Lewis Hamilton cashes in after Vettel’s opening-lap crash in France

Mercedes driver goes back to the top of the standings with victory

Lewis Hamilton in action during the  the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet. Photograph:  Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton in action during the the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet. Photograph: Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

 

Lewis Hamilton won the French Grand Prix, the first the country has held for 10 years, with a controlled and dominant run from pole for Mercedes. But his championship rival Sebastian Vettel made an error on the opening lap that forced him almost to the back of the field and he could manage only fifth.

The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were in second and fourth respectively with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen securing the final podium place.

Hamilton won from pole after a race that had been in his hands from the moment he avoided contact on the first lap at turn one that cost his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who was seventh, and Vettel. While they were forced into comeback drives, Hamilton was able to ensure he made the most of his position and did so. Having gone into the race at Paul Ricard a point behind, the result means he has retaken the lead of the title race and is now 14 points in front of Vettel.

The German’s comeback was impressive but fifth would have been as much as he might have expected, while Verstappen put in another very solid performance to take his second podium in a row and his third in four races.

“Great work guys I am so happy for England,” said Hamilton. “It’s a beautiful Sunday.”

It is Hamilton’s first win at the French Grand Prix, having competed at Magny-Cours twice before in 2007 and 2008, the last time the race was held. This 65th career win will be hugely satisfying coming as it did, after the setback he received in losing his championship lead to Vettel, when the German’s win and Hamilton’s fifth place at the last round in Canada, saw a 15-point swing in Vettel’s favour.

However, while in Canada they had not employed their new, upgraded engine, in France they had the unit and it had proved to be formidable. Mercedes had dominated practice and locked out the front row in qualifying.

The win is Hamilton’s third of the season, putting him once again equal with Vettel in victories and, in taking the lead in the title race once more, it is the fourth time in eight races it has changed hands between the pair.

The championship remains finely balanced but the team will be buoyed by the clear evidence that their new engine has matched and potentially bettered the step forward that Ferrari made with their new unit in Canada. In a title fight that is likely to be decided by tiny advantages in a fierce development battle, every successful step will be celebrated.

Hamilton and the team will not be complacent but this is a hugely positive sign as they head in to the bulk of the European season, with back to back races at Austria and Silverstone to follow.

The crucial moment of the race came when a messy entry into turn one was hugely costly for Vettel, who made a quick start but locked up and clipped the rear of Bottas. The German was dropped to 11th with a broken front wing and forced to pit at the end of the lap, while the safety car was called out after further incidents in their wake.

Vettel took the soft tyres and emerged in 17th, his race already reduced to damage limitation. Bottas took a left rear puncture and also pitted for the soft tyres, with the pair now at the back off the field. Vettel was investigated for causing a collision and given a five-second time penalty by the stewards.

Crucially, however, Hamilton escaped it all at the front and made it through clean in front of Verstappen who was up to second by taking avoiding action across the run off , for which he was not penalised.

Vettel charged on the restart on lap six and moved swiftly through the pack, making it to 12th by the end of lap seven. He was into the points in 10th, passing Nico Hulkenberg on lap 12 but was already 24 seconds back from Hamilton. The British driver however was able to consistently pull away from the chasing Red Bull’s of Verstappen and Ricciardo.

Vettel’s run continued and he took fifth place from Carlos Sainz on lap 20 heading towards the chicane on the Mistral straight. The Red Bull’s pitted on laps 26 and 28 and Vettel took fourth from the Australian though the stops. Mercedes kept Hamilton out until lap 33 when he stopped for the soft tyres, emerging behind Raikkonen who had yet to stop.

Vettel lost fourth to Ricciardo on much fresher tyres through Le Beausset on lap 35 but out front, after the stops had shaken out, Hamilton was still solidly in the lead, five seconds clear of Verstappen and still 15 to the good on Vettel, who was struggling on his worn tyres which had taken a pounding as he came through the field.

Ferrari had no option but to pit the German once more and they did on lap 40, took the ultrasofts and his penalty, emerging still in fifth but he could do more. Raikkonen on softer, fresher tyres passed Ricciardo for third on lap 48 but too could not make no further impression. Hamilton had not been troubled at the front of the race, he managed and maintained the gap to Verstappen to ensure a clinical finish.

Kevin Magnussen in the Haas was in sixth; the Renault’s of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg in eighth and ninth and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc once again putting in a superb drive to take 10th. - Guardian service

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