Two first lap incidents behind him did not stop Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes combining for a win at the Circuit Paul Ricard near Marseilles. Sebastian Vettel and P2 sitter Valtteri Bottas came together, damaging both cars enough to require pit stops, and Esteban Ocon and Romain Grosjean collided early before Ocon hit Pierre Gasly shortly afterwards, retiring both cars, before the end of lap one.
The win takes Hamilton to 145 points, fourteen clear of Vettel on 131, and Ricciardo’s fourth gets him into third for 96 points, just four ahead of Bottas.
The first race at the circuit since 2008 eventually settled into a routine but will be notable for Vettel, although copping a five second penalty for causing the collision, also fighting his way back through the field to finish fifth behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel, in third, had a fantastic start and was nosing into Hamilton quickly but as he eased off the throttle into a left hander, Bottas braked and turned across Vettel. However it appeared that Vettel was unsighted on the Mercedes car, braking and tapping the left rear of Bottas.
Ocon and Grosjean had light contact resulting in body damage to both. It was just seconds later that Ocon entering into Turn 3 spun Gasly with Ocon’s car losing his right rear tire and breaking the front right suspension.
The stewards investigation had both drivers seen as equally to blame however Gasly saw it differently: ““I was behind Esteban and I saw he had damage on the car,” explained Gasly. “And then in Turn 3 I went on the inside and thought he had seen me and would leave me space, and he just took the corner like there was nobody (there) and it was impossible to avoid the contact.”
Hamilton was out in front by over a second within a lap of the restart and would stay there until race end, untroubled by any issues. The same could not be said for fourth place finisher Daniel Ricciardo. Pitting on lap 29 for a tire swap, his team found that a part of his front wing had somehow been damaged. Inexplicably the wing wasn’t replaced, with Ricciardo being passed by Kimi Raikkonen on supersofts who finished third. It wasn’t all bad news for the Australian, with his fourth leapfrogging him over Bottas to move him into third for the drivers’ championship.
Max Verstappen drove an uncharacteristically quiet race, troubling no one to finish second, seven seconds behind Hamilton. At the other end of the field was a despondent Fernando Alonso, with further race issues such as overheating brakes and tire degradation, plus what would out him from the race, suspension failure, adding fuel to discussion about a retirement at season’s end.
In the final laps there was minor drama of sorts for Carlos Sainz. Power loss had Sainz in danger of falling through the field but fortunately for him, an unfortunate Lance Stroll blew a left front tire and the following Virtual Safety car was enough for Sainz to limp home for eighth and giving him points for the sixth consecutive race.
What flew under the radar was Mercedes updating their engine a race after other teams did at Canada. This brings the team into line with Williams and Force India, amongst others. The team didn’t unveil the news until after practice on Friday.
It’s a quick turnaround for the teams with the next race this weekend in Australia before flying to Silverstone in Great Britain.