After having spent a decade in the wilderness, Circuit Paul Ricard returned to the roster to unfurl a brilliant, much-anticipated Grand Prix. Marking the return of the French Grand Prix on the calendar with a plum result, grabbing the opportunity to present their very best were Mercedes, powered by a resurgent Lewis Hamilton.
In notching up an incredible win, his first at France, the Mercedes driver mauled the Ferraris and the Red Bulls to drive past the checkered flag to register his 65th career win. A pretty impressive achievement in itself and one that augurs the rule of Hamilton over the grid with an iron-fist.
Right after the five red lights turned green, Hamilton chipped away from the pack, cleanly and unscathed as entering Turn One, the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, then P3 clattered into the Mercedes of Bottas, P2. The two frontmen would dive into the pits- Vettel with an injured front wing and Bottas requiring a rear tyre change would fall toward the end of the back.
Meanwhile, as Renault’s Carlos Sainz benefitted the most from the sudden skirmish, jumping up into fourth, behind the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo, there was more drama on the opening lap.
Piere Gasly in his Toro Rosso Hondo would crash into the Force India of Esteban Ocon inside the opening lap. This meant both the Frenchmen would be devoid of the opportunity to score in front of their home fans as the Virtual Safety Car was Deployed.
From there on ensued an interesting battle at the front of the pack, as track leader Hamilton continued his imperious form upon return to Le Castellet. But who were the top 5 drivers of the French Grand Prix who impressed the most:
1. Lewis Hamilton
Clearly, a possible front-runner who can take a shot at going past Michael Schumacher’s world record, that of holding 91 Grand Prix victories, Hamilton at 65 career wins seems in the form of his life.
After enjoying a clean getaway, despite his teammate coming in a severe contact with the Ferrari of Vettel, Hamilton continued to mount pressure from the track position. Exhibiting searing pace, Hamilton was unstoppable in Round 8 of the 2018 F1 season and seemed under no trouble whatsoever by the catching Red Bull of Verstappen.
In clinching his 65th career win, Hamilton now owns the mighty record of being the only driver on the grid to win a Grand Prix in 23 different countries, going past Michael Schumacher.
2. Carlos Sainz Jr.
After a decade did Renault get a chance to compete in their home Grand Prix. Following the opening lap fiasco, it seemed, they had in Carlos Sainz Jr. their leading man to finish with a comfortable P6, the Spaniard having jumped up a few places in third.
But having looked solid all throughout the race, sitting comfortably on Sixth, Sainz would be lapped by Ricciardo and a recovering Vettel. Having lost power in the Renault engine unit, there was little that Carlos Sainz could do and ended up in Eighth. This was, still a decent result when compared to other significant, faster cars out there.
3. Max Verstappen
Criticised for engaging in needless theatrics in midst of races, leading to unforeseeable collisions, going as far as compromising his own race, the Verstappen we are seeing now is hugely different from the driver we saw at Shanghai and Baku. Has the Mad Max enigma settled in? Well, it seems so.
Following his brave Ninth at Monaco, a sign of improvement which was continued further at Montreal where the Red Bull driver clinched a Third-placed finish, Verstappen would go even better at France, emerging unscathed on a vastly important Second. This was a solid result for a driver who seems to have indulged in a bit of self-introspection.
Where the points tally goes, it seems, Verstappen may not take a lot of time to hunt down Raikkonen, currently in Fourth.
4. Kevin Magnussen
The Haas driver often slipped under the carpet with the attention resting with the biggies at the front of the pack, enjoyed an excellent French Grand Prix, the very first attempt of his career. In clinching a P6, Magnussen, who’d earlier complained about Raikkonen compromising his qualifying run wouldn’t exactly rue his incredible performance in the race.
Having already delivered strong finishes in Spain, where he clinched another P6 and a vital P5 at Bahrain, his best this year, Magnussen would fetch 8 valuable points for a waning outfit as he delivered a strong, error-free Grand Prix at Paul Ricard.
5. Kimi Raikkonen
A fortnight ago, where Raikkonen badly messed up his qualifying run at Montreal, the pundits who inarguably can no longer stand the Finn declared he’d reached the end of the road. But Kimi, the laconic Finn, who was himself disgusted in a ‘boring’ P6 at Canada, answered back by clinching a vital Third at Paul Ricard.
Just how many had expected a strong finish by the “Iceman”?
Interestingly, having started his French Grand Prix in a lowly P6, sitting at the back of biggies on the grid- Bottas, Vettel, Verstappen, and Ricciardo, Raikkonen jumped up toward the front following the opening lap drama at Paul Ricard.
To be fair to Kimi, by no stretch of the imagination did he seem certain for a podium finish even around Lap 36 of 53. By the time he emerged out of the pits, having done a longer stint, with Vettel in front, he’d confront the German driver with imperious pace.
First, making a straightforward move on Vettel, Raikkonen’s next target was the master of late-braking, Daniel Ricciardo. Around Lap 38, on the straights, Raikkonen would jump into the outside of the Red Bull driver to blast past the Australian, moving up into third.
He’d stay clear of those in pursuit until the checkered flag. By claiming the fourth podium in eight races, Raikkonen has certainly managed to shut the mouth of his critics. But that said, it will be vital for him to clinch another podium in the coming few races, if he is to keep the growing rabble of Charles Leclerc joining the Scuderia in 2019 at bay. Can ‘the Iceman’ deliver?