After dominating practice, the reigning world champion, Lewis Hamilton, gave a master-class performance in the first French Grand Prix for 10 years. But behind his uncatchable Mercedes, the race was an action-packed one!
The start of this eagerly-awaited event was given in warm sunshine in front of 65 000 spectators. Hamilton made a perfect start when the lights went out, but behind him there were several incidents in the first few corners as the drivers jockeyed for position. On the run-in to the first corner Sebastian Vettel slipped in between the two Mercedes before Valterri Bottas reclaimed second place under braking. Vettel hit the left-hand rear wheel of the Mercedes puncturing his rival’s left-hand rear tyre obliging the Finn to pit at the end of the lap to change rubber. The Ferrari driver was judged to be responsible for this collision and was given a 5-second penalty.
In the following corners there was also plenty of action. Romain Grosjean (Haas) went wide leading to contact with Esteban Ocon (Force India). The latter was then hit from behind by his fellow-countryman, Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso). Thus, the two drivers from Normandy were eliminated on the first lap! This accident led to the race being neutralised during which Vettel changed his car’s nose and shod soft tyres.
After five laps behind the safety car the drivers were unleashed in the wake of Hamilton who led the race from Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Carlos Sainz (Renault), Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari). Vettel was down in 17th place and Bottas 18th.
The two drivers who had been delayed began a marvellous comeback as Räikkönen overtook Magnussen to take fifth place on lap 8 and then Sainz next time round. Vettel quickly fought his way up into the top 10 and got past Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Perez, Leclerc, Magnussen and Sainz. After 20 laps the German driver was in fifth spot behind his team-mate Raïkkönen, the two Red Bulls and Hamilton. Bottas also pulled back places by slicing past Perez and Grosjean in the Le Beausset double right-hander, and then overtook Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen was the first of the leaders to stop on lap 26 triggering the wave of tyre changes: he put on softs, the tyre best-suited to the track. Hamilton also changed his ultra softs for softs 33rd time round (out of 53 laps), while his team-mate, Bottas, didn’t stop until lap 38 to shod the super softs during a pit stop that went on longer than expected. Three laps later in came Vettel who chose the Pirelli ultra softs. Hamilton was still in the lead in front of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Vettel, Sainz, Magnussen and Bottas. Räikkönen put on a late charge and snatched third from Ricciardo on lap 46.
Fifty-first time round Canadian Lance Stroll was the victim of a spectacular problem when his left-hand front tyre failed causing a Virtual Safety-Car. But this final incident did nothing to prevent Hamilton from scoring his 65th victory in Formula 1, and his third of the season. Thanks to this superb win with an up-graded engine he has retaken the lead in the world championship with 14 points in hand over Vettel, and Mercedes has widened the gap in the constructors’ championship to 23 points.