Formula 1

Hamilton Dominates at Paul Ricard to Reclaim Championship Lead

4 Mins read
Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Lewis Hamilton was in sublime form at the Circuit Paul Ricard as he secured his third victory of the season to reclaim the lead of the Drivers’ Championship, which was aided by a first lap collision between team-mate Valtteri Bottas and title rival Sebastian Vettel.

The race started with Vettel getting a good jump off the line on the Ultrasoft tyre and he was in the wheel tracks of Hamilton heading towards turn one, only for him to lock up slightly entering the turn and turning Bottas around.

The German suffered a broken front wing that saw sparks fly from it as he returned to the pits for a repair, while Bottas was even slower to return to the pit lane as he drove around the track with a left rear puncture.  Vettel was deemed to be responsible for the incident and was handed a five-second time penalty by the stewards for the misdemeanour.

The opening lap action was far from over though as the safety car was deployed following a turn four clash between Frenchmen Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon that saw both drivers eliminated.  Ocon appeared to change his line heading into the turn that put Gasly off, with the Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda driver spinning as a result into the Sahara Force India F1 Team racer.

Ocon had already made contact with Romain Grosjean approaching turn one, with the Haas F1 Team driver taking a five-second time penalty for the incident later in the race.

As well as the damaged cars of Vettel and Bottas, Fernando Alonso and both of the Williams Martini Racing drivers made a pit stop at the end of the first lap as they gambled on their tyre strategies.

The safety car was out until lap five with Hamilton leading Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr., with the duo taking advantage of the chaos at turn one to run inside the top three, although the latter would have his work cut out to retain the position with both Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Räikkönen, in faster cars, recovering from being delayed at the start.

Verstappen was the first of the leaders to make a stop and fed back onto the circuit just ahead of Vettel, who by then had made his way up to fifth after a superb set of laps and overtakes, although the majority of the drivers he was passing were almost helpless as he used DRS down the first part of Mistral Straight, including Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc.

Crunch time: Hamilton escapes as Bottas is hit by Vettel – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

With Vettel up in fifth, Bottas was not making as easy work of the field, down to the damage to his car caused in his first lap collision, and the Finn was forced to pit for a second time as he suffered with low grip on the Soft compound he fitted on the opening lap.

Unfortunately a small problem with the jack at the back of the car cost him some valuable seconds, and he was unable to find a way ahead of Magnussen in the closing laps, with his chances also hampered by a virtual safety car and double waved yellow flags at Signes, caused when Lance Stroll suffered a tyre failure a high speed.

Hamilton made his one and only stop just after Verstappen on lap thirty-two and regained the lead once Räikkönen pitted a the following lap, and cruised to the chequered flag for the win, 7.090 seconds ahead of Verstappen.

Ricciardo was running third only for debris to cause damage to his front wing, meaning the second Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver came under attack from Räikkönen in the closing laps, with the Finn managing to pass the Australian for the final podium spot.

Vettel’s recovery stalled as he struggled with his tyre life and once Bottas had made his second stop, the door was opened for the German to also pit again, but he couldn’t better fifth, more than a minute off Hamilton at the chequered flag.

Magnussen and Bottas followed him home, with both getting ahead of Sainz with just a handful of laps remaining as the Renault Sport Formula One Team was forced to run with reduced power due to a technical issue, but he the Spaniard was able to retain eighth ahead of team-mate Nico Hülkenberg.

Leclerc ran as high as sixth in the opening laps, with the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team driver taking the final point, his fourth top ten finish in the past five races.  He was also unlapped, which could not be said for the rest of the field behind him, led by Grosjean and the leading McLaren F1 Team car of Stoffel Vandoorne.

It was another disappointing afternoon for McLaren, who have now failed to score points for the past three races, with Alonso’s first lap gamble failing to pay off, and when Vandoorne had passed him for twelfth late in the race, he headed to the pits for new rubber with one eye on the fastest lap, only to fall short, not helped by the Virtual Safety Car.  He was eventually classified down in sixteenth after pulling into the pits on the final lap.

Marcus Ericsson finished fourteenth in the second Sauber ahead of the sole Toro Rosso driver to see the chequered flag, Brendon Hartley, while Sergey Sirotkin was fifteenth for Williams, who struggled for pace and performance once again at the back of the field.

Force India’s race was a nightmare for the team, with Ocon being joined in retirement by team-mate Sergio Pérez when the Mexican suffered a problem with his engine, which may worry those back at the Mercedes factory after they only introduced their updated specification of power unit this weekend.

But the race belonged to Hamilton, who leaves France back on top of the Championship heading into race two of the triple header, which takes place next weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.  It will be interesting to see how Ferrari and Vettel respond.

The top three celebrate on the podium – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Circuit Paul Ricard Race Result

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Thirty-something motorsport fanatic, covering Formula 1, Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3. Feel free to give him a follow on Twitter at @Paul11MSport.
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