Lewis Hamilton cruised to a dominant victory at the French Grand Prix, securing his third win of 2018 whilst standing on the top step of the podium on a 26th different circuit in his illustrious Formula 1 career of 10 years.
Hamilton, who claimed pole position for the Grand Prix in changeable conditions on Saturday, was untouchable throughout the race, with contact between Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel on the opening lap relegating his nearest challengers to the back of the field with damage.
Amidst the carnage on the first lap which saw the deployment of a safety car, it was Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who was able to emerge unscathed to settle into second in the running order while Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr jumped into third, starting from seventh.
Sainz’s provisional podium position quickly fell into the favor of Red Bull, with Monaco GP winner Daniel Ricciardo finding a way past the Spaniard on lap four before he too fell out of the top three after being passed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on lap 47.
With Hamilton, Verstappen, and Raikkonen completing the top three for Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari respectively, each of whom opted for a one-stop strategy, Ricciardo finished in fourth while Vettel was fifth, recovering from his first lap incident with Bottas to take 10 points away from the weekend, losing his lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
“My start was too good so then I ended up with nowhere to go,” explained Vettel to Sky Sports post-race. “It was my mistake. I tried to brake early and get out of it but I had no room and no grip, being so close to the cars in front and also next to me. Obviously, Valtteri tried to get his position back which is fair enough but then I had nowhere to go.”
Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen was sixth and was followed by Bottas, Sainz, who suffered from a late-race loss in power, Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc who completed the top 10.
Heading to France with an updated power unit courtesy of a new ‘2.1’ engine update from Mercedes AMG’s High Performance Powertrains unit based in Brixworth, the race in Le Castellet offered a new hope for Williams who continue to strive for points despite enduring a difficult 2018 season.
Starting from 18th and 19th on the grid, Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll had a difficult afternoon at Paul Ricard. After benefiting from the chaos on the opening lap, Williams found both of their drivers running in 14th and 15th before the pair slowly dropped down the field, with Sirotkin taking the chequered flag in 15th while Stroll suffered from a sudden delamination of his front-left tyre with three laps to go, causing the young Canadian to retire with a puncture and extensive front wing damage.
For Acronis tech partner Force India, the French Grand Prix offered a new found optimism for the Silverstone squad, with an updated Mercedes power unit, new downturned winglets on the chassis and a new front wing providing the VJM11 with increased aero efficiency and improved reliability.
For drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, it was a frustrating race, however, with Ocon retiring on the opening lap after being hit by Pierre Gasly while Perez suffered from an apparent engine problem which ended his race, marking a double-retirement for the team.
“I’m very disappointed,” Ocon told Sky Sports. “I had a good start, I was alongside Romain [Grosjean] for half of the straight, already I was on the edge of the track, one wheel out of the white line and, you know, he had nobody on his side on the right and so then he turned into me. [It was] a massive hit which launched me on the kerb with damage on one side. I think I would have retired from that actually.” Eventual contact with Gasly in Turn 3 ended Ocon’s race.
“It’s been so long since I wanted to race here,” he continued, looking forward to his home race as a native of Évreux, Normandy. “We prepared for this race very hard and it ends after three corners so that’s just silly.”
With Hamilton holding a 14 point advantage over Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship, Formula 1 returns next weekend with the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg and the ninth round of 2018.