Lewis Hamilton delivered another crushing performance to win 2019 French Grand Prix at Le Castellet’s Paul Ricard circuit, leading every lap from pole position to extend his lead in the championship to 36 points.
Hamilton’s fourth straight victory quelled Mercedes’ team-mate Valtteri Bottas’ title hopes as well, leaving the Finn struggling in second place and trailing by 18-seconds at the flag. Charles Leclerc salvaged the third place podium spot for Ferrari, coming just 0.9-seconds short of passing the fading Bottas, while the Scuderia’s lead driver Sebastian Vettel fell 76 points behind Hamilton after languishing in fifth place at the finish.
Hamilton collected Mercedes’ 10th successive victory – one shy of F1’s all-time record – by simply sustaining a pace that put him in another league. It was his 79th career win, leaving him just 12 behind Michael Schumacher’s record – with 13 races remaining in the 2019 season.
Having dominated every session of the weekend at super-heated Paul Ricard, the Q3 shootout became a head-to-head battle between Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Bottas. Hamilton closed the deal with by 0.286s with successive lap records.
Charles Leclerc was third, his Ferrari SF90 still lacking the front grip of Mercedes, but team-mate Vettel was fortunate to start from the fourth row after gear shift problems at the start of Q3.
Rejuvenated McLaren nearly eclipsed Red Bull as rising star Lando Norris finished within 0.009-seconds of Max Verstappen as he and Carlos Sainz locked out the third row – ahead of engine suppliers Renault at the French manufacturer’s home race.
Despite Red Bull’s Honda engine upgrade, Pierre Gasly could only claim ninth, behind the lead Renault of Daniel Ricciardo. Antonio Giovinazzi was 10th for Alfa Romeo.
With Paul Ricard’s track temperatures soaring, Hamilton streaked into the lead at the start and then set about managing his tyre temperatures and wear, content to gently pull a small gap over Bottas over the first half of the opening stint.
Leclerc was stymied by Bottas into Turn 2, giving Verstappen a clear path the outside before Leclerc took control as the two ran side-by-side down into Turn 3. Reading the situation, Verstappen chose to nurse his tyres and gradually lost ground to Leclerc.
It became evident that the longer the cars stayed on medium tyres, the more Hamilton could finally let his Mercedes reveal its advantage. He was more than eight seconds ahead of Bottas when the Finn stopped for hard tyres on Lap 23.
Hamilton came in on Lap 24, easily rejoining the race in the lead as Mercedes extended its drivers’ stints to make sure they were far enough ahead of Vettel. The Ferraris stayed out even longer.
After the pitstops, Hamilton let out the reins of his W10, stretching his advantage at will and extending the gap to 18-seconds by the flag.
A contrite Bottas finally took runner-up position for the first time in three races. Nevertheless, Hamilton’s deciphering of the pace needed for fourth straight victories has significantly reduced Bottas’ hopes for a title.
Vettel’s SF90 had little in reserve to advance positions after starting seventh on the grid but grabbed the bonus point for fastest lap after making a late pitstop for fresh tyres. Vettel slammed in a 1m32.740s on the final lap to steal the point from Hamilton by just 0.024s.
Behind the Ferrari, McLaren won the best-of-the-rest battle with Carlos Sainz Jr in sixth.
Sainz slipped past team-mate Lando Norris on the opening lap when Norris found himself with nowhere to go into Turn 1 and had to back out.
Eventually, rookie Norris did well to even finish after his McLaren suffering massive hydraulics leaks that nearly led to braking and steering collapses.
Norris had been defending seventh place until the very last lap when his hydraulics red-lined. Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault slashed past first, running the nearly helpless Norris off track at the chicane in the process. Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo and Nico Hulkenberg in the other Renault grabbed the open positions too while Norris fought his McLaren’s hydraulics to regained control.
Following the Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo was dropped from seventh to 11th in the final classification after the FIA levied two five-second penalties for having “left the circuit and rejoined unsafely forcing another driver off the track”.
In the end, Mercedes’ cars produced a dominant weekend at Paul Ricard by securing their 50th one-two finish in Formula 1 without much resistance. The five-time world champions are now just one victory away from McLaren’s record of 11 consecutive wins set during the 1988 season.
Valtteri Bottas’ fortunate second-place result was the Finn’s 20th consecutive top 5 finish. Despite wins in Australia and Azerbaijan, Bottas has since not led Hamilton at any stage of a race in the last four Grands Prix.
The now disconsolate Bottas said in parc ferme: “He’s not unbeatable… I know that. I just have to work hard.” He’ll have just three days to get his head straight before arriving at the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.
Finally, rumourmongers throughout the Paul Ricard paddock said that Ferrari, thanks to their new front wing, had discovered and solved a fundamental math error that had led to false aero mapping and lost GPs to date… apparently, the Scuderia has significantly more calculations to validate to create a new-new aero solution to recover a lack of front downforce, especially in slow corners.