Hamilton takes first French F1 GP win and points lead as Vettel penalised
The pendulum that is the battle for the F1 world championship lead swung in Lewis Hamilton's favour after the Briton took full advantage of Sebasti...
The pendulum that is the battle for the F1 world championship lead swung in Lewis Hamilton's favour after the Briton took full advantage of Sebastian Vettel's start error and penalty by winning the French Grand Prix and taking the lead in the drivers' championship by fourteen points.
Using the strong pace of the Mercedes, Hamilton was able to keep his nearest competitors at arm's length and take his first French Grand Prix win, a win at his 26th different Grand Prix circuit.
The first French Grand Prix for ten years proved to be a combative affair, and Vettel's opening corner collision with Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas proved to the deciding factor at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
"My start was too good, then I had nowhere to go," said Vettel.
"It was my mistake. I tried to brake early and get out of it, but I had no room. I had no grip, with being so close to the car in front, and also next to me.
"Obviously Valtteri tried to get his position back, which is fair enough, but I had nowhere to go. The turn goes left, and I tried to slow down, but with that little grip I unfortunately made contact with Valtteri."
Max Verstappen also profited from the chaotic start by taking his second podium in as many races, ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who suffered from bodywork damage to limp home in fourth.
Vettel's rapid recovery resulted in a fifth-place finish, whilst Haas' Kevin Magnussen was a beneficiary of a poor second pit stop from Mercedes to take sixth ahead of Bottas.
Carlos Sainz led Nico Hulkenberg to head a double points finish for Renault, with Sauber's Charles Leclerc taking his fourth points finish in five races in tenth.
With Ferrari equipped with the faster ultrasoft tyres, Vettel made a lightning getaway and was challenging the two Mercedes cars into turn one. However, with Vettel tucked up closely to the lead Mercedes of Hamilton, the championship leader locked up into the opening corner and tagged Bottas, damaging both cars. Verstappen took evasive action and jumped the chicane to move up into second place.
With the majority of the front-runners appearing to lock-up into turn one, Renault's Carlos Sainz capitalised by moving into third place at the expense of Ricciardo and Raikkonen.
Solid starts for Magnussen and Leclerc saw them move up to fifth and sixth, also at the expense of Raikkonen.
Another collision lower down the order between Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly and Force India's Esteban Ocon at turn three only offered further encouragement for the stewards to deploy the safety car.
Both Vettel and Bottas - who had front wing damage and a puncture respectively - pitted for repairs and a switch to an alternate, soft-tyre strategy. They were joined by Sergey Sirotkin, Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso, who took advantage of free pit stops for soft tyres.
With the safety car returning to the pits for the start of lap six, the race became a battle of who could recover positions the quickest; Vettel or Bottas?
Vettel led Bottas at the restart, and it was the championship leader who made lighter work of overtaking the midfielders, although Bottas' efforts were hampered by floor damage.
Within seven laps of the restart, Vettel and Bottas went from P17 and P18 to P10 and P12 respectively.
Meanwhile, within the same time frame, Ricciardo and Raikkonen managed to pass Sainz to run in third and fourth, but Hamilton and Verstappen extended their advantages in the top two positions.
As Vettel approached the front of the midfield, he had minimal resistance. He was able to power past the likes of Perez, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Leclerc and Magnussen top haul himself back into the top six and prompt the front-runners to think about their pit stop strategies.
With the outside chance of rain looking less and less likely, teams became less tempted to stay out for as long as possible, and the lead Red Bull of Verstappen was brought in first on lap 25. Their switch to soft tyres was completed in time to return to the track in front of the recovering Vettel.
Ricciardo's stop a couple of laps later placed him behind Vettel, but with the Ferrari starting to struggle on tyres almost thirty laps old, the Australian was soon challenging to reclaim the position, and passed the Ferrari on the inside of the double right-handed Beausset corner.
Hamilton pitted at the end of lap thirty-three for soft tyres, initially falling a few seconds behind Raikkonen, but any thoughts of Ferrari attempting to hold up the Mercedes were ruled out when the Finn pitted one lap later for supersoft tyres, dropping behind Vettel.
Despite the Ferraris running in championship order, it made little sense for Vettel to hold up Raikkonen, who was much faster at this stage, and Vettel yielded fourth place to his team-mate prior to the chicane at the end of the Mistral straight.
With Bottas back into the top six and with a seemingly solid gap over the midfielders, Mercedes rolled the dice by bringing him into the pits for a stint on the ultrasoft tyres, but a delay on the right-rear wheel meant he lost positions to Sainz and Magnussen.
With his main race challenger pitting and losing time, Vettel made the switch to the ultrasoft tyres - serving a five-second time penalty for his lap one collision with Bottas in the process - just one lap later in a bid to profit from any late-race safety cars.
With the other Ferrari of Raikkonen now clearly the lead car, he began homing in on Riccairdo, who had an issue with his front wing, which was losing him time.
Sure enough, with six laps to go, Raikkonen was able to power past the Red Bull on the Mistral straight and take the final podium place.
A late tyre blowout for Stroll sent the Williams off the circuit at the fast right-handed Signes corner, which brought out the virtual safety car in the closing stages of the race.
Further up front, Hamilton was comfortable with his lead and was able to turn down his power unit and manage the gap to Verstappen, and the Briton strolled to his third win of the season to reclaim the championship lead.
Verstappen's second place meant the Dutchman completed much-needed back-to-back clean races, with Raikkonen taking his first podium since Baku.
Ricciardo and Vettel took the chequered flag in fourth and fifth, whilst Magnussen held off a late challenge from Bottas to take sixth place.
Sainz - who had been running in a fine sixth until a very late power-related issue - finished in eighth ahead of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who ran an adverse soft-to-ultrasoft strategy to climb to ninth, with Leclerc claiming the final point in tenth.
By: Luke Murphy
FRENCH GRAND PRIX, Results
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 53 Laps
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 7.090s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 25.888s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 34.736s
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 61.935s
6 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 79.364s
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 80.632s
8 Carlos Sainz Renault 87.184s
9 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 91.989s
10 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 93.873s
11 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1 Lap
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1 Lap
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1 Lap
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1 Lap
15 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1 Lap
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault DNF
17 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes DNF
18 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes DNF
19 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes DNF
20 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda DNF
All images: Motorsport ImagesWho was your driver of the day at the French Grand Prix? Leave your comments in the section below.
French GP: Post-race press conference
F1 Debrief: Hamilton’s glory, Vettel’s escape, Verstappen’s swipe