Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second place in the French Grand Prix after Max Verstappen pulled off a late overtaking move on the reigning world champion to take the win – and after the race Hamilton rejected suggestions he should have defended the position more forcefully.
Hamilton started second on the grid but snatched the lead in the opening seconds. But the Dutchman pitted first and used the undercut to re-take the lead in the pit stop phase, as Hamilton emerged from his own Lap 19 stop behind the Red Bull.
But facing growing tyre wear, Verstappen gambled on a second pit stop on Lap 32 – with Hamilton choosing to stay out. Verstappen then hunted down his rival on fresher tyres and eventually passed him on the penultimate lap at Turn 8.
Hamilton’s former Mercedes teammate and now Sky TV pundit, Nico Rosberg, suggested his old rival could have made it harder for Verstappen to pass. Still, Hamilton insisted such a move would have been after the race pointless.
“Firstly there are marbles on the inside, so I didn’t want to make my tyres any worse than they already were,” Hamilton said. “He [Verstappen] had the DRS open – if he didn’t pass me there he would have passed me on the straight afterwards, so it made zero difference.
“I just had no front end so that he would have got me either way, so it was pointless to defend any harder. You saw what happened to Valtteri [Verstappen passed Hamilton’s teammate Bottas on Lap 44], so there was no point messing up the tyres anymore.”
Asked if a two-stop strategy – as employed by Verstappen – would have been enough to win, Hamilton said: “A two-stop would have potentially done the job, but it was not on the cards at all for us – we’ll do some analysis and try and figure out why.”
Once Verstappen pitted for a second time, Hamilton also said that there was nothing to be gained by doing likewise and stopping for new tyres.
“The only option I had was to stay out. Otherwise, he would just come out ahead, and I wouldn’t be able to pass because they were too quick on the straights, so the only option was to stay out as long as possible and hope the tyres held out,” he said.