Formula 1 returned to the Circuit Paul Ricard last year, providing us with a circuit that gave us a very different feel to those such as Monza and Silverstone. Rather than grass runoffs and gravel traps there are blue strips and red strips on the tarmac runoffs that are supposed to slow the car down due to friction. This gives the circuit an interesting look, especially with all the different variations as it is used as a test circuit. However the flowing nature of the track does make it exciting for drivers.
Coming into the race after the controversy of Canada, we were hoping for Vettel to get payback, after a 5 second penalty cost him the race win. His teammate Chares Leclerc would want to also build on a solid 3rd place from Canada. However, things were not all well in qualifying in the Ferrari camp, with Vettel starting all the way down in 7th, pretty much ruining any chance of a win on Sunday. Leclerc was 3rd, however with the gap between him and Hamilton at 0.6 seconds, a win on Sunday didn’t look good for him either. Antonio Giovinazzi put in a good showing for Alfa Romeo, qualifying 10th. His teammate Raikkonen was 12th. Toro Rosso’s Alex Albion also had a fantastic showing, qualifying 11th. His teammate Danil Kvyat could only manage 16th for the team. The Ferrari powered Haas team struggled in qualifying, with Magnussen and grosjean 15th and 17th respectively.
The race began with relatively little drama to report going into turn 1, with the only controversy coming when Sergio Perez left the track at turn 3. Whilst he went round the bollard that he was meant to go round in order to not gain an advantage, he still gained a place. This meant that despite doing exactly what he had been told to do, he got a 5 second penalty. Completely undeserved for him in my opinion, as like with the Vettel incident it was an honest mistake. Drivers should not be penalised for mistakes and that’s what it feels like is happening. Perez took the correct avoiding action which happened to be faster than if he stayed on the track. Couldn’t he have just given up the position to the cars he had overtaken in the process?
By lap two, Hamilton was leading, with his teammate Bottas in second. Leclerc’s Ferrari was 3rd with his teammate Vettel down in 7th behind the McLaren of Lando Norris. He was followed by the Alfa’s of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen in 9th and 11th, with the Toro Rossos and Haas cars bringing up the rear, ranging in positions 14 to 20. At the front, with Vettel being held up by Norris, his race chances were being destroyed, due to Hamilton and Bottas posting fastest lap after fastest lap. By lap 5 however, Vettel had passed Norris going into turn 8 and so he could finally start to try and catch up to the other McLaren of Sainz in 5th and then the leaders. However, with Hamilton pumping in fastest lap after fastest lap, the odds were against Seb. He was able to dispatch of Sainz by lap 7 and mount his attack on Verstappen.
Meanwhile, lower down the field, Giovinazzi was struggling on worn tyres. He was overtaken by Nico Hulkenberg and after this, Alfa Romeo decided to pit him and put on the hard tyres, setting his car up for a two stop strategy. He would come out in 20th and had it all to do during that stint to make up time on those around him doing the one stop. The theme of new fastest laps would continue throughout, with the point switching between Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas until lap 16 when we finally got an overtake. Giovinazzi was able to make his way past the Williams of George Russel.
On lap 17, the pit window started to open for the majority of drivers who had started on the soft tyres. Most of the drivers were from the midfield moving on to the hard tyres. These were the Renaults, McLarens, and the Red Bulls. It was only on lap 22 when we saw the first front runner in Charles Leclerc pit. However, Vettel was kept out and he was up to second by lap 25, however behind Hamilton who had made his stop. After Vettel stop, he was back down into position 5.
It was at this point in the Grand Prix where the order seemed pretty set. Every single car after the first round of stops appeared to be on rails. Whilst this was great for teams, this wasn’t fantastic for racing, with gaps rarely changing and the only overtakes coming on the run from turn 7 down to turn 8 due to the overpowered DRS. From lap 25 up to 40, the only real overtake for position was when Alex Albion overtook Antonio Giovinazzi. I’m not counting Daniel Ricciardo on Danil Kvyat as Kvyat went into the pits the next lap. After the second round of pit stops, the race had started to settle once again.
On lap 40, we were starting to learn of Ferrari’s plan to pit Vettel again due to the massive 50 second gap to Sainz behind in order to try and get an extra point for fastest lap.
In the final laps, there was also little to get excited about. Other than the horrible ending to Lando Norris’ phenomenal drive which led to him finishing in only P10 due to hydraulic issues, the field stayed the same; apart from Grosjean retiring with a mechanical issue and Kvyat passing Albon at turn 10. Vettel was also able to get an extra point for the fastest lap which he set on the final lap.
So Lewis Hamilton, unsurprisingly won with Bottas finishing a 1-2 for Mercedes. Leclerc was 3rd however in the end he did nearly get past Bottas. Verstappen was 4th with Vettel 5th. Sainz finished an incredible 6th for McLaren with Raikkonen also finishing extremely well for Alfa Romeo in 8th. Giovanazzi’s Alfa didn’t go so well, finishing in 16th. Norris was also able to scrape 1 point despite his reliability issues. Kvyat and Albion finished a disappointing 14th and 15th respectively for Toro Rosso. Then Haas had another painful weekend finishing 17th with Magnussen.
Overall, not a particularly interesting Grand Prix, and one with another controversial penalty. In my view F1 can’t have Lewis Hamilton winning a Grand Prix 12 seconds ahead of the next car. Whilst he is extremely talented and a great driver, the difference in car performance is just too big. This was really shown by the gap between Vettel and Sainz which was 50 seconds before Vettel’s late pitstop. That was a Grand Prix that I’d like to forget before the Austrian Grand Prix next week.