Hamilton eases to French GP victory, stewards at work again

Hamilton eases to French GP victory, stewards at work again

Formula 1

Hamilton eases to French GP victory, stewards at work again

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Lewis Hamilton cruised to an easy victory in the French Grand Prix, as Mercedes secured yet another one-two finish despite a nervy final lap.

The drivers’ championship leader held the lead from pole position and was never headed, running long enough on his set of medium tires to rejoin still ahead of Sebastian Vettel after making his first stop. Vettel had yet to pit at that point and Ferrari’s only chance of disrupting Mercedes’ race appeared to be to run long and gain track position before stopping too.

With Hamilton emerging ahead, Vettel then made his compulsory stop and did not have the pace to challenge for the podium as the top five were spread out for the majority of the race.

Valtteri Bottas stuck with Hamilton for the first few laps but was over six seconds adrift by the time he pit and then gradually fell further back. It looked set to be an easy run to the flag but then the tension rose as Charles Leclerc closed in at the end. Leclerc started the final lap just under a second behind and attacked, but Bottas held on by 0.9s.

Max Verstappen had almost passed Leclerc at the start of the race but then spent the rest of the opening lap defending from Carlos Sainz, holding off his former teammate and then enjoying a lonely run to fourth.

Ferrari had hoped Vettel would be able to use his fresher tires to put pressure on Verstappen in the second half of the race after the Red Bull driver complained about issues with his throttle response, but the German couldn’t close to within anything under six seconds until the final five laps.

With Vettel having suddenly slashed the gap to under three seconds, Ferrari waited until the last possible moment to follow through with its plan of chasing the fastest lap, pitting Vettel — with no threat from Carlos Sainz behind in sixth — who got one flying lap and managed to just snatch the extra point by 0.024s from Hamilton.

That Hamilton also posted his lap on the final lap — but on hard tires that were nearly 30 laps old — showed just how much pace Mercedes had in hand, with Bottas struggling to turn on his tires after a late Virtual Safety Car period that left him under threat from Leclerc.

The midfield fight had been tense but largely without drama until the second half of the race, where a strong McLaren performance started to come undone. Sainz and Lando Norris had both made good starts but settled into sixth and seventh respectively, with Norris complaining of being held up by his teammate.

Norris soon had bigger issues to worry about, however, as he started suffering a hydraulics issue that was only getting progressively worse. With Daniel Ricciardo closing in, Norris drove valiantly but the short VSC with three laps to go — to allow a loose bollard to be recovered by a marshal — and being lapped by Hamilton saw the rookie drop into the clutches of the Renault.

Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg had also been engaged in a race-long fight after both starting on the hard tires and running long, and they closed up on the Norris and Ricciardo battle on the final lap. Norris had looked like he might hold on but Ricciardo used DRS and tried to overtake around the outside into the chicane, running slightly wide and then forcing Norris to go wide in the second part of the corner as he rejoined.

The move dropped the ailing Norris down to 10th, but also allowed Raikkonen to get ahead of Ricciardo and defend towards Signes, where the Renault went completely off track on the straight to muscle back down the inside and regain seventh. While Ricciardo crossed the line in seventh ahead of Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Norris, the Australian is under investigation for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.

A painful race for Haas came to a slightly premature end on one side of the garage as Romain Grosjean retired from 18th place with six laps remaining, with his only moment of note being a complaint against Ricciardo for a similar rejoining of the track at the chicane that was looked at but not investigated.

Grosjean was the only driver to retire in a race that saw a number of battles between teammates, the most exciting of which saw Robert Kubica push George Russell wide after going side-by-side through Signes. The robust but fair defense saw Russell hit a braking marker off the track, causing slight front wing damage that deteriorated enough to require a second stop to replace it as he finished 19th behind Kubica.

 

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