see most of the time we lost today was on the straights, so we've got to definitely dig deep, try to figure out what that is – whether it's power or drag – but we've still got a good package."

Red Bull rescued a dramatic victory for Max Verstappen with a powerful undercut and a bold second stop after his first-lap error put Lewis Hamilton in the ascendancy at the French Grand Prix.

A third consecutive win for Red Bull – two for Verstappen and one for Sergio Perez – boosted their leads in both the drivers' and constructors' championships.

Verstappen looked to be in trouble when he let Hamilton through at Turn 2, but his team's strategy turned the race on its head, extending his advantage to 12 points in the standings.

The championship leader – starting from pole – kept his nose in front at Turn 1 but then ran wide, exiting the track to give up position to Hamilton, who looked at ease at the front of the race.

Pit strategy proved pivotal, though, as Mercedes called in Valtteri Bottas – running in third – before team-mate Hamilton.

Red Bull followed as Verstappen boxed, causing Mercedes to react again, calling for "Hammer time" from their lead driver before bringing him in for a 2.1-second stop, the fastest of the three.

However, a flying out lap from Verstappen meant Hamilton could not quite get out ahead of his rival, instead settling in behind the Dutchman for a lengthy battle alongside Bottas.

Verstappen worked hard to keep Hamilton out of DRS range and gradually built a gap to the fading Silver Arrows that encouraged Red Bull to gamble with another stop and a switch to medium tyres.

Perez, who pitted after the other three, let Verstappen through to quickly take chunks out of the Mercedes lead, with Hamilton warned of a "painful" finish.

Bottas failed to hold Verstappen up, opening a gap for the rapid Red Bull and fuming at his team for delaying a second stop, with Perez soon following his team-mate through.

Red Bull cut it fine, but Verstappen eased past Hamilton on the penultimate lap after only a short tussle to land a significant blow in a thrilling title race.

Lewis Hamilton is confident Mercedes are in a good position to challenge Max Verstappen on Sunday despite Red Bull's latest strong showing at the French Grand Prix.

Verstappen leads the Formula One drivers' championship while Red Bull sit top of the constructors' standings.

Even when Verstappen crashed out of a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix last time out, team-mate Sergio Perez delivered maximum points in his first win for the team.

It was the first time in the Hybrid Era there had been two different Red Bull drivers triumphant in consecutive races.

The Austrian outfit are set for another strong outing in France after Verstappen secured pole position and Perez qualified fourth fastest, aiming to extend his streak of four consecutive top-five finishes.

In his post-qualifying media duties, Verstappen described himself as "quite confident" heading into the race.

"I knew it was going to be better than the last time we were here but this good I didn't expect, so that's promising for us," he said.

"We just have to keep on going, keep on pushing to try to make it better."

However, Hamilton starts from second and Mercedes colleague Valtteri Bottas is third, giving the Silver Arrows a chance even against a car with no obvious flaws.

"Of course, it seems [Red Bull] are just strong everywhere," Hamilton said. "Street circuits, it doesn't seem to matter where they go, they're very strong and we've got some areas we just need to improve.

"Obviously today I heard that we're losing out mostly on the straights, so we'll try to figure-out what that is.

"But it's great that we are second and third. It puts us in the middle of the Red Bulls, it gives us a chance to really apply pressure tomorrow – but it's just as close as ever before.

"Maybe they seem to have eked a little bit further forwards than we were perhaps in Barcelona."

Hamilton is two wins shy of an unprecedented 100 in Formula One, but will have the more modest aim of correcting a worrying run of form on Sunday.

He was seventh in Monaco and 15th in Baku and has not missed out on the podium in three straight races in the Hybrid Era.

Jack Miller claimed a second consecutive MotoGP victory on Sunday after coming through a chaotic French Grand Prix in which Marc Marquez suffered a dramatic fall from first place and then crashed out.

Miller had just one win from 102 races in the top category heading into the Jerez event earlier this month but now has two from his past two.

The Australian's latest success was far from straightforward but then little was in a wet race at Le Mans.

Miller enjoyed a great start to get ahead of pole-sitter Fabio Quartararo, only for an error to let Maverick Vinales duck through into the lead.

However, after a dry start under looming black clouds, the rain Marquez had hoped for after qualifying duly arrived and Vinales swiftly fell back.

Six-time champion Marquez, without a podium since his return from injury this season, had trailed the front three until the white flag came out but was back tussling with Quartararo by the time the leaders arrived at the pit lane to swap bikes.

A costly error saw Quartararo approach the wrong mechanics, forced to sprint to his other bike as Marquez claimed the lead.

Meanwhile, Miller, who ran off into the gravel prior to the change, was then caught speeding in the pit lane and charged with a double long-lap penalty.

Marquez opted for the medium tyres and tore away from Quartararo into the lead, but the slipperiest section of the track proved his downfall as a brutal crash saw the Spaniard flip off his bike.

Quartararo, aiming to become the first French victor in the top category at this grand prix since 1954, could not hold off Miller despite the penalty, however, and was himself penalised for the earlier pit mix-up.

Miller built a healthy advantage, while Marquez's race was over when he crashed a second time attempting to recover from the back of the field, skidding off the track in 11th but walking away from the incident.

The drama was not quite done, though, as the track dried rapidly and Johann Zarco, who had passed compatriot Quartararo, closed on Miller in his own bid to end the wait for a home winner.

Miller did just enough to hold on, with French fans having to settle for a pair of riders on the podium, Zarco second and Quartararo third.

That was at least enough to take Quartararo – previously without a home podium in all categories – to the top of the 2021 standings as prior leader Francesco Bagnaia trailed him in fourth.

Marc Marquez is hoping for rain at the French Grand Prix in order to challenge pole-sitter Fabio Quartararo, although he acknowledges a tough, dry race may be better for his rehabilitation.

Repsol Honda superstar Marquez broke his arm at the first event of the 2020 season and failed to return, seeing his run of four straight MotoGP titles come to an end.

The six-time champion only made his comeback at the Portuguese Grand Prix and is still getting to grips with his bike again.

Marquez has finished P7 and P9 but will start from sixth on the grid at Le Mans on Sunday after a strong Q2 in which he briefly led the way and finished only 0.437 seconds off pace-setter Quartararo.

The Spaniard won on his past two appearances at Le Mans and has a joint-high three victories in France, but he recognises the weather will have to play in his favour this time.

"It's true that to have a dry race in a good pace is impossible at the moment, because only in six laps I struggled the last laps," he said after qualifying.

"But it's true that if it's wet it's more a gamble. Now is time to take that gamble."

He added: "On one side, I'd prefer a dry race, because like this I continue with my preparation, with my rehabilitation.

"But it's true that, if it's raining, it's not a problem for me. It will be less demanding for the physical condition and will be a lot better."

There is the potential for a wet race, according to the forecast, although similar was true of Saturday, resulting in "mixed" conditions.

When it was put to Marquez that he was "the master" in such scenarios, he corrected the reporter. "I was the master in those conditions," he said, emphasising the past tense.

Quartararo is now the man to catch, having secured pole position for a third consecutive grand prix for the first time in his career despite having surgery following an arm pump issue in a collapse last time out in Spain.

The 22-year-old is already the most successful French rider in MotoGP history with five race wins, yet the most recent home victor at the French GP in the top category was Pierre Monneret in 1954 and Quartararo has never reached the podium in any category at the event.

He started from pole last year, too, but came ninth, and said at Parc Ferme on Saturday: "In the last lap, I said I crash or I make front row.

"That was real, because in the last sector I pushed myself to the limit.

"I even didn't know until I arrived here that I made pole position. I saw the three bikes and I said, 'Oh, it's a shame we are not in the front row', and then I saw my mechanics moving.

"It's pole position and I'm so happy to make it two years in a row in my home GP."

An intriguing Sunday lies ahead, with world champion Joan Mir starting from 14th and 2021 leader Fabio Bagnaia 16th.


Provisional classification

1. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) 1:32.600
2. Maverick Vinales (Monster Energy Yamaha) +0.081s
3. Jack Miller (Ducati) +0.104s
4. Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha) +0.166s
5. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) +0.277s
6. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) +0.437s
7. Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) +0.520s
8. Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda) +0.550s
9. Valentino Rossi (Petronas Yamaha) +0.791s
10. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) +1.267s
11. Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia) +1.658s
12. Luca Marini (Esponsorama) +1.665s

The Turkish Grand Prix has been withdrawn from the Formula One calendar for June and replaced by a second race in Austria.

Istanbul was was added to the schedule two weeks ago as a replacement for the Canadian Grand Prix, which was called off due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

However, that June 13 event has now been dropped for the same reason, with Turkey added to the travel 'red list' for many countries.

The weekend of June 11-13 will now be left clear, while the French GP has been brought forward by a week to June 18-20.

There will then be consecutive weekends of action at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with the Styrian GP followed by the Austrian GP.

A record 23 races therefore still remain scheduled for the 2021 season, which continues with the Monaco GP next week.

F1 president Stefano Domenicali said: "We were all looking forward to racing in Turkey but the travel restrictions in place have meant we are not able to be there in June.

"F1 has shown again that it is able to react quickly to developments and find solutions and we are delighted that we will have a double-header in Austria, meaning our season remains at 23 races.

"I want to thank the promoter and authorities in Turkey for all of their efforts in recent weeks and want to thank the promoters in France and Austria for their speed, flexibility and enthusiasm in accommodating this solution.

"We have had very good conversations with all the other promoters since the start of the year and continue to work closely with them during this period."

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton prevailed at the Spanish Grand Prix last time out and leads the drivers' standings after the first four rounds of the 2021 season.

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