The F1 circus returned to France for the first time in many years, and to the revised Paul Ricard circuit for the first since 1990. Going into the race, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel held a slender lead in the points table, but the front row was a Mercedes lock-out with Lewis Hamilton on pole and Valtteri Bottas next to him. Behind the two silver cars, Vettel and Max Verstappen – in the Red Bull -took their positions for the start.
It is expected for Verstappen to provide the fireworks at the start of a race, yet this time it was the turn of Vettel and Bottas to get tangled up in the first corner, the Finn spinning and the German in the Ferrari suffering damage to the car. Further back, Pierre Gasly – Toro Rosso – and Esteban Ocon in the Force India also collided, bringing out the safety car.
Hamilton in Control
Hamilton had everything under control at the front having made the perfect start, and when the race restarted on lap 6 he led from Verstappen with Carlos Sainz in the Renault third, the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo next, then two impressive outsiders in the shape of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, and the increasingly impressive Charles Leclerc who was for many – including both Hamilton and Vettel who praised him highly – the star of qualifying, having put a Sauber in the top 10.
The race inevitably settled down as Hamilton continued to control it from the front, with the progress of Vettel and Bottas, plus impressive performances in the midfield from Leclerc and the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg. Sergio Perez, in the second Force India, retired with an engine failure making it an early finish for the Silverstone-based team.
Interest in the late stages came from Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, as he hunted down and passed Ricciardo for third position, while a problem for Sainz meant he was easy prey for Bottas and Magnussen in the final few laps. The race ended under double yellow flags following a blowout and crash for Lance Stroll in the Williams.
Victory gave Hamilton back the lead in the championship table, and another podium went to Verstappen after a fine drive to second. Raikkonen brought the Ferrari home third, some 25 seconds down on the leader, with Ricciardo fourth.
Vettel salvaged sixth from a race that was lost in the first corner, Magnussen gained points for Haas with a very impressive and deserved seventh place, while Bottas did the best he could to bring his Mercedes home in eighth. The final two points positions when to Sainz and Leclerc, further fuelling rumours that the latter will take Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari next season.
The French Grand Prix was the first of three in consecutive weekends – the first time in history three world championship Grands Prix have been held in such close succession – with the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring coming up next weekend, and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone the following week.