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Formula One

Hamilton takes commanding win in France as Bottas holds off Leclerc for second

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Lewis Hamilton’s immense run of form continued on Sunday as the reigning world champion took a commanding lights-to-flag victory in the 2019 French Grand Prix, his sixth triumph in eight races this season.

The Mercedes driver built a rhythm through the weekend, culminating in a brilliant pole position on Saturday, which he converted with ease on Sunday afternoon at a scorching Circuit Paul Ricard, crossing the line 18 seconds clear of team mate Valtteri Bottas. With his 200th career points finish, Hamilton extends his lead over the Finn to 36 points.

It was Mercedes’ eighth successive victory of 2019, and their sixth one-two, maintaining their unbeaten record.

Charles Leclerc completed the podium after a lonely race to third – though he did give Bottas a fright in the final two laps after benefitting from a late Virtual Safety Car to put the Mercedes driver under pressure.

Leclerc’s Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel could only recover two positions from a poor qualifying session to cross the line fifth but he did secure the fastest lap, and the bonus point that comes with it, on his final lap, having boxed the previous lap for softs.

Max Verstappen finished where he started in fourth, while Carlos Sainz finished an impressive sixth. His McLaren team mate Lando Norris was set for seventh, but a late hydraulics issues meant he slipped into the clutches of Daniel Ricciardo, who forced his way through on the last lap. Norris had to go off track and dropped behind Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg, limping across the line 10th.

However, the final sequence of points-paying positions is subject to change as the stewards confirmed they would investigate the incident between Ricciardo and Norris.

AS IT HAPPENED
Last year’s French Grand Prix saw action at Turn 1 as Sebastian Vettel collided with Valtteri Bottas, but everyone made it through the opening sequence cleanly in 2019, with Hamilton’s impressive launch allowing him to comfortably retain the lead from pole.

The fast-starting McLaren’s split, Norris heading to the inside – and getting blocked – and Sainz going to the outside and challenging the Ferrari of Leclerc for third, only to drop back behind the Ferrari and Verstappen to fourth but ahead of Norris. Vettel made no progress and stayed seventh.

Hamilton set about creating a gap to Bottas, who appeared to lack the pace to compete with his more decorated team mate while Verstappen held off a spirited attack from Sainz in a fight for fourth before stretching away as he made the most of his Red Bull’s superior pace.

Vettel’s recovery was slow, first passing Norris on lap five and then getting past Sainz two laps later. He initially made ground on Verstappen in fourth, but then curiously started to fall back – with Ferrari ultimately opting to run him deep into the race in an attempt to mix up the strategy.

Hamilton complained that a part of his seat was broken, but that didn’t appear to slow him down as he traded fastest laps with Bottas. At his first and only stop, the Briton swapped the mediums for the hards and rejoined ahead of Vettel, who was running long, with Bottas well adrift and Leclerc a similar gap further back.

Though he complained about the feel of the hard tyres, Hamilton’s pace remained impressive throughout and he crossed the line to take his fourth successive win, with Bottas second and Leclerc taking his second straight podium with third.

Verstappen was fourth, while Vettel pitted on the penultimate lap for soft tyres – when it became clear he had no chance of catching the Red Bull and was comfortably clear of Sainz in the McLaren – to attempt the fastest lap. Despite a poor middle sector, the Ferrari driver managed to snatch it by a fraction of a second – in the process stopping Hamilton from claiming a sixth career Grand Slam (pole position, victory, lead every lap, fastest lap).

Sainz, the last driver to finish on the lead lap, was sixth and looked to have done enough to hold off Norris – but life became easier for the Spaniard when Norris, after complaining of lazy gearshifts, was informed he had a DRS issue and could no longer use the device. The team later confirmed a hydraulic issue, telling the Briton he should also expect his steering to become increasingly heavy.

The Briton drifted into the clutches of Ricciardo, but looked to have done enough to secure the position until the Renault driver had a stab around the outside of Turn 8 on the final lap. The Australian ran wide off the track as he completed the move and then squeezed Norris as he came back on, forcing the McLaren off the road.

The Australian was briefly passed by Raikkonen in the squabble, but made use of the extra tarmac on the back straight to re-pass the Finn and take seventh. After his wide moment Norris dropped to 10th as Raikkonen and Hulkenberg, who were lurking, slipped by to take eighth and ninth respectively. The stewards announced an investigation into Ricciardo leaving the track and gaining an advantage as the chequered flag fell.

Elsewhere, there was a great dice between Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon, the Toro Rosso drivers fighting hard but fair, with Kvyat coming out on top to claim 14th while Pierre Gasly had a disappointing home race in the Red Bull as he finished just outside the points in 11th, having started the race ninth on the softs that forced an early stop.

His countryman Romain Grosjean was the race’s only retirement, pulling his Haas into the pits in the closing stages after a race spent near the rear of the field.

So the first part of F1’s opening double-header of the year is over – and it’s advantage Hamilton once more.

The key quote
“It’s definitely been a really good weekend. I’ve been racing a long long time and it just never gets old and it’s always such a challenge out there and I just love that, trying to find the edge and just bridging the gap and really being on top of this machine. But I couldn’t do it without this incredible team, this group of guys here. We’re creating history together and I’m so proud of everyone, I’m so proud to be a part of this team, this group of people and Valtteri did a good job this weekend as well.” – Lewis Hamilton

What’s next?
There’s not long to wait until the next instalment of the 2019 Formula 1 season, with the teams heading straight across to Austria and the Red Bull Ring on June 28-30. Max Verstappen triumphed in a thriller last year, while our data suggests Ferrari should be more of a threat to Mercedes around the turns at Spielberg, The stage is set!

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