Hamilton makes statement of intent with comfortable French Grand Prix victory

Lewis Hamilton confirmed what most already know – that he is the overwhelming favourite to lift a sixth Formula One world drivers’ title after winning the French Grand Prix with a dominant display.

Starting from pole position at the famous Paul Ricard Circuit, Hamilton led teammate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc into the opening corner and, after an uneventful race, that’s the way podium positions stayed, Max Verstappen finishing fourth from Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo. The evergreen Kimi Raikkonen and brilliant Lando Norris rounded off the points scoring finishers.

Two five-second post-race penalties slapped on Ricciardo for two illegal final-lap  overtakes on Norris and Raikkonen, however, demoted the Australian to 11th and promoted Alexander Albon into the points.

Hamilton’s supreme victory and Bottas’ second place means Mercedes now has an incredible seven 1-2 finishes in 2019 and leads the constructors’ standings by 40 points from Ferrari. It also means that Hamilton has a vicelike grip on the race to the drivers’ title barely halfway through the season. He leads Bottas by 36 points.

“A phenomenal weekend guys. Just so proud of everyone. Thankyou so much for the hard work, the continued work. Let’s keep it up,” said a jubilant winner after receiving the chequered flag.

“It’s definitely been a very good weekend,” added Hamilton after stepping from his car. “I’ve been racing a long, long time but, you know, but it never gets old. And it’s always such a challenge out there. I just love that really trying to find the edge and bridging the gap and really being on top of this machine. But I couldn’t do it without this incredible team, this group of guys here and all the guys back at the factory, you know. We’re creating history together and I’m so proud of everyone, so proud to be a part of this team, this group of people. Valtteri did a great job this weekend, you know, so I’m hyped.”

On a circuit with long straights and medium corners, there was a surprising lack of overtaking during the early stages, Sainz getting the jump on teammate Norris but Verstappen unable to pass Leclerc despite his best efforts.

Much of the early interest focussed on how and when Vettel would be able to muscle his way past the McLaren duo and the German duly dispatched both drivers at a prime overtaking section at the Mistral chicane after just four laps of racing.

Although all seemed rosy in the Hamilton garden for the casual observer, there were early signs of an engine setting problem, the Englishman barking over the radio, “make a decision and stick with it!” Despite holding a comfortable gap over Bottas, Hamilton was still uncomfortable, quite literally, next reporting a problem with his seat – not an ideal scenario when fourteen laps into a 53-lap race.

Despite these apparent problems, Hamilton maintained his advantage until the opening pitstop window, swapping his medium compound tyres for the hard compound to take him to the end on lap 24.

Hamilton’s garden was now a Chelsea Flower Show contender, the leader comfortably re-joining almost 12 seconds ahead of his teammate with Leclerc, Verstappen and Vettel behind after all completed their stops.

With the podium positions all but guaranteed with half the race run, much of the interest focused on the important battle for points behind. And it produced some fascinating scraps before the chequered flag, Norris valiantly defending seventh for the remaining 12 laps with the major problem of having no DRS and power steering problems but ultimately getting passed by Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg on the final lap.

For Acronis partner team SportPesa Racing Point, it really was a case of what might have been as Sergio Perez was handed what appeared to be a harsh five-second price for going off the track and gaining an advantage at the start of the race, despite the Mexican going around the outside of the Turn 3 bollard as instructed by race direction.

The resultant penalty meant that Perez finished just outside the points, when it could have been so much better.

“I don’t understand why I was penalised,” said Perez afterward. “I have to look at it properly, but I did what I’m supposed to do, which was to go around the bollards. The rule is that you have to come back on the track as soon as you go through the bollards, which is what I did. I think what they did is wrong, because I stuck to the rules. Whether or not I gained an advantage, for me it was impossible to judge – it was lap one and there were so many cars around. It’s supposed to be slower than the racing line so that you don’t gain an advantage, but if it isn’t it’s not my fault. The penalty really hurt my race. We had the possibility to score some points today but this ruined it.”

Following Hamilton’s 79th race win, the battle now heads to the stunning Red Bull Ring in Austria in a week’s time and it’s already hard to see the reigning champion not making it 80 in a quite remarkable career.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.