Lewis Hamilton dominated the French Grand Prix to continue his best ever start to a Formula One season.
Hamilton crossed the line a crushing 18 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas in the sister Mercedes following an emphatic performance at the Circuit Paul Ricard. On a perfect afternoon, the five-time world champion extended his lead over Bottas, his closest title challenger, to 36 points.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc ran Bottas close in the final stages, but stayed in third ahead of the Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.
Here’s our key talking points from France.
In extreme heat in the south of France, Hamilton continued his scintillating form in 2019, clinching his sixth win in eight races.
Fastest all weekend, he got the cleanest start on Sunday and led every lap of the race to extend his championship lead to 36 points. Although he had seat issues early in the race, the 34-year-old put the issues behind to him to finish a stunning 18 seconds ahead of Bottas.
He drove imperiously around Circuit Paul Ricard, and judging by his sizzling form of late, it looks hard to see him not retain his world championship crown and become a six-time champion – an achievement bettered only by Michael Schumacher, who holds a record seven titles.
Next up is the Austrian GP – a track Hamilton has only won at once in 2016.
WHERE IS BOTTAS 2.0?
Starting second on the grid, the Finn was unable to challenge Hamilton and crossed the line in second – his seventh podium of the season.
It’s fair to say that Bottas has surpassed expectations to claim three poles of his own this year, but to finish so far behind Hamilton in France shows the gulf between both drivers.
As it stands the title battle will come down between Hamilton and Bottas. But for how long?
Hamilton is utterly dominant and looks to only be getting better, while Bottas is slowly waning of that totemic pace we witnessed in Melbourne and Baku.
Dauntingly, Hamilton is entering the midway point of the year where he traditionally raises his intensity even higher, so Bottas needs to step up in Austria if this is to be a genuine battle.
Still, it’s a positive start to the season for Bottas but he needs to challenge better and bring back some of that old needle if he has to have any hope of pushing Hamilton until the end of the season.
FERRARI OFF PACE
Charles Leclerc started a formidable third – some distance behind the Mercedes in qualifying – and it’s fair to say he needed that result after a difficult run of qualifying sessions where he had only finished faster than Sebastian Vettel once.
Finally, for the first since Bahrain, he delivered on his full potential and crossed the line in third for his third podium of the season. The key though will be doing it again at the next race and again after.
Vettel unfortunately endured another frustrating weekend. He looked off the pace of Leclerc all weekend and was only seventh fastest in qualifying.
On race day, the German did his best to soar through the field, finishing fifth and taking the fastest lap.
HEARTBREAK FOR NORRIS
Having delivered the team’s best qualifying result since Italy 2014, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz started from fifth and sixth on the grid and looked high on confidence.
Sainz went on to secure sixth place, a joint season’s best finish for the Spaniard after finishing in the same position in Monaco.
But for his team-mate Norris, it was a heartbreaking afternoon. The British rookie was on course for sixth place until a hydraulics issue affected his pace and balance with ten laps remaining.
Struggling in seventh on the last lap, he was eventually passed by Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg, and could only manage 10th. But with Ricciardo given two time penalties after the race, Norris was promoted to ninth.
DISAPPOINTING HOME FORTUNES
Leclerc may have taken a third podium, but for Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Pierre Gasly it was largely disappointing.
Grosjean looked disappointing all weekend, bowing out in Q1 on Saturday, and then being forced to retire with five laps remaining, when sitting 16th.
Gasly, meanwhile, benefited from Ricciardo’s late penalty and finished 10th.
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