Race Report: Hamilton dominates French GP; takes title lead

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Mercedes may have paid a price for delaying their spec 2 power unit in Canada but we knew that when it did come, it would once again raise the performance bar. Ferrari’s new engine in Canada may have been faster than the Spec 1 Mercedes but in France, it didn’t have an answer as Lewis Hamilton to the victory at the Paul Ricard Circuit for the French Grand Prix.

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A race that many believed would be boring offered some first lap drama with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel tangling with Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas at the first turn on lap 1. A 5s penalty left Vettel off the podium and now 10 points down in the driver’s championship while his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, finished in third behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.

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Win

A big win for Mercedes, their spec 2 engine and Lewis Hamilton who took over the championship lead from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. His 44th win in car number 44 and the first French GP win for Lewis. Lewis controlled the entire weekend and race and managed his race perfectly.

A win for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who finished second and drove a lonely race for a podium finish. He lacked the pace to challenge Hamilton but held off his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, and even managed to cover the charging Vettel with a perfectly timed pit stop on the 26th lap.

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Kimi Raikkonen managed a podium finish and drove a good race passing his teammate late and then picking off a struggling Daniel Ricciardo. He never had the pace to challenge Verstappen but perhaps his long run strategy prevented him from being more aggressive than he was.

Another win for Sauber’s Charles Leclerc who managed to finish 10th on the lead lap converting his terrific qualifying effort into a tangible call for a seat at Ferrari in 2019.

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A big win for Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen who gained several spots at the start having ran wide to avoid the carnage but was head’s up enough to cede those positions and then fight his way back to a very respectable 6th place besting the Renault’s for “best of the rest”.

A big win for the French fans who, despite a miserable traffic situation, braved the queue and turned out in droves.

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Fail

A fail for Sebastian Vettel who lost the lead in the championship on lap 1, turn 1 after hitting Valtteri Bottas. The #5 Ferrari got a great start but was boxed in by two Mercedes cars and while Bottas left room at turn 1, Vettel lost braking and hit the Finn causing a puncture for Bottas and a damaged front wing for himself. If there’s an upside for the incident, it was adding some spice to the race that was predicted to be boring as Vettel scythed his way back through the field making pass after pass to in a very good recovery drive.

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A fail for McLaren who couldn’t get either car in the points leaving Fernando Alonso to radio about throwing in the towel. Vandoorne managed to beat Alonso but only because McLaren thought it would be fun to try and give Alonso the fastest lap of the race and pitted him late. The gambit failed and it makes you wonder if they are racing or just trying to appease Alonso these days. As I said on the last podcast, the Alonso brand seems to have become bigger than the McLaren brand at this point and that’s a serious, serious issue for Woking.

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A fail for Williams who finished last with Sergey Sirotkin in 15th and Lance Stroll DNF due to an exploding front left tire near the end of the race. Such a shame to see Williams and McLaren fighting for the most miserable season award. All the talk seems to be about sacking Eric Boullier at McLaren but no one is talking about sacking Claire Williams and her team is, arguably, in worse shape given their power unit.

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A massive fail for Force India who had a dual DNF race with Ocon being taken out on turn 1, lap 1 and Perez having to retire due to engine trouble. Both cars had new Mercedes engine and unlike the works team, they couldn’t capitalize on that at all.

WTH

A bit of a WTH for Renault who seemed mired in the middle this weekend. Sainz had a loss of power late in the race and lost two places denying him the 6th place Magnussen enjoyed. Hulkenberg never could mount a serious challenge for his coveted 7th place finishing norm and both Renault’s were beaten by Haas F1.

A WTH for Romain Grosjean…no, seriously, WTH? The race stewards looked at three sperate incidents from the Haas F1 driver and Ocon squarely felt he was to blame for the first lap carnage between all three Frenchmen. Regardless, it is very odd that the three French drivers, Grosjean, Ocon and Gasly, all took each other out on lap 1 from their home grand prix…WTH?

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A bit of a WTH as there was very little degradation (klag) on the track and it makes you wonder if Pirelli brought soft enough compounds to the Paul Ricard circuit…you know, being all about HD tires and stuff.

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French GP Results:

PosDriverCarLapsGap
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes531h30m11.385s
2Max VerstappenRed Bull/Renault537.090s
3Kimi RaikkonenFerrari5325.888s
4Daniel RicciardoRed Bull/Renault5334.736s
5Sebastian VettelFerrari531m01.935s
6Kevin MagnussenHaas/Ferrari531m19.364s
7Valtteri BottasMercedes531m20.632s
8Carlos SainzRenault531m27.184s
9Nico HulkenbergRenault531m31.989s
10Charles LeclercSauber/Ferrari531m33.873s
11Romain GrosjeanHaas/Ferrari521 Lap
12Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren/Renault521 Lap
13Marcus EricssonSauber/Ferrari521 Lap
14Brendon HartleyToro Rosso/Honda521 Lap
15Sergey SirotkinWilliams/Mercedes521 Lap
16Fernando AlonsoMcLaren/Renault503 Laps
17Lance StrollWilliams/Mercedes48Tyre
Sergio PerezForce India/Mercedes27Power Unit
Pierre GaslyToro Rosso/Honda0Collision
Esteban OconForce India/Mercedes0Collision

Driver’s Championship

PosDriverPoints
1Lewis Hamilton145
2Sebastian Vettel131
3Daniel Ricciardo96
4Valtteri Bottas92
5Kimi Raikkonen83
6Max Verstappen68
7Nico Hulkenberg34
8Fernando Alonso32
9Carlos Sainz28
10Kevin Magnussen27
11Pierre Gasly18
12Sergio Perez17
13Esteban Ocon11
14Charles Leclerc11
15Stoffel Vandoorne8
16Lance Stroll4
17Marcus Ericsson2
18Brendon Hartley1
19Romain Grosjean0
20Sergey Sirotkin0

Constructor’s Championship

PosConstructorPoints
1Mercedes237
2Ferrari214
3Red Bull/Renault164
4Renault62
5McLaren/Renault40
6Force India/Mercedes28
7Haas/Ferrari27
8Toro Rosso/Honda19
9Sauber/Ferrari13
10Williams/Mercedes4
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Fast Freddy

Surely a big loss for Vettel, but fun to watch him turn up the wick and go thru the field. I feel bad for Alonso, makes me wonder why McLaren pays him so much to keep him around. Is he really helping the team? With baseball, teams let their star players go on as they rebuild, which McLaren should be doing.

jtr

I think it’s more like a baseball team that keeps around a star player during a rebuild just to try to keep the fans from totally giving up hope. Plus, Alonzo is a big asset when it comes to improving the car; he has the experience to pass a lot of information about car performance onto the team. We’ve seen for Williams this season how hard it is to improve the car when you have two bad drivers who can’t help much with the tuning process. Plus, you need a certain quality of driver just to be able to reliably… Read more »

B52RockLobster

Now we get to see why having RAI qualify better is crucial. The Mercedes boxed in VET as much as they could at the start (the on-board from VES was hilarious looking). If Kimi was in 4th instead, he could take advantage of situations like that and help Ferrari maximize the points.

Kimi lost a place again on lap 1, but his drive turned out quite well. However, if it wasn’t for VET, BOT, and RIC having issues, he would have been down in 5th or 6th again.

B52RockLobster

Here is the screenshot from Verstappens on-board.

VER_MercedesMug.PNG
Fabio

Agree about Kimi, how long are they going to make excuses for him. Surely it’s time to get someone who is competitive.

arrow044

If Kimi was more competitive, Vettel won’t be so comfortable all the time. He might have to out qualify his teammate by a tenth or a hundredth of a tenth every now and then. Pick your poison. As I’ve said before, Keeping Vettel fat and happy plays right into our hands ;)

Fabio

If Kimi (or another driver) was more competitive, it might push Seb even more and he would drive even better. Just look at RBR, DR has had to push himself more since having Max as a teammate.

arrow044

You nailed it. Vettel needs some hungry young cat nipping at his heels if he wants to ascend to the next level. The Red Bull drivers are always pushing each other. Bottas ain’t making life easy for Hamilton. He is right there. The Renault pair are pushing each other. Force India pair are pushing each other. The HAAS drivers used to be neck and neck until Grosjean regressed. I can see Ferrari saying enough to the Vettel centric approach as he is continuing to throw points away.

B52RockLobster

I’m not sure I agree – it seems hard to believe that the competition HAM presents isn’t enough to push VET and RAI to do their best.

My only point is that RAI seems to constantly choke in Qualifying and it’s hurting the team’s, and VET’s title chances

jtr

Agreed, it’s not like these guys aren’t trying their best to win the race just because they don’t have a top driver for a teammate. These are fiercely competitive racing drivers, I don’t think motivation is an issue. And besides, I can’t really imagine that Hamilton is having nightmares of Bottas taking the top Mercedes seat from him. Everybody (Bottas included) knows that Bottas is here to play wingman, he’s just doing a better job of it than Kimi this season.

EDIT: formatting doesn’t make it clear, I’m replying to and agreeing with RockLobster above.

photogcw

You missed one on WTH, NC. Those oversized gorilla statues on the podium and the ones used as trophies to the drivers. I know Pirelli was the title sponsor of the race but that doesn’t explain the gorillas.

arrow044

Todd, you missed a major WTH: The Tifossi voting Vettel driver of the day! There’s a mob you should be worried about. Just goes to show how big a crowd they are…and not very objective either. Is it any wonder, from a business perspective, why Vettel and Ferrari are always so protected? I don’t agree, but I understand why its done. It’s good for business. That 5sec penalty was a yoke!

subcritical71

Two points on the race. First, was it just me or did everyone just succumb to the DRS pass and let people through? I only remember two DRS passes where the car being passed even took a defensive line into the corner. Some would have kept their position at least another lap had they taken a more defensive approach. Second, VER made it through a race without incident and VET threw away more points on a desperate move (and then clobbered Grosjean off the track a few turns later – for which Grosjean was investigated?!$?). He would have clearly passed… Read more »

subcritical71

You are correct. I’ve said before that I’d love to at least like Vettel. Something just keeps me from doing so. I would argue that he is in the best car this year (for the second year in a row)…. but the objective side of me says it was a great drive! Reminds me of the job he did in Brazil after being turned at turn 4 (2012) to take an almost destroyed championship.

arrow044

I can why the Tifossi voted him driver of the day with that sort of reasoning. I would expect experienced viewers such as yourself to notice Vettels poor race craft at the beginning and through the race.

subcritical71

Hey, I’m not saying Vettel didn’t cause his own problems. And by causing your own problems you shouldn’t be rewarded for coming to your own rescue. Not withstanding it was a good drive through the field. The others in the last 4 spots went virtually no where. And I am far from a Vettel fan.

Schumie Toronto

I can’t believe the uproar over Vettel’s 5 sec. penalty. He made a MISTAKE in making the split-second decision to brake a little bi too late and like he said, he had nowhere to go! Didn’t Hamilton lose a bit of wing on Verstappen’s rear tire several races ago? It’s an easy thing to do. Give me a break! He paid the price, dropping to last place AND then with the 5 second penalty! But some people (Hamilton included) would have him burned at the stake FFS!

jakobusvdl

That turned out to be an interesting race to watch. Ver-crash-en went a complete weekend without making contact with anyone – amazing! Kimi making some serious passes. So nice to see him going forwards for a change. Vettel putting together a great recovery drive after that first corner blunder. Bottas with a not quite as effective recovery drive after being clipped – floor damage I guess. Grosjean brilliantly setting things in train to take out his two French rivals on lap one., He’s probably fantastic at snooker too. Some delightful close racing all through the midfield, it was great to… Read more »