Le Castellet - A
masterful Lewis Hamilton powered back to the top of the world
championship Sunday when he roared to a polished lights-to-flag win for
Mercedes at the French Grand Prix.
The four-time world champion, making the most of his upgraded
Mercedes engine, led from start to finish, bar one lap following a pit
stop, as he claimed his first win in France, his third this year and the
65th of his career.
"This is a great day," said reigning champion Hamilton. "I enjoyed
the race, for me the best French Grand Prix I have ever had. The weather
was great, too, and the fans were really enthusiastic.
"I am so grateful to my guys for a solid weekend. My guys continuously push the boundaries and they never give up."
Hamilton came home seven seconds clear of Max Verstappen with Kimi
Raikkonen taking third for Ferrari after passing his Red Bull team-mate
Daniel Ricciardo with five laps remaining.
Hamilton's consummate performance came after fellow four-time
champion and pre-race leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari crashed into
his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap.
Both suffered damage and, under an early Safety Car, limped to the pits for repairs.
They rejoined from the back of the field to finish fifth and seventh
respectively, either side of Kevin Magnussen of Haas, who was sixth.
Vettel had to serve a five seconds penalty, which he took at his second pit stop.
"It was my mistake," conceded Vettel. "My start was too good and I
ended up with nowhere to go. I tried to brake early and had no room."
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: "It was a misjudgement from Sebastian
because it ruined his race as well. The floor of Valtteri's car was
Hamilton now leads Vettel, who had a wayward race, by 14 points in
the championship after the first French event for a decade and the first
at Le Castellet since 1990.
"I hadn't thought about that, but that is where I want to be," he
said afterwards, when he was later critical of Vettel for his crash with
On seeing a video recording of the incident, he said: "He took him right out –- ah, man, that's crazy."
He added that a five seconds penalty was too lenient, an opinion
shared by many including Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda.
"Why Vettel gets only five seconds for this enormous mistake I don't
understand," said the three-time world champion. "It's too little. Five
seconds is nothing. He destroyed the whole race for himself and for
Carlos Sainz came home eighth for Renault, to the delight of the
crowd, ahead of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc, who
secured a point for Sauber with another impressive performance.
Hamilton extended his record run of points-scoring finishes to 33 successive races.
Verstappen, who has delivered two successful and composed races since
an emotional outburst at reporters in Canada earlier in June, relished
his podium finish.
"I tried to follow Lewis, but obviously he was controlling the pace. I
enjoyed the race. I didn't have to work very hard for it, but it's
always nice to be on the podium."
Raikkonen said he was "a bit blocked with all the mayhem" at the start, but made a decent recovery.
"We had enough speed and things worked well," he said.
His compatriot Bottas was typically matter-of-fact about his crash with Vettel.
"We were side by side and I went for the outside, left enough room
for him, but he went wide and he hit me. I got a puncture and damage to
the floor, which compromised the race."