By Neil Leverett
- Round Eight of the 2019 Formula 1 campaign rolls into Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet this weekend, for the French Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton leads World Drivers’ Championship by 29 points, after third consecutive win of season in Canada last time out
- Sebastian Vettel eyes redemption after seeing victory in Montreal snatched away, following five-second penalty
LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – After Lewis Hamilton’s win in Montreal a fortnight ago to extend his Championship lead, can a scorned Sebastien Vettel fight back in France?
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Hamilton builds ominous lead
If hopes lingered of Lewis Hamilton‘s vice-like grip on the World Drivers’ Championship being loosened this year, a third consecutive win of the season in Canada a fortnight ago, only served to tighten the Briton’s hold on his place at the top of the Formula 1 food chain.
Having exchanged wins with teammate Valtteri Bottas for the opening five races of the campaign, Hamilton’s third win in a row in Montreal extended his Championship lead to 29 points, as Bottas for now at least, appears to again be playing second fiddle to the five-time champion.
After a controversial conclusion to the eight race of the year however, Hamilton – and McLaren-Mercedes – will perhaps be counting their collective blessings as fortune again favoured the German manufacturer, as a rival team once more fell foul of race stewards’ sword in damocles in judgement.
Incidents aside, Mercedes’ dominance continued in Canada unabated and even with over half the season to go, the Stevenage driver seems once more to be building in 2019, as he has for the past two seasons.
Across the paddock in the shadow of Marseille this weekend, Ferrari will again go to work in apparently vain attempt of pursuing their upwardly mobile opponents in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships. As the Prancing Horse light up southern France with red also, one man will be carrying his colours on his sleeve – perhaps literally.
Sebastian Vettel made no secret of his feelings of the imposed penalty that saw the German surrender a first win of the season two weeks ago, and may be looking to make a point back on European soil, as a man as red with anger as anyone could be under the sporting umbrella.
Having found himself on pole, Vettel looked set to finally end the Mercedes monopoly in Quebec, before an altercation in the closes stages at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve saw Ferrari penalised, after the former world champion had been found guilty of rejoining the track after pitting, doing so in an unsafe manner, which forced Hamilton to take action to avoid a side-on collision.
To the Briton’s credit, even Hamilton gestured his rival had earnt the win by pulling Vettel onto the top step of the podium in celebration, but that would have done nothing to douse the ire of the German.
After an appeal to overturn the decision was rejected on Friday, the result will stand but the question now is can Vettel turn his sense injustice into motivation in Le Castellet, and win his first French Grand Prix?
Second outing at Paul Ricard
After a nine-year exodus from the Formula 1 calendar at Magny-Cours, France returned to scene at Circuit Paul Ricard 12 months ago and will this weekend host its’ second race since its’ return to the to the Cote d’Azur.
Named after former industrialist and Pastis magnate who passed away in 1997, the 5.842 km, 53 lap race flows through French wine country, and will again look to provide the setting for more fluid motorsport, having moved south from its’ former central France locale.
Hamilton was crowned winner as the circuit held its first F1 race since 1990, finishing ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and former Ferrari number two Kimi Raikkonen.
A track signified by the Mistral straight was dominated again in practice by Mercedes as Bottas finished fastest in second practice, so will they make in nine wins from nine, or can the chasing pack finally show their hand ahead of a seven-leg European tour, and inject life back into the title race?
The 2019 French Grand Prix takes place this weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, with the race on Sunday afternoon at 1.10pm UK time
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