Leclerc’s anguished scream over the team radio summed up another disappointing day for Ferrari after the Monaco driver, who was in the lead from pole, crashed into the wall at high speed on lap 18.
This is the third time this season that the 24-year-old has failed to finish leading a race. Leclerc has turned only two of seven pole starts into wins, with the latter giving Verstappen the opportunity to widen his 63-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
And the reigning Red Bull world champion – after contacting his team to see if Leclerc was okay – was right to win his 27th career Grand Prix and his second consecutive Paul Ricard Grand Prix.
“The car was fast today,” Verstappen said. “Unfortunately for Charles, I hope he is ok, but I was just racing and keeping an eye on the tires.
“I always try to score as many points as possible. Some moves, you see, they are included, and sometimes you just have to back off and wait for the race to end. This is what we did.
“There are still many races ahead in which you need to score points. In that regard, today was a great day.”
More suffering for Leclerc
The first win since April seemed to put him back in the race for the title and the Ferrari driver got off to a strong start in France, leaving well and slowly building up the lead over Verstappen.
But disaster struck on lap 18 when Leclerc appeared to lose the back of his car heading into a fast Turn 11 crashing into a wall. Soon a security car pulled up, but the 24-year-old man got out of the car unharmed.
“Well!” he shouted over the team radio, at first it seemed like he was to blame for the throttle problem that almost cost him the race in Austria, but later admitted it was his fault.
“I’ve said I’m performing at the highest level of my career, but if I keep making these mistakes, it’s pointless to compete at a very high level,” Leclerc told Sky Sports.
“If we lose the championship by 32 points at the end of the season, I will know where they came from and this is unacceptable. I need to deal with these things.”
“It was a very difficult weekend for me. I struggled a lot with the balance of the car…when it’s so warm, it’s very hard to be consistent.”
The Spaniard discussed a potential pit stop on the team radio ahead of a tense battle with Perez. In an effort to overtake the Mexican, Sainz was riding wheel to wheel with his rival when his pit lane team called on the radio to advise on a pit stop strategy.
“No no, not now,” Sainz shouted over the command radio, and later added: “Come on guys.”
Pérez was later engaged in another thrilling battle with Russell, trailing the Englishman with only two laps to go after a slow reaction to the end of the virtual safety car.
Russell took the lead and maintained his lead to end a great day for Mercedes as he closes in on Sainz in the Drivers’ Championship with a happy if exhausted Hamilton trailing by 16 points.
“It was a tough race because my drink bottle didn’t work, but what a great result considering we were so far away from these guys all weekend,” Hamilton said.
“Reliability is something my team admires so huge congratulations to the team at the plants and the team here, without them we wouldn’t be on this podium. George also did an amazing job.”