Lewis Hamilton’s defence against Max Verstappen at the end of Formula 1’s French Grand Prix was labelled “a bit soft” by former team-mate Nico Rosberg, who also slammed Valtteri Bottas’s “rubbish” effort.
Rosberg, the 2016 world champion, felt neither Mercedes driver did a good enough job in resisting the Red Bull driver, who took the lead from Hamilton on the penultimate lap to win the Paul Ricard race.
However, Hamilton and Bottas felt they were helpless in the closing stages on their well-worn hard tyres.
Hamilton grabbed the lead on the opening lap of the French GP when polesitter Verstappen went off the track at Turn 1 and dropped to second.
Verstappen surprised Hamilton by undercutting him at the first round of pitstops to retake the lead but an aggressive decision from Red Bull to commit to a two-stop strategy gave Hamilton track position with 20 laps to go and meant Verstappen had to close a gap of around 20 seconds.
He faced no resistance from team-mate Sergio Perez, who moved aside, and when Verstappen caught Bottas he was delayed for less than a lap.
Bottas defended into the chicane on the back straight but ran deep, which allowed Verstappen to cut back through the middle and exit and then pass the Finn on the run to Signes corner.
Rosberg, now working as a pundit for Sky Sports F1, said that Bottas “did a rubbish job in defending”.
“He blocked completely unnecessarily, he braked way too late, went straight on, so Max had such an easy time getting past,” Rosberg said.
“Maybe he was going to get past anyways, but at least cost him a bit more effort.”
Rosberg may have slightly underestimated the extent of Bottas’s struggles.
Bottas said that by the end of the race he could see the canvas of the tyre and that he “hated” the last 10 laps.
So, without the mistake running deep into the chicane, could Bottas have kept Verstappen behind?
“Maybe a tiny bit longer but my front tyres were gone,” Bottas contended.
But Rosberg suggested the state of the tyres should not excuse Bottas, saying: “It was not a very good way of defending and it could have been done in a much more smart way.”
Rosberg declined to expand on how else Bottas could have tried to repel a car that was faster in a straight line and had more grip in the corners, so his criticism is slightly lazy.
It is valid to contend that even if keeping Verstappen behind proved a futile endeavour, Bottas is obliged to do the best job possible and he didn’t.
He probably misjudged the defence in the sense that Verstappen caught Bottas late on the straight, so Bottas didn’t need to commit to the inside like he did and then braked too late anyway.
However, the counter-argument to that is that Verstappen would have sent a late move to the inside had Bottas not covered the corner – or even overtaken him on the exit regardless of how well Bottas covered the chicane.
After all, Bottas did judge his defence of Perez better shortly after, even forcing the Red Bull to check up on the exit of the chicane – and was still passed on the outside on the run to the next corner, which suggests a Verstappen overtake may not even have delayed his pursuit and pass of Hamilton.
The race-winning overtake also led Rosberg to direct criticism at Verstappen’s victim.
When Verstappen caught Hamilton on the penultimate lap he used the DRS and the slipstream to attack on the run up to the chicane where Bottas had erred in defence.
Hamilton offered a half-hearted move to the middle of the road but Verstappen was able to go to the inside and take the lead.
Max makes his move! 🍿
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 20, 2021
Rosberg called it “unusual” from the seven-time world champion, adding: “Close the damn door, no?
“Usually, Lewis is the best one-to-one racer, and I’m surprised he didn’t try – at least try, and then brake late and try to keep it on the outside.
“A bit soft from Lewis somehow.”
But given Rosberg lost out in his high-profile wheel-to-wheel fights with Hamilton when they were team-mates and title rivals, Hamilton’s judgement of such moments is probably sharper.
And he felt defending any harder against Verstappen would have been “pointless”, indicating he’d have suffered the same fate as Bottas if he’d done any more.
“There’s marbles on the inside, so I didn’t want to make my tyres any worse than they already were,” Hamilton said.
“He had the DRS open, if he didn’t pass me there then he would have passed me on the other straight afterwards.
“So, it made zero difference. I just had no front end so he would have got me either way. So, it was pointless to defend any harder.
“We saw what happened to Valtteri, who ended up going straight on. So, no point messing up the tyres anymore.”