F1’s return to Paul Ricard marked 28 years since its last visit to the Le Castellet track, and a decade since the last French Grand Prix.
There, Lewis Hamilton took an equally historic result, with his first win in France, and the Mercedes team’s first Grand Prix victory on French soil since 1954 – the 4-time World Champion in a league of his own as Ferrari faltered.
At lights out, Hamilton got a good start. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, though, had a better one, but was boxed in by the Silver Arrows and crashed into Valtteri Bottas after the Finn passed him for second into Turn 1.
… damaging the Mercedes’ floor and forcing Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen to take evasive action off-track, rejoining in second.
Vettel then hit Haas’ Romain Grosjean down at Turn 3, while Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly collected Force India’s Esteban Ocon - forcing them and the safety car out. Vettel and Bottas pitted at the end of the lap with damage.
At the restart on Lap 6, Hamilton led Verstappen, Renault’s Carlos Sainz, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen – while Vettel was down in 17th, Bottas 18th.
Hamilton set a string of fastest laps, while Vettel was up to 11th by Lap 9, before getting a 5-second time penalty for causing the Lap 1 collision.
Out-front, Hamilton picked up the pace from Lap 18 to protect against the charging Ferraris with Räikkönen now fourth and Vettel sixth, Bottas was up to 11th.
Verstappen pitted from second for softs on Lap 25, while Vettel jumped Ricciardo at his stop for fourth three laps later. Hamilton pitted on Lap 33, retaining the lead ahead of Räikkönen.
The Finn pitted the next lap for the supersofts, dropping to fifth. But Vettel was struggling on his softs so he let Räikkönen through on Lap 39. Vettel pitted a lap later for the ultras and his 5-second penalty, while Räikkönen passed Ricciardo for the final podium place at the chicane on Lap 47.
With 2-laps to go, a tyre blowout for Williams’ Lance Stroll brought out the Virtual Safety Car. But it was Hamilton’s day at Le Castellet.