As Lewis Hamilton drove around Paul Ricard Circuit celebrating his third win of the season, there was no doubt that under his helmet he took a great deal of satisfaction knowing that this was the most complete performance of his championship defence thus far.
Fastest out of the blocks in practice on Friday, he took pole position and then led all but one lap of Sunday’s race. In a year where his form has been mixed so far, his win in France could prove crucial ahead of a gruelling run of five races in six weeks.
The momentum has slowly swung from Mercedes to Ferrari in Bahrain, back to Mercedes and then to Ferrari again in Canada, but on the basis of Hamilton’s scintillating display in France, it is advantage for the Silver Arrow once more.
And central to their advantage has been the inconsistent performances of title rival Sebastian Vettel. The German was hit with a five-second penalty for his crash with Valtteri Bottas on the first turn, turning his strong third-place start into a fifth-place finish.
Although it can be argued that the penalty was too lenient, with a drive-through penalty potentially costing a driver 20 seconds and a stop-to-go penalty being closer to half a minute, he now trails Hamilton by 14 points in the title race.
It bodes another question about his consistency and ability to lose his composure in the heat of battle, with the first-lap crash in France his fifth big error in 14 months – and second this season. Last season he touched wheels with Hamilton in Baku, crashed out at the start in Singapore and clashed with Max Verstappen and Hamilton in Mexico. This year in Baku, he lost two valuable positions following a failed move on Bottas and subsequently finished fourth, adding further to the woes to his quest for a first world title since 2013.
In the same period, Hamilton crashed in qualifying in Brazil, when he already had the title won, and has yet to make a driving error in the eight races so far this year.
Small errors are bound to happen for every driver, but the reality is the team who makes least mistakes, and has the best strategy and best development on the engines, will prevail this season.
Both drivers are locked on three race wins each, with Vettel starting on pole once more than the Briton, but at the end of the day it all comes down to race wins and championship points.
And what makes this year so intriguing is the battle between Vettel and Hamilton to join the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio as five-time world title holders.
It’s clear both drivers have absolute faith in their cars, but Ferrari look to have upped the intensity, with pace, strong balance on the corners and a serious reliability in their engine. All they are missing is consistency from their maestro.
Hamilton may be in control of the title race at present, but in a 21-race season, the form guide will change on a race-to-race basis.
With four more races until the summer break, when the chequered flag is waved at the finish line of the Hungarian GP, neither driver will want to be heading home with plenty to do in the second half of the season.
Last year, Vettel and Hamilton won four races each in the first half of the season, leaving the title race wide open but once they came from the summer break, the Briton was in scintillating form as the German faded.
The 33-year-old won five races, with back-to-back triumphs in Belgium, Italy and Singapore as well as Japan and the US.
Vettel will not want a repeat of 2017 when he lost his firm grip on the title, but he needs to be more composed and confident behind the wheel and minimise his errors. Sunday’s crash with Bottas should have earned him a stern penalty, but now he must move on, and redeem himself in Austria this weekend.
It’s a long season full of inches, but the Ferrari star needs to step up and show why he is considered one of the greatest drivers of the era.
Lewis Hamilton defended Sebastian Vettel’s error-prone record despite taking advantage of his rival’s crash at the French Grand Prix.
Hamilton ruled from start to finish on Formula One’s return to France after a decade away to claim his third victory of the season and move 14 points clear of Vettel in their race for a fifth world championship.
Vettel started third but smashed into Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes on the 210mph opening-bend charge here at the Paul Ricard Circuit. The Ferrari driver fell to the back of the pack after he pitted for a new front wing, and was then punished with a five-second penalty.
He recovered to finish fifth, but after costly collisions in Baku, Singapore and Mexico last year, as well as running off the road at April’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the German’s latest faux pas was his fifth high-profile mistake in only 12 months.
“It is really a racing incident in Turn One and those things can happen,” a diplomatic Hamilton said.
“We’re all going into that first corner at great speeds.
“I don’t feel that he’s particularly making more mistakes. We’re all on the edge, we’re fighting for the world championship, and we’re not pootling around. We’re out there putting our lives on the line.
“We’re out there putting the cars as far beyond the edge as we can in the safest manner. It’s not like a train track, you don’t just stay on the rails. Sometimes you can go off. We’re only human.”
Magnifique !! 🇫🇷 It’s an amazing feeling winning here. I feel very grateful for a solid weekend. Huge thanks to every single person at the Team for always pushing the boundaries and never giving up. I want to thank each and every one of them 🙏🏾⚡️ #FrenchGP #F1 @mercedesamgf1 @f1 ・・・ The turning point in the title race? @lewishamilton leads by 14pts from Seb after a supreme win in France . #FrenchGP #F1 #Formula1 #LewisHamilton #Mercedes
Hamilton, however, believed the stewards were too lenient on Vettel for the collision. Bottas, who raced on with a wounded Mercedes, could manage only seventh.
Hamilton shook his head as he watched a television replay in the green room before the podium celebrations.
“Jeez, he took him right out,” Hamilton said. “Oh, man, that’s crazy.”
He later added: “For me, it is definitely disappointing because the team had a chance for a one-two finish.
“When someone destroys your race through their error, and they get a tap on the hand, and are allowed to come back and finish ahead of the person they took out, it does not
“Ultimately, Seb should not have not been able to finish ahead of Valtteri because he took him out of the race.”
Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, added: “Why did Vettel only get five seconds for this enormous mistake?
“I don’t understand. It’s too little. Five seconds is nothing. He really destroyed the whole race for himself and for Bottas.”
Aseel Al-Hamad created history on Sunday as she became the first Saudi Arabian woman to drive an Formula One car.
Hamad took a lap of the Le Castellet circuit prior to the start of the French Grand Prix, on the same day the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia was lifted.
She drove the car as part of a parade of Renault cars and was very excited by the turn of events.
Find out what she had to say, in the video below: