Lewis Hamilton dominated Formula 1’s first French Grand Prix in ten years, reclaiming the Drivers’ Championship lead thanks to a first corner collision between title rival Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The contact – one of three separate collisions in a frantic opening lap – sent both drivers tumbling down the order and paved the way for Hamilton to cruise to victory and move back to the top of the championship standings.

Amid fears that Vettel, starting on the grippier Ultrasoft tyres, would get the jump on the Soft shod Mercedes’ at the start, Hamilton and Bottas both made good starts and boxed the Ferrari driver in on the run to Turn 1.

Vettel would, however, mistime his braking for the left-hander and hit the left-rear of Bottas’ Mercedes. The contact punctured the Finn’s left rear tyre and turned him into a spin, while Vettel’s Ferrari suffered front wing damage that would see both drivers limp to the pits for repairs.

Further behind, France’s three local heroes – Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly – all came to grief in a fraught opening lap. Grosjean and Ocon touched on the run to Turn 1 – leading to a five-second penalty for the former – and later around the lap Gasly collided with Ocon as the midfield pack tried to funnel its way through the Turn 4/5 chicane. Both drivers were out on the spot.

2018 French Grand Prix start

Hamilton was able to convert his pole position into the lead, while further behind Grosjean and Ocon come together.

With Hamilton leading from Max Verstappen – who took to the Turn 1 run-off to avoid the Vettel-Bottas clash – and Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr., who swept past the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo through the opening sequence of corners, the field was neutralised behind the Safety Car so Ocon and Gasly’s cars could be retrieved.

The race resumed on Lap 5 and Hamilton quickly set about building a lead over Verstappen. The pair pulled away from Sainz, who fought gamely to keep Ricciardo’s identically powered Red Bull behind.

Ricciardo would soon breeze by Sainz’s Renault in one of many DRS-assisted overtaking moves that occurred during the race on the first part of the Mistral Straight approaching the Turn 7/8 chicane. Despite many drivers’ fears that this race would be a processional affair because of the chicane that punctuated the Mistral Straight, it proved to be very easy as DRS perhaps worked too effectively on this occasion.

Sainz steadily slipped down the order, falling behind the recovering Kimi Räikkönen and then Vettel, who had carved his way back up the order after his first-lap visit to the pits for a new front wing and a change to Soft tyres in the hope he could see out the race until the chequered flag.

Despite being issued with his own five-second penalty for causing the collision with Bottas, Vettel’s strong pace put him in contention for a podium position when Ricciardo and Räikkönen both made their sole pit stops mid-race, but his tyres began to fade over the final twenty laps of the race.

Ricciardo returned to third place when he overtook Vettel with a neat move at the Turn 10-11 right-hand complex, before Räikkönen got ahead of his teammate six laps later.

The Finn then used his superior tyre advantage to close up on Ricciardo and after a number of unsuccessful attacks at Turns 1 and 3, he drafted the Australian on the back straight and made the move stick at the Turn 7/8 chicane.

Vettel pitted a second time to protect the fifth place after Mercedes called Bottas in for his own second pit stop. The pair finished fifth and seventh, sandwiching Haas’ Kevin Magnussen who drove superbly to claim sixth.

Magnussen and Bottas both overtook Sainz in the final laps as the Spaniard slowed with a reported loss of power. He avoided falling out of the points’ paying positions altogether thanks to a late Virtual Safety Car, triggered in the final laps when Lance Stroll retired his Williams with a blown front left tyre.

Sainz was able to hang on to eighth place ahead of his teammate Nico Hülkenberg, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc finished in the points once again after another standout drive to tenth place.

Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Lewis Hamilton uk Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 53 1:30:11.385
2. Max Verstappen nl Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 53 + 7.090
3. Kimi Räikkönen fi Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 53 + 25.888
4. Daniel Ricciardo au Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 53 + 34.736
5. Sebastian Vettel de Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 53 + 1:01.935
6. Kevin Magnussen dk Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 53 + 1:19.364
7. Valtteri Bottas fi Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 53 + 1:20.632
8. Carlos Sainz Jr es Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 53 + 1:27.184
9. Nico Hülkenberg de Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 53 + 1:31.989
10. Charles Leclerc mc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 53 + 1:33.873
11. Romain Grosjean fr Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 52 1 lap behind
12. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 52 1 lap behind
13. Marcus Ericsson se Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 52 1 lap behind
14. Brendon Hartley nz Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 52 1 lap behind
15. Sergey Sirotkin ru Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 52 1 lap behind
16. Fernando Alonso es McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 50 Suspension
17. Lance Stroll ca Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 48 Puncture
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps
DNF. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 27 Water Pressure
DNF. Esteban Ocon fr Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 0 Collision
DNF. Pierre Gasly fr Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 0 Collision
Fastest Lap Team / Entry Lap Time
Valtteri Bottas fi Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 41 1:34.225

Post-Race Penalties:

  • Sergey Sirotkin – who was provisionally classified 15th – was issued a 5-second post-race time penalty for driving too slowly behind the Safety Car.

Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team

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Geoff Burke

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