Lewis Hamilton regained the lead in the drivers’ championship by winning the French Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel collided with Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap.
With Hamilton defending the inside line from pole position, Vettel was behind the Briton and had Bottas on his outside under braking, but locked up and ran into the left rear of the second Mercedes. Bottas was pitched into a spin and suffered a left rear puncture in the collision, while Vettel broke his front wing and was handed a five-second time penalty.
Hamilton was able to pull away after an early Safety Car period with Max Verstappen giving chase, but the Dutchman was unable to get within striking distance as the defending champion managed his pace. Kimi Raikkonen came through to finish third after Daniel Ricciardo’s pace dropped off due to front wing damage in the latter stages, with Vettel recovering to fifth ahead of Magnussen and Bottas.
Carlos Sainz survived a loss of power that dropped him from sixth to an eighth-place finish, with Nico Hulkenberg ninth and Charles Leclerc scoring another point in tenth.
The incident between Bottas and Vettel at the start sent cars sprawling into the run-off areas to avoid the clash, and when they all reconvened at Turn 4 there was further contact. A collision between Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly at Turn 3 then saw both cars retire, with Ocon turning across to the apex to find Gasly spinning on his inside.
That resulted in the Safety Car being deployed, allowing Vettel and Bottas to pit and rejoin the pack while the debris was cleared up. Both Williams drivers and Fernando Alonso also took the opportunity to pit to try a different strategy, but the front-runners all stayed out with Verstappen having cut Turn 2 in avoidance of Bottas and Vettel, while Sainz went round the outside of a number of hampered cars to move into third place.
The race restarted at the end of lap five, and any fears that overtaking would be rare were immediately dismissed as Vettel went around the outside of Alonso at Turn 4, with the McLaren driver spinning after clouting the inside curb in defense.
Vettel made rapid progress through the field, passing cars on almost every lap as he moved into the points by going down the inside of Hulkenberg at the sweeping Turn 11, and then moving into fifth by lap 20 after dispatching Perez, Leclerc, Magnussen and Sainz.
With Vettel and Bottas both taking soft tires during their pit stops, they tried to make it to the end of the race without stopping again but eventually the degradation proved too high and both had pit for a second time, taking them out of contention at the front.
Hamilton managed the gap to Verstappen until their pit stops for soft tires, with the Red Bull driver pushing after pitting and closing to within less than three seconds before Hamilton eased away again. Behind them, Ricciardo had moved third ahead of Sainz but was then hampered by front wing damage after his pit stop, allowing Raikkonen — who stopped later and took on supersofts instead of softs — to close in and easily pass ahead of the chicane in the middle of the Mistral Straight.
Once Bottas suffered a slow stop due to the rear jack dropping the car, Vettel was able to pit and take his five-second time penalty and rejoin in fifth on fresh tires. The Ferrari had emerged ahead of Sainz, but in the closing laps the Spaniard complained of a loss of power and was a sitting duck for both Magnussen and Bottas to pass.
It could have been worse for Sainz, but a late Virtual Safety Car neutralized the race when Lance Stroll — trying to run to the end on one set of tires — suffered a puncture at the high-speed Turn 10 known as Signes, leaving debris on the track and the car stuck in the run-off area. Though the race restarted for the final lap, Sainz therefore did not lose more time to teammate Hulkenberg and Leclerc behind, while Magnussen also was able to hold off Bottas as a result.
Leclerc had been closing on Magnussen during an impressive early stint but then ran wide to allow Hulkenberg ahead. From there, the Sauber driver climbed back to tenth but was unable to make a serious impression on the Renault ahead and had to settle for the final point, recording his fourth point-scoring results in five races.
Hamilton’s win ensured he regained the championship lead just two weeks after losing it, opening up a 14-point advantage over Vettel, while Ricciardo moves back up to third place but is 49 points adrift.