LE CASTELLET, FRANCE (REUTERS, AFP) - Red Bull's Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix on Sunday (July 24) and took a huge stride towards a second straight Formula One title, after Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc crashed out of the race while leading from pole position.
A resurgent seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton finished second for Mercedes in his 300th grand prix, with teammate George Russell third.
Dutchman Verstappen cruised home over 10 seconds ahead of the veteran British driver, while Russell overtook the Red Bull of Sergio Perez in the closing laps to claim third.
“That’s an incredible result for the team. Great job George,” said a jubilant Hamilton.
Verstappen’s seventh win of the season takes him 63 points clear of Leclerc and strengthens his chances of repeating his 2021 title.
Leclerc started in pole position and was leading up to the 18th lap when he crashed into the safety barriers, emerging without injury from his car.
His teammate Carlos Sainz, who won the British GP, was in a good position to challenge for the podium before a surprising decision to bring him into the pits late in the race left him too much do and settling for fifth.
Winner in Austria at the last Grand Prix, the Monegasque, who was 38 points behind Verstappen going into this race, was on track to do it again after dominating qualifying on Saturday.
After making a good start, he led the race under pressure from his Dutch rival. But on the 18th loop of the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet, Leclerc lost control of his Ferrari, spinning and ending up in the safety tyres at low speed.
The problem appears to have been his throttle, similar to one that affected him in his victory in Austria two weeks earlier. "I cannot get off throttle," he shouted on team radio when asked if he was okay, following the crash.
A big cry of "Noooooo!" demonstrated his frustration but he was able to climb out of the car uninjured.
He later blamed himself for the crash that left his title hopes disappearing into the distance with 10 races to go.
The Monegasque screamed in rage and frustration over the radio after he spun mid-corner and plunged into the tyre barrier at the 11th corner, Le Beausset, on the 18th of 53 scheduled laps.
“A mistake. I’ve been saying I think I’m performing at my highest level in my career but if I keep doing those mistakes then it’s pointless to perform at a very high level. I’m losing too many points,” he told Sky Sports television.
“We probably were the strongest car on track today so if we lose the championship by 32 points at the end of the season I will know from where they are coming from.
“And it’s unacceptable, I just need to get on top of those things.
“To me it’s a mistake and that’s it... it’s just trying to push too much and I lost the rear. It’s been a very difficult weekend for me.
“I did a mistake at the wrong moment.” The crash brought out an immediate safety car while the car was removed and barriers repaired.
It was Leclerc’s third retirement while leading a race this season after Spain and Azerbaijan.
Sunday was also the seventh time this season that Leclerc had started from pole position but he has only won two of those races from the top slot.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said the crash was “a genuine driver error” and Leclerc’s radio comments about the throttle failing referred to a failed attempt to reverse out of the barrier.
“It was just a mistake, it happens (just) as we may have reliability issues,” he said.
“I think what I said to Charles was that we make our lives a bit more difficult, but we will enjoy it more in the future if we turn it round.”