Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has dominated the first French Grand Prix in 10 years, and the first to be held at the Paul Ricard circuit since 1990. The 4-time F1 World Champion won at a canter, and reclaimed the lead of the drivers’ standings - with 14-points the gap now to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who had to fight through the field to fifth after making contact with Valtteri Bottas into the first corner.
Hamilton finished 7-seconds ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, but was never challenged - despite a chaotic opening lap safety car for multiple on-track clashes. The Brit was thankful for his first win in France, his 44th for Mercedes and 65th in F1, and at his 26th different track, and it was one he needed with Ferrari on the march and Vettel 1-point ahead heading to Le Castellet.
“I feel very grateful for a solid weekend,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been with them [Mercedes] for six years and they are just continually pushing the boundaries and never giving up and I’m so grateful for their work.”
Verstappen finished second, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in third - the Finn gaining strength throughout the race, and passing Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo at the Turn 8 chicane for his place on the podium.
F1 now heads to the second-leg of its first-ever triple header, with the Austrian Grand Prix held next weekend at the Red Bull Ring in the Styrian mountains.
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Here’s how the FORMULA 1 2018 GRAND PRIX OF FRANCE played-out lap-by-lap:
Can anyone beat the Silver Arrows? That’s the big question at Paul Ricard, with Mercedes dominating practice and qualifying - Lewis Hamilton taking his 75th pole position, just over a tenth up on teammate Valtteri Bottas, and more than three tenths ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who starts third, and leads the drivers’ standings by 1-point.
The Scuderia is doing what it can to take the fight to Mercedes, starting on the ultrasoft tyres - while both Silver Arrows and Red Bulls are starting on the harder supersofts. Will the Ferrari drivers have to pit within the first 15 laps, or will they be able to eek out the tyre performance. It’s a tough ask with Paul Ricard a torturous track for tyres, with big stops and constant radius corners that sap life from the rubber.
Any sort of issues could bring the first French Grand Prix in 10 years alive, whether it’s a safety car from a crash at Turn 1 - with the corner taken in fifth gear; or weather, care of wind down the famous Mistal straight, or thunderstorms, which are expected but not likely until after the race has finished at 5pm local time. But, as F1 commentary doyen Murray Walker used to say, “Anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does.” Especially at a high speed track like Paul Ricard, with the last race at Le Castellet in 1990.
So Mercedes locks out the front row, with Hamilton on pole, followed by Vettel, then both the Red Bulls - with Max Verstappen ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen closes out the top-six, the Finn qualifying more than 1-second off pole after hitting traffic in Q3, while he’s yet to make up a place on the first lap in 27 races. Renault’s Carlos Sainz starts seventh, his best grid slot since Azerbaijan. While Sauber’s Charles Leclerc starts an impressive P8, with the Monegasque in Q3 for the first time in his career and the team’s highest slot since Felipe Nasr in Australia 2015.
There are three French drivers on the grid, with Haas’ Romain Grosjean starting P10, ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon, with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly starting P14. His teammate Brendon Hartley starting from the back, in P20, after he changed all six elements of his power unit. It’s set to be a one-stop race, with the quickest starting on the ultrasofts - stopping around lap 20-25, before switching onto the supersofts. Those starting on the supersofts will go longer. Track temp is 42 degrees, with ambient at 24 degrees Celsius.
Both Ferrari drivers are on the ultrasofts, with both Mercedes and both Red Bulls on the supersofts. Further back, most others are on ultrasofts - with the exception of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in P12 and Force India’s Sergio Perez in P13 on the softs. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly (P14), Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson (P15), and both McLarens in Fernando Alonso (P16) and Stoffel Vandoorne (P17) on the supersofts.
Polesitter Hamilton gets a great start, Bottas slotting into second, but there’s been contact in the field. Bottas is turned around, while Versappen is up to second. The field is bunched up, jockeying for position. Ocon has lost a wheel, he’s stranded. Safety car has been deployed. Vettel’s front left is sparking with damage, and he’s set to pit from P11 where he’s dropped to. Gasly out as well. Bottas has a left-rear puncture, and will pit. Gasly hit Ocon, Vettel contact with Grosjean we are hearing.
We’re still under the safety car, as the debris is cleared from the first corner melee. Many are pitting, Stroll, Sirotkin, Vettel, Alonso. Order is Hamilton, Verstappen, Sainz, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Leclerc, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Perez and Hulkenberg closes out the top-10. Replays show Vettel outraging Bottas but taps him into Turn 1. Verstappen gained P2 by going off the track. Turn 3, Gasly turns to avoid Ocon, but collects him.
The safety car still out. Bottas and Vettel under investigation by the stewards. Hamilton asking for an update, told “it all happened behind you.” Sainz is in P3, can he take the first podium for Renault on its return as a constructor? Gasly and Ocon also under investigation. Vettel is down in P17, which is disastrous for his title ambitions. Bottas down in P18. So it’s a fightback drive from here. Both have switched to the soft tyre so they don’t have to stop again.
We’re still under the safety car. Gasly and Ocon incident will be investigated after the race.
The race continues under the safety car. Order is HAM, VER, SAI, RIC, MAG, LEC, RAI, GRO, PER, HUL, ERIC, VAN, HAR, STR, SIR, ALO, VET, BOT. Ocon and Gasly have retired, so two thirds of the French contingent is out. Safety car in at the end of this lap.
Hamilton leads away, Verstappen and Sainz chasing. Leclerc looking at Magnussen into turn 1, he’s looking very aggressive. Alonso has gone off track, being passed by Vettel, forcing yellows for a short time. Raikkonen has passed Leclerc for P6.
Hamilton has set the fastest lap, a 1:37.688. Leclerc passes Grosjean into turn 1, forcing the Frenchman off track. Perez now close on Grosjean as well. Stroll has passed Bottas for P15.
Another fastest lap for Hamilton, a 1:37.454. DRS enabled. Vandoorne in P11, is being chased hard by Ericsson and Vettel. Vettel passes Ericsson down the back straight into Turn 8, the chicane, and is up to P12. Ricciardo in P4 is half a second behind Sainz.
Hamilton setting a searing pace up front, another fastest lap, a 1:36.933 - 2.3 seconds up on Verstappen. Sainz is 3.9 seconds behind the Red Bull. Raikkonen has passed Magnussen for P5 at the Turn 8 chicane. Vettel has also passed Vandoorne for P11 into turn 1. Ricciardo has passed Sainz into the Turn 8 chicane, and is up to P3. He’s 7-seconds off the lead.
Vettel has a 5-second time penalty for making contact with Bottas at the start. Hamilton and Verstappen up front the only cars in the 1:37s. Raikkonen takes Sainz for P4 into the Turn 8 chicane. This corner is turning out to be a great place to pass.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 2.6 seconds. Ricciardo told Vettel has a 5-second time penalty but is on the softs and may not have to stop. Vettel in P11 is less than a second behind Hulkenberg, and is pushing for that final point. Top-3 the only ones in the 1:37s. Vettel passes Hulkenberg at Turn 11, and is up to P10.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 2.7 seconds. Vettel is now chasing down Perez for P9. Grosjean is under investigation for leaving the track at Turn 4 and gaining a position.
Vettel hunting down Perez for P9. Hamilton leads Verstappen by 2.9 seconds, Ricciardo is 4.7 seconds behind his teammate in P3. Alonso in P17 is less than a second behind Stroll. Vettel passes Perez for P9 at the chicane. Every point now will help him limit damage in his title bid.
Order is Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Sainz, Magnussen, Leclerc, Grosjean, Vettel, Perez closing out the top-10. Bottas in P12 is closing on Hulkenberg, 1.1 seconds the gap. Vettel passes Grosjean for P8 into the chicane. Where will the German end up?
Hulkenberg passes Perez around the outside into the chicane, and it’s up into P10. Bottas passes Perez into Turn 2, and he’s into P11.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 3.8 seconds, the Brit the only one in the 1:36s. Sirotkin under investigation for going slow under the safety car. Hulkeberg in P10 is chasing down Grosjean, and passes him for P9 into the chicane.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 4-seconds, the same time back to Ricciardo - who was one tenth up on that last lap. Raikkonen in P4 sets the fastest lap with a 1:36.769, he’s 3.4 seconds behind Ricciardo. Vettel passes Leclerc for P7 into the chicane.
Hamilton responds with the fastest lap, a 1:36.637 - to ensure he’s well- protected against the charging Ferraris. Vettel in P7 is now closing down on Magnussen, 0.5 sec the difference. Verstappen is picking up the pace on Ricciardo, doing an identical lap. Vettel has passed Magnussen for P6 into the chicane.
It’s another fastest lap for Hamilton, a 1:36.478. Incredibly Vettel is up to P6, Bottas is P11 - even though they were line astern on track after Lap 1. Bottas, though, has floor damage losing him downforce. We’re seeing rain on the radar, but will it eventuate at the track? Leclerc in P8 is chasing down Magnussen, 0.8 sec the difference.
Bottas passes Grosjean for P10 at Turn 11. Hamilton sets another fastest lap up front, a 1:36.448. He’s 5.1 seconds ahead of Verstappen. Vettel passes Sainz for P5 into the chicane.
It’s yet another fastest lap for Hamilton, a 1:36.387. He’s 5.4 seconds up on Verstappen. Vettel in P5 is now 17-seconds behind teammate Raikkonen. How long will it take for those two to swap places? Will Ricciardo pit first to protect against Raikkonen trying the undercut? Alonso told possible rain in 20-minutes.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 5.3 seconds, Ricciardo is 3.2 seconds behind his teammate. Leclerc in P8 is less than a second behind Magnussen. And piling on the pressure.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 5.5 seconds, Ricciardo is now 2.9 seconds behind his teammate. Race settling down, but could we have some rain that will again shake things up? Leclerc gaining on Magnussen, 0.6 the gap.
Hamilton sets another fastest lap, a 1:36.375. He’s 6.1 seconds ahead of Verstappen, half a second faster than the Dutchman on that last tour. The top-five are all in the 1:36s. Leclerc has gone off track, and lost a place - he’s been passed by Hulkenberg and down in P9.
Hamilton sets another fastest lap, a 1:36.178 - he’s dominating this race, and is now 7-seconds ahead of Verstappen. Leclerc says there’s something wrong with the tyres. Bottas in P10 is 1.1 seconds behind Leclerc and has a far stronger car, so will likely get past soon.
Verstappen pits from P2, he’s onto the softs - dropping back to P4, ahead of Vettel with the German closing quickly but unable to pass. So the order is now Hamilton, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Verstappen and Vettel. Bottas in P10 is closing on Leclerc, 1-second the gap.
It’s hammer time for Hamilton, another fastest lap, a 1:35.663 - the first to break through that barrier. He’s 10.9 seconds up on Ricciardo. Sirotkin gets a 5-second time penalty for driving slowly under the safety car. Sainz pits from P6 for the softs, and drops back to P15.
Hamilton leads Ricciardo by 11.9 seconds, the Brit 1.5 seconds faster on that last lap. Bottas in P9 is still chasing down Leclerc, and yet to get past. Alonso in P16 is chasing down Ericsson, 0.7 the gap. Red Bull mechanics out in the pit lane.
Ricciardo pits from P2, and he’s onto the softs. 2.5 second stop. And Vettel has passed Ricciardo, for P4. Magnussen pits. So the order is Hamilton, Raikkonen - both yet to stop - then Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo. Perez is retiring from the race, making it a double retirement for Force India. Possible engine issue.
Hamilton leads Raikkonen by 18.2 seconds, Verstappen 13.2 seconds adrift in P3. Bottas has gotten past Leclerc for P7.
Hamilton leads Raikkonen, but the Finn has been left out too long on the ultrasofts. Magnussen passes Hartley for P12 into the chicane. Alonso in P15 is still chasing Ericsson. Ricciardo is in P5, 1.6 seconds behind Vettel.
Grosjean gets a 5-second time penalty for his earlier issue in the race when he caused a collision. Hamilton leads Raikkonen by 20.2 seconds. It’s then Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg. Leclerc pits from P9, to get rid of the ultrasofts. He goes onto the supersofts, and is back in P16 behind Stroll.
Verstappen sets the fastest lap, a 1:35.598, more than a second faster than Vettel behind on that last lap. Hamilton told to box, as he laps traffic.
Hamilton pits for the softs, 2.4 second stop - as Raikkonen takes the lead with the Finn yet to stop. It’s Raikkonen, Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo for the top-five. Ricciardo in P5 was 0.5 sec faster than the German on that last lap, 0.4 the gap on track. Ricciardo passes Vettel for P4 into turn 11.
Raikkonen pits, 2.4 second stop. He’s onto the supersofts and down in P5. As Verstappen sets the fastest lap, a 1:35.581 - despite vibration from his tyres. It’s Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Vandoorne, Sainz and Magnussen closes the top-10.
Hamilton responds up front with the fastest lap, a 1:35.348. He’s 5.4 sec ahead of Verstappen, with Ricciardo 7.7 seconds behind. Leclerc passes Alonso for P13 into the chicane. Sainz passes Vandoorne for P8 at the same place.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 4.9 seconds, but the Dutchman has set the fastest lap, a 1:35.155 - immediately improved by Raikkonen in P5, with a 1:34.810. The Finn the first man into the 1:34s. Vettel in P4 is looking like he’s struggling on his softs, he’s in the 1:36s.
Magnussen passes Vandoorne for P9 into the chicane. Hamilton leads Verstappen by 4.5 seconds. Leclerc in P12 is chasing down Hartley, 0.6 seconds the gap. Hulkenberg pits from P7, he’s onto the ultrasofts for a racy finish - exits the pits in P10. 17 runners remain in this race.
Leclerc passes Hartley for P11 into the chicane. Vettel is holding up his teammate Raikkonen, and the Finn gets past for P4 into the chicane. As Hartley pits from P12.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 4.7 seconds. Alonso in P12, complaining about no tyres and no brakes, no points. Bottas pits from P6, but there’s a problem at the right rear, could be a jack issue - he’s onto the supersofts. He returns in P9. Vettel is about to pit.
Vettel pits from P5, and takes penalty and then onto the ultrasofts - 9.1 second stop. He’s retained fifth, but is now 35-seconds adrift of Raikkonen ahead.
Hamilton is lapping traffic, passed Stroll. He’s 3.3 seconds up on Verstappen. Ricciardo is third, with Raikkonen behind who has set another fastest lap, a 1:34.594 - quick lap there. Verstappen says vibration is still annoying him.
Bottas sets the fastest lap, a 1:34.225. He’s in P8, 3.7 seconds behind Magnussen. Hamilton leads Verstappen by 4.7 seconds, then it;s Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Vettel, Sainz, Magnussen, Bottas, Hulkenberg and Leclerc. Ricciardo in P4 is under threat from Raikkonen, 1.4 seconds faster on that last lap.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 5.1 seconds. Ricciardo is 11.4 seconds adrift of his teammate. Field lapped up to P11. Raikkonen is in P4, and chasing down Ricciardo - 2.9 seconds the gap, and the Finn 1.6 seconds faster on that last lap.
Alonso in P12 is being mercilessly hunted by his teammate Vandoorne. Raikkonen very close to Ricciardo now, with the Australian having to protect himself through traffic.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 4.9 seconds, with the Dutchman more than three tenths faster on that last lap. Ricciardo is 16-seconds behind his teammate, and potentially suffering from an issue. Raikkonen is now less than a second behind him. Vandoorne passed Alonso into Turn 1 for P12. Raikkonen tries an ambitious move on Ricciardo into Turn 1 and Turn 3.
Raikkonen passes Ricciardo at the chicane for P3, demoting the Australian. Impressive move.
Hamilton leads Verstappen by 3.8 seconds, with the Dutchman more than a second faster on that last lap. Alonso pits for the softs. Hamilton looks set to win the French GP for the first time, which will be the 26th different track he’s won in F1 at.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has lost part of his front wing flap, forcing understeer, we’ve been told. Hamilton has responded to Max Verstappen’s last lap, going three tenths faster.
Sirotkin in P16 is chasing down Hartley, 1.1 seconds the gap. Alonso going for the fastest lap, two personal best sectors. Sainz in P6 saying “I have no power” - looks like he’ll retire at Renault’s home race. He’s already down to P8.
Stroll has stopped out on track, he looks like he’s sustained damage to the front left. “Tyre blew” into turn 10 with the Canadian then yet to stop. He’s OK.
Hamilton leads Verstappen, but the Virtual Safety Car has been deployed while the debris is being cleared. Sainz is still in P8.
Lap 53 - FINAL LAP:
The Virtual Safety Car ends. And Lewis Hamilton takes his 65th F1 win at a canter, over 7-seconds ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, to retake the championship lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
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