Mercedes’ seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton played down the pain of his latest defeat by Formula One leader Max Verstappen in France on Sunday and said the race was a real reflection of Red Bull’s pace.
The Briton had won at Le Castellet in 2018 and 2019, with no race last year due to Covid-19, but his hopes of a hat-trick ended when resurgent Red Bull out-smarted the champions on strategy.
The seventh race of the season was a reversal of the Spanish Grand Prix in May when Hamilton hunted down Verstappen, who said then that he felt like a sitting duck, in the closing laps to win.
Asked how gut-wrenching the feeling had been, Hamilton — now 12 points behind his Dutch rival — said: “I think we did a great job today and it just didn’t work out.”
“I’m not massively disappointed. I think I did the best job I could today. Of course, there were things we could probably have done slightly better... It’s a true reflection of the pace they have.”
“If he (Verstappen) had not made a mistake in turn one, they would have just led the race all the way probably.”
Verstappen started on pole but went wide at the start, allowing Hamilton to take the lead which the Mercedes driver held until the pitstops, when the Dutch driver got back in front before taking a gamble and pitting again.
Retired F1 world champion Nico Rosberg criticised his former Mercedes teammate Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for ‘soft’ defending against Red Bull in the closing stages of the race.
The German, at Le Castellet as a pundit for Sky Sports television, took aim after both were passed by Verstappen.
“Valtteri did a rubbish job, honestly, in defending because he blocked completely unnecessarily, he braked way too late and went straight on so Max had such an easy time getting past,” Rosberg told viewers.