Paul Ricard, not known for its pantheon of great races in the modern era, can proudly pat itself on the back for delivering to the 2021 season an above-average race, serving as the hunting ground for Max Verstappen and Red Bull to take another hit at Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in the fight for both the drivers’ and constructors’ championship lead. However, as always, at GP Rejects we are far more interested in what disasters, if any, befell the teams and drivers this time around.
Ferrari (and especially Charles Leclerc) win Reject of the Race in France
After two strong showings at Monaco and Baku, Ferrari were back on the wrong foot at the French Grand Prix. Balance problems with the chassis turned into tyre problems during the race, making sure that Sainz and, particularly, Leclerc, dropped down the order once graining hit their Pirelli tyres. The end result? Sainz finished 11th and Leclerc 16th and no points for the Scuderia – the first time this has happened since Abu Dhabi, last year. Sainz had the measure of Leclerc all weekend long, with the Monegasque driver struggling in all sessions with his SF21, and his 16th place and two stops is the symbol of his weakest showing so far this season.
Outside Ferrari, the nominations become a little bit less-obvious, with the race on Sunday having zero attrition. For the third race in a row, Mercedes were amongst the nominations, and again for a very specific reason: they were outplayed on strategy yet again by Red Bull. A reverse scenario of what happened at Catalunya, this time it was both Verstappen and his team-mate Sergio Pérez, who finally seems comfortable on his RB16, who took full advantage of their own strategies to close the gap to the Mercedes on the closing laps of the race to steal a double podium for the Austrian marque. It was a breath of fresh air for those of us so used to seeing it occur the other way round.
Therefore Mercedes deserve a mention, regardless of their final 2-4 position. For the third race in a row they have been genuinely outclassed by their competition in almost every aspect of racing. For Mercedes, what was a “win as a team, lose as a team” mentality has now resorted to (especially Valtteri Bottas) airing out their dirty laundry on the world feed. They are a team at a loss, and for Mercedes, the team who were completely unbeatable for seven straight seasons, it seems a miracle that someone has finally got under their skin. Perhaps, that’s exactly what Max and Red Bull have been able to achieve thus far this season, but given Mercedes’ historical record of coming back stronger than ever from a loss like this, Red Bull must not get complacent after three consecutive victories.
And again, in a race with little in the way of classic rejectdom, performances like those of Esteban Ocon cannot be ignored for greater things. From Saturday to Sunday he was many places off his teammate Fernando Alonso. Up until now, while it has been seen that as Alonso is getting to grips with his car, Ocon has held the advantage at the beginning of the season. However, after an upturn in performance following Azerbaijan, the two-time world champion seems to be getting faster and more comfortable each round, and it is a real threat to Ocon.
At his home race, the Frenchman barely cracked the top 10, and it seemed to be entirely due to pace than strategy. Having just signed a whopping three-year deal with Alpine, the team are clearly behind him, and he needs to deliver the goods if he wants to be seen as the lead driver he is being promoted towards.
For a revival in form, George Russell wins Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race
For some on GPRejects (read: this author), there has been recent worry that George Russell’s opportunity may have come and gone. It cannot be easy to wait in the wings for a top drive for so long, knowing that the coveted Mercedes seat may never arrive. He seemed to vent this frustration at Imola, when he blamed a 50:50 collision with Bottas on the Finn trying to prevent his own demotion!
At Paul Ricard, for the first time in many races, George seemed to get a full weekend together and finish a mighty 12th in the 2021 Williams – the result being on merit and being good enough to send the Grove squad back ahead of Haas in the constructors’ championship. As another reminder, there was not a single retirement this weekend, and with a few drop-outs from the front-runners, George could have snagged his first point for the Williams team, and the team’s first in two years. Point or not, the performance was brilliant. He considered this race his best drive for the Williams team and we have to agree with him on that! Now it is all about maintaining that form as contract talks come up again at Mercedes.
Something worth mentioning was how good the race was at Paul Ricard, to the surprise of pretty much everyone. The track isn’t liked among drivers and fans (and for a good reason), but that wasn’t enough to stop the French Grand Prix from offering up its best show since its comeback to the calendar. For once, something French wasn’t the most rejectful thing about the race (though Ocon tried his best), and the race not being terrible is worthy enough of mention and of praise. Oh how our standards have dropped!
As mentioned before, Alonso’s pace seems to have hit its stride, with two solid points finishes in a row now, seeing the Spaniard have the measure of Ocon during this weekend. The Alpine didn’t have the strongest package for race day, but it didn’t stop the double world champion from extracting the maximum out of his A521 chassis. Like Ferrari, is this a sign of things to come, or the case of a few good races? We will likely see by mid-season.
And finally, speaking of upturns in pace, it was refreshing and heartening to see Daniel Ricciardo with some good pace again at McLaren. He has had trouble adapting to the MCL35M, and after some dismal races, especially at Monaco (where he was lapped by his teammate Lando Norris), he was back on form at Paul Ricard. As with Russell, Ricciardo needs these kind of performances to be the norm, not the improbable.
|REJECT OF THE RACE||INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE|
|Ferrari (and especially Charles Leclerc)||85% (22)||George Russell||46% (11)|
|Mercedes||12% (3)||The French Grand Prix||33% (8)|
|Esteban Ocon||4% (1)||Fernando Alonso||13% (3)|
|Daniel Ricciardo||8% (2)|
|Number of votes: 26||Number of votes: 24|
Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.
The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.
The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.