Hamilton profits from rivals' crash at French GP
Victory was seldom in doubt after the Mercedes driver avoided the worst of a chaotic start that saw title rival Sebastian Vettel clip Valtteri Bottas. Both drivers sustained damage in the collision, forcing them to pit early them and fall to the back of the grid.
Ferrari’s Vettel, who led the driver’s championship heading into Sunday’s race, was served a five second penalty but still managed to power his way back up the field to finish fifth.
Max Verstappen took second place in the Red Bull while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the podium places in third ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the other Red Bull.
Kevin Magnussen of Haas picked up sixth position while Bottas, in the second Mercedes, secured seventh.
Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth and ninth respectively in the Renaults while Charles Leclerc of Sauber secured tenth and the final points position.
After consecutive races that saw comfortable wins for Ricciardo in Monaco and Vettel in Montreal, F1 fans were hoping for a little more unpredictability on a track few active drivers will have competed on previously.
The Circuit Paul Ricard near Marseille last hosted an F1 race 28 years ago, with all French GPs between 1991 and 2008 held at Magny-Cours in central France.
And although there was a familiar face out in front as the action got underway, with Hamilton leading into turn one, the drama was unfolding in the Englishman’s rear-view mirror.
Vettel tapped Bottas, spinning the Mercedes driver and allowing Verstappen to move into second.
The clash left Vettel with a damaged front wing while Bottas suffered a puncture.
Both drivers were forced to pit, re-entering proceedings at the back of the race. However, the damage was limited by the deployment of the safety car after Pierre Gasly spun and hit Sebastian Ocon further back in the field, spreading debris across the track.
When the action re-commenced, Vettel began to the long road through the field.
Hamilton, however, never seemed troubled. The win, his first since topping the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix two races ago, and moves him back above Vettel at the summit of the driver’s championship standings.
Speaking on the team radio after taking the checkered flag, Hamilton thanked his colleagues and saluted England’s football stars who thrashed Panama in the World Cup earlier in the day.
“I feel very grateful, grateful for a solid weekend. My guys, I have been with them for six years they are pushing the boundaries and never giving up,” Hamilton said.
Verstappen, who secured his highest finish of the season, said the mayhem at the start of the race ensured he just had to follow Hamilton to ensure his second place finish.
Vettel, meanwhile, described the collision as “my mistake” when speaking with TV reporters.
“I tried to brake early and had no room. Valtteri tried to get his position back which is fair enough but I had nowhere to go. I tried to slow down but with that little grip that meant I had contact with Valtteri,” he continued.
Bottas saw things differently, however, telling Sky Sports: “We were going side-by-side I went for the outside, left enough room for him, but he went wide and hit me. I got a puncture and damage to the floor, which compromised the race.”