French Grand Prix – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has won the French GP, ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton’s championship rival, Sebastian Vettel, had to settle for P5 after a first lap collision with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
The race began with carnage in the opening corners. Hamilton, starting from pole position, made a clean start and was able to keep the lead through the first corner. Sebastian Vettel, starting from P3 for Ferrari, used his UltraSoft tyres well to make a great initial start and clamber all over the back of Hamilton as he got alongside Bottas, who had started P2. However, Vettel got boxed in and was left with nowhere to go as Bottas took the outside line and reclaimed his P2. Vettel missed his braking point and slammed into the left rear of the Mercedes and spun the Finn around. Vettel had extensive front wing damage, while Bottas had a left rear puncture.
Worse came at the next corner, when a crash between Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly & Force India’s Esteban Ocon took them both out. With debris all over the track, the Safety Car was deployed to bunch up the field while the track was cleaned up. Vettel & Bottas both made it back to the pits and took on the Soft tyres with the intention being to finish the race on them, while Alonso also pitted to take on the Softs.
With all the carnage and distraction through the first corners, Hamilton led from Max Verstappen & Renault’s Carlos Sainz.
With Vettel under investigation for causing the collision with Bottas, it didn’t distract the Ferrari driver from putting his head down and setting about recovering. Passing McLaren’s Fernando Alonso around the outside, causing the Spaniard to spin off, he quickly dispatched Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Force India’s Sergio Perez, Haas’ Romain Grosjean & Kevin Magnussen and the Sauber of Charles Leclerc. He was given a five second time penalty for the collision, which would be applied at either a pitstop or to his overall race time.
Hamilton led over Verstappen, slowly easing the gap out to around 7 seconds over the first half of the race, with Verstappen a handful of seconds clear of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo as the Australian passed Carlos Sainz to take P3. Kimi Raikkonen, having being held up after being blocked on the first lap, also had recovered to P4 with passes on Charles Leclerc and Kevin Magnussen. Vettel, back up to P5, tried to remain with pitstop range of Hamilton with the intention of staying in touch with the leaders when the cars in front of him pitted.
With rain threatening the track and the skies turning a little gloomy, it was obvious that the drivers were trying to extend their first stints to cover off the threat. This eventually proved unnecessary as the rain never came. Verstappen was first of the frontrunners to pit, coming back out on the Soft tyres and ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo followed suit three laps later but came out behind both Verstappen & Vettel. However, with Vettel’s Soft tyres now 30 laps old, Ricciardo was able to dispatch Vettel again as the pace began to get away from the Ferrari driver.
Up front, Hamilton pitted from the lead and took on the Soft tyres. This meant Kimi Raikkonen took over in the lead but, when the Finn pitted and took on the SuperSoft tyres at his stop, it left the order Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen. Kimi quickly caught up on Vettel and overtook his teammate into the chicane, while Verstappen pulled away from Ricciardo as he attempted to catch Hamilton. The gap between Hamilton & Verstappen loitered around the five second mark, while Ricciardo fell off the back of Verstappen and into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen. The pair duelled for a while, with great dicing as Raikkonen tried to find a way past the Red Bull. The pace of Raikkonen was too strong, and he passed Ricciardo into the chicane with 15 laps to go.
With Vettel & Bottas running P5 & P6 and miles off the pace as they struggled with their ancient Soft tyres, Mercedes brought Bottas in to take on the UltraSofts. Ferrari, who had held off on doing the same due to their five second time penalty also threatening track position over the Merc, were given the opportunity to do so when Bottas’ Merc fell off the rear jack and cost him the same five seconds. Vettel pitted the lap after Bottas and came back out in P5, where he finished. Bottas, who had come out in P8 as a result of his tardy stop, recovered to P7. Kevin Magnussen, in P6, managed to hold off the Mercedes right at the end of the race. Carlos Sainz, who had been running in P6 with three laps to go, encountered a power problem that slowed him down the straights. He managed to hold onto a points finish, due to the Virtual Safety Car conditions being triggered with two laps to go. This was because of a tyre explosion for Williams’ Lance Stroll, who had his left front tyre let go through the long right hander at Signes. The VSC allowed Sainz to hang onto P8, ahead of his Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg, with Sauber’s Charles Leclerc taking the final points position with P10.