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Hamilton Cruises To A First Ever Victory In France
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Hamilton is flanked on the podium by Verstappen and Räikkönen plus a member of the Mercedes technical team
France last hosted a Formula 1 Grand Prix a decade ago at the Magny Cours circuit tucked away in the middle of the country, but the nation returned to the F1 calendar this weekend with a race at the brightly coloured Paul Ricard track near Marseilles, a venue which last acted as an F1 host way back in 1990.

History was also in the making as Formula 1 embarked on its first ever triple header with races on three consecutive weekends (France, Austria and Britain) and the victory spoils in the opening event went to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton as he claimed his first ever F1 victory on French soil.

All had looked promising for Mercedes in Friday’s opening free practice session as, helped by a new improved power unit, Hamilton and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the Ferraris of Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel. Marcus Ericsson was less fortunate though as the Swede crashed his Sauber into the Turn 12 barriers, causing it to catch fire. He was unhurt, but the damage to his car meant he would have to miss the next practice period.

Hamilton blasts around the multi-coloured Paul Ricard circuit
Reigning champion Hamilton subsequently dominated the second practice, lapping just over 0.7s faster than the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who in turn outpaced the Ferraris. This time it was Sergio Perez who caused some unwelcome drama as his Force India car parted company with its left rear wheel at Turn 7.

Saturday morning’s final practice session was largely meaningless as a torrential downpour meant few drivers managed a lap in the dry and only 15 of the 20 drivers set any sort of time. For the record Bottas was quickest, with Vettel only fifth and his main championship rival Hamilton down in 12th place after lapping tentatively.

Come the all-important qualifying hour some light rain fell, but it never impacted the ontrack action as the Mercedes duo again dominated proceedings. In the final part of qualifying it was the turn of Haas driver Romain Grosjean to crash as he visited the barriers at Turn 4 and when the session resumed Bottas claimed provisional pole position before Hamilton usurped him. Vettel proved to be the best of the rest ahead of the Red Bull pair and the other Ferrari.

The real star of qualifying though was young Ferrari protégé Charles Leclerc, the reigning Formula 2 champion and in his first season in F1, learning the ropes with the relatively lowly Sauber team. The Monegasque driver reached the final part of the qualifying process for the first time and claimed a highly creditable eighth on the grid for the following day’s Grand Prix. No wonder that speculation is rife that Leclerc might be promoted to the Ferrari works team in place of Räikkönen as early as next season, an opportunity he fully deserves.

The victorious Hamilton on top of his Mercedes flying machine
In contrast McLaren suffered their worst qualifying session of the season, with both drivers eliminated in the first element of the three part process. Times really are tough at the moment for the Woking based team which has enjoyed so much F1 success in the past.

The threat of further rain in race day never materialised and after the red lights went out Hamilton sprinted into an immediate lead whereas a fast starting Vettel ended up colliding with Bottas at the first corner, tipping the Finn into a spin and giving him a left rear puncture whilst damaging his own front wing. Both had to make immediate pit stops and dropped to the back of the field.

Home favourite Esteban Ocon suffered an opening lap to forget as his race lasted just three corners, having been taken out by Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly. All this drama caused the appearance of the safety car to allow debris to be cleared safely away.

Young Max Verstappen inspects his rather unusual trophy for finishing as the runner-up
When the race resumed on lap six Hamilton led from Verstappen, Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Ricciardo, but the Australian soon claimed third place from Sainz. Meanwhile a charging Vettel was making his way through the field and up to fifth position by the 20th tour.

The leading Hamilton made his only pit stop of the race on lap 33, handing the lead briefly to Räikkönen before he too made his stop. With Vettel running on worn tyres he soon let his team-mate past so the Finnish veteran could attack Ricciardo and it paid off as Kimi swept past on lap 47 to claim the final podium position.

There was a short Virtual Safety Car period near the end of the race as Williams’ young Canadian driver Lance Stroll suffered a front left tyre failure, after which Hamilton reached the chequered flag first, never seriously threatened by second placed Verstappen.

Vettel had to settle for fifth position after serving a five second penalty at his second pit stop for his part in the opening lap collision with Bottas, a result Ferrari considered as reasonable damage limitation.

The result handed the Drivers’ Championship lead back to Hamilton and Mercedes continued their dominance on the Constructors’ front.

For Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel it was a day when he had to settle for fifth place after a troubled opening lap
So, all the teams faced the major logistical challenge of packing up as quickly as possible and heading across Europe to Austria’s beautiful Spielberg circuit for next weekend’s Grand Prix. No mean feat when you consider that it takes well over 300 heavily laden HGVs to transport all that is required to re-establish the F1 paddock in a new location.

The French race suffered serious traffic woes in terms of teams, media and fans reaching and leaving the circuit and it is to be hoped that all runs far more smoothly in Austria shortly. I’ll let you know.

2018 Formula 1 French Grand Prix

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr30m11.385s
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +7.090s
3 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +25.888s
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +34.736s
5 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +1m1.935s
6 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m19.364s
7 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +1m20.632s
8 Carlos Sainz (Renault) +1m27.184s
9 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +1m31.989s
10 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +1m33.873s
11 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
12 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
13 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
14 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
16 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Retired
17 Lance Stroll (Williams) Retired
18 Sergio Perez (Force India) Retired
19 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Retired
20 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Retired

2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 8 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Lewis Hamilton 145
2 Sebastian Vettel 131
3 Daniel Ricciardo 96

2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 8 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Mercedes 237
2 Ferrari 214
3 Red Bull 164

Also by Graham Read...
Mercedes Takes The Constructors’ Title As Hamilton Wins In Brazil
Victory For Verstappen, But A Fifth Title For Hamilton
Räikkönen Wins In Texas As The Title Battle Continues
Britain’s Newest F1 Driver - George Russell
Hamilton Closes In On A Fifth Title


Hamilton Cruises To A First Ever Victory In France, 25th June 2018, 18:00 PM