Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2018

Hamilton regains points lead in F1’s forgettable return to France

2018 French Grand Prix review

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From third on the grid, with softer tyres on his car, the start was critical for Sebastian Vettel if he was going to have a chance of winning the French Grand Prix and keep his championship lead.

But he risked too much at the first corner and as a result Lewis Hamilton was able to take even more points off his rival than he expected.

Mercedes thwart Vettel – at a cost

With Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas locking out the front row on the harder, super-soft tyres, Mercedes had clearly formulated a plan to contain the threat of third-placed Vettel on softer rubber. Hamilton held the inside line and Bottas kept the Ferrari pinned behind his team mate.

Vettel’s softer rubber clearly gave him a performance advantage away from the line but the Mercedes drivers’ tactics meant he had nowhere to go. And, not for the first time in recent races, this seemed to frustrate him, provoking a costly misjudgement.

Arriving at turns one and two Vettel braked visibly earlier than the Mercedes drivers. This was a prudent move as he was right in Hamilton’s slipstream. But he then appeared to ease off the brakes as he vied to stay alongside Bottas. Arriving at the corner he was braking hard again but locked a wheel and thumped into the Mercedes.

Bottas had left Vettel ample room and was understandably unimpressed. Not least because he bore the brunt of the contact and would spend the rest of the race behind the Ferrari, even after the stewards gave Vettel an inconsequential five-second time penalty.

Ferrari could have been in a stronger position had Kimi Raikkonen qualified his car where it belonged, instead of behind the two Red Bulls. Another poor run in qualifying meant the Mercedes drivers had just one Ferrari to deal with at the start instead of two.

Start, Paul Ricard, 2018
Grosjean and Ocon clashed before turn one
The first racing lap for F1 cars at Paul Ricard for 28 years was a dramatic one. The French drivers in particularly seemed eager to make up for the lack of action during that time, as all three involved themselves in collisions.

Romain Grosjean hit Esteban Ocon on the run to turn one, for which the Haas driver was later penalised. Ocon was then hit by the third French driver on the grid, Pierre Gasly, which won’t have done their strained relationship any good. The stewards ruled this was a racing incident, deeming both drivers excessively optimistic. This seemed a bit harsh on Ocon – it wasn’t as if this was a repeat of his Baku blunder.

The latter pair made heavy contact and the Safety Car was required while their stranded cars were recovered. This afforded ample opportunity to study the spectacular slow-motion replays, which made it clear just how many drivers had dived onto Paul Ricard’s generous run-off areas in a bid not to lose position at the start. These areas will have to be policed much more stringently next year.

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Leclerc impresses again

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Paul Ricard, 2018
Renault briefly ran third at home thanks to Sainz
One the Safety Car came in Hamilton held the lead from Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jnr, the Renault driver having dodged the first-lap carnage to great effect. Daniel Ricciardo was next, followed by Kevin Magnussen, Charles Leclerc and Raikkonen.

Vettel and Bottas brought up the rear of the field after their collision. The Mercedes was in particularly poor condition.

“The damage was quite extensive because it was on the floor and the tyre seal,” explained executive director Toto Wolff afterwards. “Valtteri’s comments afterwards were that it was ‘shocking’ to drive. That’s why it ruined his race.”

But the gulf in performance between the top three teams in the rest that there was little danger of any of the midfielders keeping them behind. Time after time Vettel or Bottas cruised up behind a rival, flicked the DRS button and shot past. Their rivals realised holding them up would waste time and sap previous tyre life, so chose not to fight.

The only surprise was that Bottas in his wounded car ran out of laps to pass Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and complete the usual top six. They finished ahead of Sainz, whose Renault faltered late in the race, dropping him from sixth to eighth ahead of his team mate.

Atypically, there was a change of position among the front runners. Ricciardo had gambled on a higher downforce set-up in qualifying, banking on rain. It didn’t materialise in the race, so when Raikkonen attacked him in the second stint the Ferrari had the advantage of superior power, less drag and DRS to make the move for third place.

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Paul Ricard, 2018
No points for Alonso for the third race in a row
That went some way towards making up for his poor effort on Saturday. But it didn’t escape attention that the driver who has been widely predicted to replace him at Ferrari, Leclerc, bagged points for the fourth time in five races in a Sauber, which he qualified just two spots behind Raikkonen.

Outside the top 10 Grosjean turned in another sub-par, point-less performance. Stoffel Vandoorne took 12th on a horrible weekend for McLaren, beset by off-track acrimony and their worst on-track showing since they split from Honda. Fernando Alonso’s dissatisfaction on the radio was plain for all to hear after he spun while dicing with Vettel.

Only Williams had a more miserable weekend than McLaren, and that is something we take for granted these days. The drivers ground out long races on, to all intents and purposes, non-stop strategies. But Lance Stroll’s backfired when a front-left tyre failure pitched him off at Signes.

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Bring back the proper track

Paul Ricard layout 1A
Paul Ricard has 167 layouts. The first is the best
Stroll, then, had good reason to be relieved the race organisers hadn’t used the proper, most challenging configuration of Paul Ricard, where the dauntingly fast Signes is approached at top speed instead of after an unbroken 1.8-kilometre blast.

But surely everyone else must regret the race organisers’ decision to choose such a conservative track layout, far beneath the capabilities of these awesome machines, when they have more exciting options available?

Paul Ricard’s vast bland run-offs may be an eyesore to some but at least they serve the purpose of making a fast track safe. So they should be used for their intended purpose and let drivers race the original, fast layout.

Yes, there was a flimsy justification about breaking up the straight so we could have more DRS zones and plastic push-button overtaking. But on the evidence of Sunday’s race, that hardly added up to much excitement.

Using the chicane, and the slow version of Verrerie at the start of the lap, allowed teams to run their usual high downforce configurations. This seldom promotes good racing and, just as important, it diminishes the challenge of driving, which is partly what F1 should be about.

Since its reconstruction as a testing venue, Paul Ricard has published a 167-page document detailing every available circuit configuration. On its opening page is layout 1A, the one which most closely resembles the classic course used until the 1985 French Grand Prix.

The winner that day was Nelson Piquet. His tyres were a set of Pirellis. It was one of the manufacturer’s last ‘tyre war’ F1 victories.

If they could build tyres which those turbo monsters could win races at the original Paul Ricard, they can do it again. Hopefully the race organisers will have got the message in 12 months’ time.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Hamilton regains points lead in F1’s forgettable return to France”

  1. I don’t have a problem with the version of the Verrerie used for the return of this circuit, so I don’t find the layout option 1A to be absolutely necessary although I wouldn’t mind if it were to be trialled either. The suggested removal of the chicane on the Mistral straight alone would be a good experiment with the rest of the track remaining precisely the same as this season.

  2. Ricciardo didn’t lose to Kimi because of the higher downforce, he lost two elements of his front wing, each side. He was already struggling with understeer on that setup and the problem.made it even worse. Otherwise I don’t think Kimi had the speed to get that podium finish.

    1. That sort of expected detail must be what the “forgettable” in the headline is about, because the race itself was quite memorable – certainly a lot better than a few of the previous ones – and I’ll remember the first few corners with cars going everywhere much longer than anything so far this year apart from maybe a couple of events at Baku.

    2. Hmmmm, dunno, might be just more an excuse. Some races ago VER was missing some big chunk of his front wing and had no problem at all to keep up the pace and his position. We discussed a little that particular issue back then and concluded that, at least in race trim, the importance/performance of these very expensive front wings is hyped. Do not know if he had the wing issue when he caught VET – highly not, but he passed VET very easy, like he was a lapped car. So, overall the car seemed to be working fine.

  3. I’m ok debating next year’s layout, but we should be delighted to finally have another exciting race. We had 2 absolutely dreadful weekends in a row in Monaco and Canada.

    @fer-no65 I agree with you, Kimi would have been 6th under normal circumstances behind Bottas, Vettel and Ricciardo. It’s astonishing to see how mediocre Raikkonen’s performances have been.

  4. Calum Menzies
    26th June 2018, 17:38

    I’d like them to try the long straight version. If it is boring they can just revert.

  5. Hope theykeep the chicane, rather that than having another long straight. Guarenteed bore-fest without it, having no other heavy breaking zones apart from T1.

  6. Michael Brown (@)
    26th June 2018, 18:19

    I agree on using layout 1A as long as there is no DRS for the Mistral Straight. That should put to bed the safety concerns. Even with a punctured tire Stroll didn’t hit the wall when he went off in Signes. Not to mention that the track is designed for just that.

    I love the combination of Signes and the corner after it. It’s where high downforce cars get their opportunity to attack, since they can carry much more speed through Signes and the double apex right hander. We saw examples like Ricciardo using his car advantage to take a tighter line and beat Vettel to the second apex.

    Also, use the fast first two corners and put a DRS zone between turns 2 and 3.

    There weren’t any instances of cutting or extending the track for a better lap time (only for avoiding accidents), so it’s a well-designed track.

    1. There weren’t any instances of cutting or extending the track for a better lap time (only for avoiding accidents)

      There was in qualifying, but the laps were allowed to stand and no-one complained on the telly so it must have been OK.

  7. Boring races seem to be the norm this year, honestly having trouble not dozing off repeatedly during the race these days. Used to be I had many friends watching GPs, now barely any do, was a time my wife and son used to watch with me, that has also passed. Just too boring for anyone but the most hardcore fan. What a shame, after close to 30 years of watching every GP I am beginning to wonder why I am even bothering to waste 2 hours of my weekend. I know we have had boring bouts in the past, but this feels worse, maybe it’s my ability to endure it that has changed?

    1. Just stop watching and go away. We have all heard it all before. Always the same complaints in all eras.

      1. That’s not a solution. F1 needs a growing audience, the shrinking ultra hardcore fans are not enough.

      2. Bury your head in the sand then. Yes, there having been boring times in the past, but why haven’t they fixed it? There have been enough dull races this year, really need to shake up the sport a bit, shouldn’t be hard to put on a good show regularly?

    2. It was a lot worse in the decade after 2000.

      I actually think racing has been much better since then. I’s dropping off a bit this season perhaps because the aero on the cars has become too evolved, but the race we just watched (or slept through) was a lot less boring than 90% of the races earlier in this millennium.

      It might not have been a race to remember, but there really was a lot going on during the last race.

      1. Yes, I remember it sucked in the early 2000s but after that we were spoiled with some really good racing. I expect Monaco to be boring, I was really stunned to see Canada (always produces one of the best races of the year) to be another bore, and now a third one.. hope it’s just a slump but if a new person is watching these last 3 races, they probably won’t tune in again.

    3. I’m the same as you – watching since 1990 and wondering why I bother.
      Although I didn’t watch much of the race, the start was ridiculous. A crash occurs and a mass of cars cut chicanes and gain spots while some of those who stayed on the track got screwed.

      Without any consequences such as ending up in the sand or gravel, it was a free for all. And that is racing?
      Over the past several years, I have watched less and less – maybe this will be my last.

      1. Yeah it’s too bad but maybe enough dull races this year will cause a bit of a stir and get some heads thinking on getting race cars to be able to race close again.

  8. Regarding the choice of layout, I agree with the others, we actually had a race where there were actually things happening on the track. If we ignore Vettel and Bottas, who ended up out of place at the back of the grid, we still had lots of on track action. Next year they’re changing the design of the cars to encourage overtaking, and yet here, by virtue of a change in the design of the track, it seems to have achieved a similar result. Surely the question isn’t “Why couldn’t the cars go faster?”, but “How can we replicate the number of overtakes of this race at other tracks?”.
    I disagree with the idea this layout wouldn’t push the cars and the drivers to their limits. McLaren certainly found out this GP wasn’t a walk in the park. Whether this was because they approached this track as being a holiday in France or not is beside the point, they have only themselves to blame for leaving with no points. Isn’t it the responsibility of a team to set up their car so the drivers can push the car to its limit, and the responsibility of the driver to do exactly that? Just because a car can’t hit its absolute top speed capability doesn’t excuse a driver from pushing the car to the edge of it’s performance window. The aim of a track isn’t to provide a spectacle of absolute top speed capability, the aim of a track is to provide a spectacle of skill and finesse, which is what we got.

    1. @drycrust, let’s be blunt here – the way that this article is written, and the attitude that Keith has taken long before this race even took place, suggested that he was always going to rant about the layout and simply find a way to shoehorn it into the article however the race turned out.

      It’s a much more hostile attitude towards the race than most neutral observers had, or even most of the fans on this site for that matter, many of whom didn’t seem to object as much as Keith does. Frankly, I wonder how he would react if they did change the layout and it made little difference to the racing, or if it even had a negative impact – would he then be prepared to accept that he might have been wrong, or would he simply seek to blame something else instead?

      At the very least, I wonder if his bitter negative attacks on the event might instead have a side effect that he dislikes even more, which is to drive Liberty Media towards more street venues instead?

      1. Exactly. It’s baffling why he is so negative about Paul Ricard and his cowriter too. The whole organization was “woeful” basically because there weren’t enough TV’s for the journalists to watch the race on? How about you go watch the cars driving outside?

        I agree that Vettel ruined the close race we were hoping to see for the podium. So for the top three there was not much of a battle (apart from the scrap between Raikkonen and Ricciardo). Also agreed DRS was much to powerful here, but still we saw a lot of battles all through the field and it wasn’t all just a Mistral drive by.

        So yes it might not be a race to remember, but it was far from the worst too.

      2. Michael Brown (@)
        26th June 2018, 20:21

        Lots of people were slagging off this track, probably because of the massive runoff areas due to it being a test track. Despite that, it was a better race than Spain and Canada, and nobody was cutting or extending the track to gain time like in Austin, for example. It’s almost like people won’t give this track the credit it deserves, even though I agree that the 1A layout is better than what they used this year.

  9. I actually disagree that this was “forgettable.” Apart from the lead two drivers, there was some good intrigue and good scraps going on down the field. It wasn’t the best race ever, but it kept my interest until almost the end. I also have to say I find the proposition that the Mercedes drivers had a “plan” to box in Vettel to be absurd. What kind of “plan” was it for Bottas to let Vettel get inside of him on the run to turn 1 anyway?

    1. His tyres were going to give him a car length head start all things being equal as they were softer. I imagine Merc knew this and Bottas could only hope to keep him in tight and brake later.


  10. What would removing the chicane in the Mistral straight add? Most of the good action (which there was plenty of contrary to what this headline implies) happened there during the race, and long straights are not in any way entertaining or a display of skill. Why the obsession?

  11. Does anyone have a link to where we can see ALL the layouts ??

      1. Wow …

        1. I’d quite like to see them try out number 8 ;)

  12. I find this article very biased against the track and the race itself.
    For me, the layout itself (hence, trying to forget the run-off areas and all the variations around the track) is amongst the top of the calendar.
    Not sure the original layout would be beneficial for racing.

    1. Michael Brown (@)
      26th June 2018, 22:53

      Keith makes it sound like it was as bad as the race in Canada this year. Poor show, Keith!

  13. Stroll sealed his own fate by killing his front tyres some laps before if I recall correctly.

  14. For me, this was a better race than Canada, Monaco, and Spain. I wasn’t pleasantly surprised.

  15. Just look at the voting average, pretty simple, it was (not only imo since there’s lots who voted) much better than canada, monaco, australia and spain, only arguable if it beats bahrain, china or baku, definitely a good race.

    Imo it was better than bahrain and slightly worse than the other 2, voted it 8 as well and if I recall majority voted 7.

  16. Jonathan Davies
    27th June 2018, 0:47

    Pointless click bait title.

    Nothing article with inaccurate information.

    What happened to this site?

    1. ? I don’t understand. I thought it was just as good of a review as any of the others I read. In fact, as I skim back over it, it’s pretty darn good. But, ok.

  17. Little to get excited about?
    I strongly disagree, this was one of the better races of the year! Action packed start! Vettel charging through the field, some of his moves were simply sublime…. especially the one on Hulkenberg (the one at the turn without the staight… Labosse was it?) & some of Fernando’s funny radio rants to add to it; lol

    I dont get why everone wants the chicane at the end of the straight to be removed? Its where most of the overtaking happened… without the chicane we’d probably be talking about how dull the race was like Monaco & Canada

  18. F1 is dying

  19. Last week Hamilton struggled on a track he’d won on consistantly for the last 3 years, having won there a total of 6 times. This wasn’t down to the engine as Bottas appeared to out perform him, yet wasn’t good enough to win the race.

    This week he blitz the field and of course give Bottas a master class in qualifying. So my question is this, why this inconsistancy. How on earth do we get these qualifiers where the better driver does so badly, and where his team
    mate once he has the advantage still can’t do well enough to win?

    The pundits will says its due solely to the driver, and that Hamilton blows hot and cold when it suits him.
    Others will say Bottas is on a par with Hamilton, and that there isn’t that much to choose between them.

    I say there’s another explaination and it has to do with the way the cars are setup and what Hamilton has to work harder with the car on any given day. Dispite this, and as good as they make Bottas’ car, he still can’t squeeze out a win. And yes, i know Bottas was unlucky in Azerbaijan.

    If Mercedes fails to win the driver’s or the constructor’s this year, they will only have themselves to blame. Its still early days for this years championship, but with only 14 points in it Mercedes can not afford to limit the potential of their lead driver in some futile attempt at man managment.

    1. Incidentally, i’m guessing Mercedes will once again try to manufacture a win for Bottas, and will once again end up costing Hamilton valuable points, whilst conceeding points to their rivals. All this at the expense of hamilton’s place in the record books.

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