By Nicola Kenton
- Lewis Hamilton regains the drivers’ championship lead following victory at the French Grand Prix
- Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen completed the podium
- Sebastian Vettel collided with Valtteri Bottas on the first lap and could only finish in fifth
LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – Lewis Hamilton has the advantage after taking victory at the first race of the triple header, while Sebastian Vettel finished in fifth.
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Hamilton in cruise control
It was a straightforward weekend for Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Much like the Spanish Grand Prix, Hamilton’s weekend at the Paul Ricard went to plan from the off when he finished fastest in the first two practice sessions. Saturday saw conditions deteriorate with rain affecting the final practice session, where the Brit’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas topped the timing boards.
Qualifying saw the two Mercedes drivers battle for pole position and it was the Brit who came out on top claiming the 75th pole position of his career. Bottas wasn’t far behind though, as only 0.1 seconds separated the team-mates. Sebastian Vettel came third with the Red Bulls in fourth and fifth.
On Sunday, Hamilton pulled away from the start and avoided the carnage that was happening behind. After the safety car had returned to the pits, the Brit had an easy afternoon controlling the pace at the front. The only time he lost the lead was when he had to make his pit-stop, which allowed Kimi Räikkönen to be at the front before making his stop.
The summer races are usually a crucial time in the F1 calendar anyway without a triple header to deal with. Having 75 points up for grabs over three consecutive weekends can make a real difference to a championship campaign and with Hamilton having secured 25 of the 75 points, the Brit will be feeling confident heading into the Austrian Grand Prix.
Damage control for Vettel and Bottas
It was a tale of two championships in the first corner of the French Grand Prix. The Ferrari had not been slow by any means but Vettel could only manage third on the grid, while Hamilton had secured pole position.
When the lights went out on race day, Vettel got a good start and was very racy on his ultrasoft tyres, perhaps too racy as the Ferrari driver pulled alongside Bottas and got very close to Hamilton. Vettel realised he didn’t have enough space and backed out as they approached turn one but it was too late and the German tapped Bottas, who suffered a puncture and floor damage, while Vettel lost his front wing.
Both drivers had to come into the pits and were aiming to perform recovery drives to salvage as many points as possible. The floor damage suffered by Bottas hampered his chances of a high points finish because even though he could overtake other cars, he wasn’t progressing through the field as quickly as Vettel. However, the German was handed a five-second penalty for causing a collision which stopped his progress but he still ended up finishing in fifth place. While Bottas, with his floor damage and a slow pit-stop, could only manage seventh place.
Another clean race for Verstappen
After a difficult start to the season, the last few races have proven to be fruitful for Max Verstappen. The Dutchman had another good race, part in thanks to Vettel and Bottas colliding in front of him and as such the Red Bull driver had to take avoiding action by going off and rejoining the track. This meant Verstappen was up into second place and from there, he didn’t relinquish his position
With Vettel storming back through the field, Verstappen had to emerge in front of the Ferrari following his pit-stop. The Dutchman pitted on lap 26 and successfully came back onto the track ahead of Vettel. From then on, it was about controlling the pace and making sure that team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and later on Räikkönen did not get too close.
Verstappen is the first Red Bull driver this season to secure back-to-back podiums. After a shaky start to the season, the team sit third in the constructors’ championship fifty points behind Ferrari but crucially over 100 points ahead of Renault. Red Bull should easily be able to secure third in championship this year and depending on the drivers’ championships, all focus will turn to next year’s car and the change of engine from Renault to Honda.
Misery for French trio
It was the first French Grand prix for 10 years and the first one at Paul Ricard since 1990 but that didn’t mean it was going to go to plan for the French drivers. Romain Grosjean had qualified his Haas in tenth place with Force India’s Esteban Ocon just behind in eleventh, while Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly started the race in fourteenth. However, what the French trio did not expect was them all to collide on the first lap but that is exactly what happened.
After the race had begun, Ocon and Grosjean collided when heading into turn one but it got worse for the Force India driver. Having already suffered damage from the first collision, Ocon continued and went into turn three but this time, he clashed with Gasly. The Toro Rosso driver was looking for a route up the inside but there wasn’t enough room and the cars collided ending both of their races.
Grosjean was handed a five-second penalty for his involvement at turn one but did manage to finish the race albeit outside of the points in 11th place. Whereas, the stewards decided that both Ocon and Gasly needed reprimands for their coming together.
Did Mercedes’ engine upgrade actually work?
Mercedes were supposed to bring their latest upgraded engine to the last Grand Prix in Canada but the team decided that there were still some reliability concerns and sent the engines back home. One race late but this weekend Mercedes, Williams and Force India all had access to the new specification engine. However, was it all plain sailing with the new upgrade or did the track just suit the Mercedes car?
Before the French Grand Prix, Ferrari had the ‘quickest’ car based upon the average of the fastest lap each car has achieved over a race weekend. Although they were only fastest by 0.05 seconds and yet with Mercedes dominant performance this weekend, they know lead the ‘raw pace’ race being 0.001 seconds quicker than the Ferrari. Undeniably the track suited the Mercedes but the difference between the two cars was still very small and it will be these margins that decide the title.
The customer teams of Williams and Force India both had mixed fortunes this weekend. Force India saw Ocon crash out on the first lap, while Sergio Perez had to retire later in the race due to a drop in water pressure. Williams have been struggling all season and the French Grand Prix was no different. Both cars failed to get out of the first qualifying session leaving them at the back of the grid, they then had to make their way through the debris from the incidents in front and decided to change strategy and pit. However, that didn’t work for Lance Stroll whose tyre blew ending his race while Sergey Sirotkin finished the race in last place.
For the second part of the triple header, the teams pack up and head to Austria to take part in the Grand Prix weekend from 29th June – 1st July.
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