French Grand Prix LIVE: Lewis Hamilton out in front but Max Verstappen chasing Brit down

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French Grand Prix LIVE (Image: GETTY)

French Grand Prix LIVE

– Max Verstappen starts on pole for Red Bull but gives up lead on first lap
– Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton overtakes Dutchman
– Verstappen undercuts Hamilton and retakes race lead after Sergio Perez pits
– Silver Arrows have won both races since French GP’s 2018 return to F1
– Verstappen goes into Grand Prix four points ahead in drivers’ standings

LAP 47: There’s a gigantic 50-second gap between Perez and Norris, in fifth, and given Perez overtaking Bottas seems an inevitability, Mercedes pull the Finn into the pits.

He’ll try for the extra point for the fastest lap, which Verstappen currently owns.

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LAP 46: Bottas is not happy with the Mercedes strategy, saying on the team radio: “Why the f*** does no-one listen to me? I said it was going to be a two-stopper.”

The Finn has a fight on his hands to stay third with Perez within DRS range of him. Verstappen is meanwhile still over four seconds behind Hamilton although he’s gaining. 

LAP 45: Perez is closing in on third-placed Bottas as Red Bull look to seal two podium finishes. 

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Hamilton is getting some pace out of his ageing tyres having just set a personal best lap but Verstappen has clean air and far fresher compounds. It’s going to be an exciting finish.

LAP 44: Bottas does his best to frustrate Verstappen but the Dutchman’s pace on his mediums means he gets past after the Finn outbrakes himself.

That gives the Red Bull driver nine laps to chase down race leader Hamilton. The gap is currently 5s.

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LAP 43: Here’s the order with 10 laps to go…

1) Hamilton 2) Bottas 3) Verstappen 4) Perez 5) Norris 6) Ricciardo 7) Gasly 8) Alonso 9) Sainz 10) Vettel 11) Tsunoda 12) Stroll 13) Russell 14) Ocon 15) Giovinazzi 16) Leclerc 17) Raikkonen 18) Latifi 19) Mazepin 20) Schumacher

LAP 40: Verstappen is going to set up a thrilling finale here having cut Hamilton’s gap to him from 17 seconds to seven.

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Hamilton desperately needs Bottas to try and hold his title rival up, but that will invite Perez into the mix with the Mexican looking good in fourth.

French Grand Prix LIVE

French Grand Prix LIVE (Image: GETTY)

LAP 35: Verstappen pits again and it’s Hamilton back out front – but the Dutchman is going round two seconds quicker each lap and will surely get past second-placed Bottas.

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Mercedes taking a big risk if they opt to try and conserve Hamilton’s tyres until the end of the race.

LAP 32: Mercedes tell Bottas that the priority is to stick to a one-stop strategy rather than to pit for new tyres with Hamilton having also dropped back on Verstappen.

Both of the two Silver Arrows are slowing considerably and Bottas will soon be under pressure from Perez at this rate. Will they have to switch to a two-stop?

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Norris, meanwhile, gets beyond Sainz comfortably and is up to eighth. He’s two seconds behind Ricciardo.

LAP 30: Hamilton is back within a second of leader Verstappen and has plenty of time to engineer an overtake with this race having 53 laps.

“We cannot keep this up until the end of the race, that’s for sure,” admits the Red Bull driver as the pressure from Hamilton eats at his rubbers.

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Further back, Norris and Gasly almost clash as the McLaren man looks to take 10th. “He forced me off,” Norris says but the FIA rule there’s no investigation necessary.

LAP 28: Perez, fourth, is flying round Paul Ricard – a second and a half per lap quicker than the three cars in front of him.

He’s around 16s behind leader Verstappen at the moment but at this pace, will be right in the fight with the two Mercedes soon enough.

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French Grand Prix LIVE

French Grand Prix LIVE (Image: GETTY)

LAP 25: Perez has finally come into the pits, putting Verstappen back out in front. The Mexican rejoins the track in fourth, behind Bottas.

McLaren’s Norris also pits but is down in 14th when he returns to the race. Team-mate Ricciardo is currently ninth.

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LAP 24: Bottas is closing right in on second-placed Hamilton and is 0.5s behind – but will the Silver Arrows ask the Briton to make way? Or will they let the pair go wheel-to-wheel?

LAP 23: Verstappen is told to calm himself down after an agitated radio message. Hamilton is right behind him and there’s still another 31 laps to go…

LAP 20: MAX VERSTAPPEN OVERTAKES HAMILTON! Hamilton’s Mercedes pit stop is a tenth quicker than Red Bull and Verstappen’s but the Dutchman’s rapid out lap means the undercut comes off.

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It was a risky call from Mercedes to come in but clearly they thought they had a bigger gap to the title challenger than they actually did.

“Not sure what happened there mate,” Hamilton is told on the radio as he sits within DRS range of Verstappen. Sergio Perez is out in front but has yet to pit.

LAP 19: A 2.3s pit stop from Verstappen in response to Bottas pitting first, and the Finn is close behind the Dutchman.

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“It’s hammer time,” Hamilton is told due to the risk of an undercut from the Red Bull driver.

French Grand Prix LIVE

French Grand Prix LIVE (Image: GETTY)

LAP 18: Ricciardo goes for the undercut on AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly… and pulls it off!

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Gasly comes in to put on hards but Ricciardo overtakes Gasly and Carlos Sainz comfortably down the pit straight. A great move from McLaren.

LAP 16: Pirelli have tweeted to address the tyre grip problems drivers are encountering at Paul Ricard, saying: “Track conditions will be a little different from what the drivers have been used to previously.

“Cooler track temperatures now, as well as a surface that’s been “reset” by the rain this morning #FrenchGP.”

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LAP 15: Leclerc is the first man into the pits, going on to the hard compound tyres. He rejoins in 19th, ahead of only Haas’ Mick Schumacher.

LAP 14: And Alonso drops another position as Vettel overtakes into the final points-scoring place.

Hamilton out front is 2.4s clear of Verstappen, while his team-mate Bottas just used the Turn 12 escape road after locking up.

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“Yep, for me also. A tiny bit now. Not affecting the grip yet,” says the Finn when told over team radio that Hamilton has mentioned graining of his tyres.

In eighth, Ricciardo is going strong and has Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in his sights, with Norris less than a second behind his McLaren team-mate.

LAP 11: Brilliant from McLaren! Both Ricciardo and then Norris get past Alpine’s Alonso within three corners.

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Alonso looks as though he’s another struggling for grip, with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel also looking to overtake the two-time world champion to take 10th.

LAP 9: Third-placed Bottas has put in several strong laps as he chases Verstappen in second. He’s just outside of DRS range at the moment, though.

Ricciardo is looking to get past Alonso and into eighth but is being left frustrated by the Spaniard.

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Race leader Hamilton meanwhile says on the team radio: “Tyres are getting hot.”

French Grand Prix LIVE

French Grand Prix LIVE (Image: GETTY)

LAP 5: “What’s Daniel doing? He’s giving me no space,” says Norris in 10th as the two McLarens battle.

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At the front, Hamilton was complaining about a lack of grip with his left rear tyre a few minutes ago and Verstappen has set the fastest lap as he hunts down his rival. 

LAP 1: DRAMA! Disaster for Verstappen as he goes off at Turn Two to gift an early lead to Hamilton despite having been in front of his Mercedes rival at the first corner.

“I couldn’t keep the car under control so I couldn’t turn to the right,” the Dutchman says.

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Hamilton is already opening up a nice 1.5s gap out at the front. Elsewhere, Lando Norris drops two positions down to 10th with both Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo moving up one.

LIGHTS OUT AT THE FRENCH GRAND PRIX!

1.55pm: Almost lights out time in France. Will we get some exciting (but hopefully crash-free) drama at the start? Let’s hope so.

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1.45pm: Looking a bit drier now but there’s still predictions of showers through the afternoon. Hamilton will have been doing his rain dancing this morning no doubt.

The FIA official risk of rain is a measly 10 per cent, so perhaps there’ll be no drizzle after all.

1.20pm: There was rain in Le Castellet earlier, as per Mercedes’ tweet below. Things could get very interesting indeed if it rains throughout the race, which gets underway in 40 minutes’ time.

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After all, we know Hamilton – one of the best F1 drivers of all time in rainy conditions – loves driving in the wet. 

He said yesterday: “I don’t know, maybe it’ll rain – so you’d actually be able to see the rain-masters get to do their thing. I’m excited.”

1pm: But defending F1 champion Hamilton has vowed to put the pressure on Verstappen into Turn One at the start.

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“They have obviously made some improvements and it’s not the same as Barcelona right now,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to follow that closely. Their end of straight speed for some reason is mighty, so we shall see.

“They are generally a couple of tenths quicker on race pace. So I think it will be very hard to keep up with them.

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“But it doesn’t mean we’re not going to be able to fight them, maybe at the beginning. But on pure pace, they’re fast right now.”

French Grand Prix LIVE

French Grand Prix LIVE (Image: GETTY)

12.45pm: Red Bull boss Christian Horner thinks Verstappen has a huge opportunity to send a real message to Mercedes with victory today.

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A win would be the Milton Keynes-based team’s third in succession after Verstappen came first in Monaco and Perez in Azerbaijan.

“It [pole] certainly gives us more confidence, but let’s see how tomorrow goes,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.

“But this circuit has been such a stronghold for Mercedes over the recent years, so if we can beat them here then really we can beat them anywhere.

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“So, there’s a lot at stake obviously. The whole team is just working incredibly well, working long hours.

“To see the whole team coming together as it is, putting this pressure on Mercedes is phenomenal.”

F1 preview: A lap of the French Grand Prix

12.30pm: Good afternoon and welcome to Express Sport’s live coverage of the 2021 French Grand Prix!

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Max Verstappen secured pole position in qualifying yesterday and sits on the front row for today’s race with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Their team-mates Valtteri Bottas, of Mercedes, and Sergio Perez, of Red Bull, are third and fourth respectively.

If Verstappen can convert his starting spot into a race win, he will end the day at least 11 points clear of Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship.

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You can relive qualifying in full here, with both Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher having crashed out in Q1.

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