LE CASTELLET: A delighted Lewis Hamilton intends to stay grounded as he heads towards the second part of Formula One’s first ‘triple header’ in Austria next weekend following his comprehensive win in Sunday’s French Grand Prix.
The triumphant defending four-time world champion regained the lead of the drivers’ world championship by 14 points ahead of Sebastian Vettel with his victory and credited his Mercedes team’s hard work for their success.
Having struggled to finish fifth in the preceding race in Canada, where Vettel won to go top for Ferrari, Hamilton and Mercedes had engaged in a bout of introspective analysis.
The introduction of their upgraded engine, after earlier delays, gave Hamilton the impetus, but he was quick to praise his team for their all-round role in Sunday’s success in the first French race for a decade.
“When you are constructive, but also criticise yourself, and take a step back, and then approach it all with new methods and a new determination, and you come up with a result, it is definitely a great feeling,” he explained after the 65th win of his career.
“But there is a long way to go and we need to approach it as we did today.”
The Briton dominated the entire weekend at Le Castellet, topping Friday practice, securing his 75th pole position and then claiming an unchallenged lights-to-flag victory.
He took full advantage of another erratic weekend from fellow four-time champion German Vettel, who crashed into Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Finn Sebastian Vettel on lap one and, after pitting and recovering, was penalised and finished fifth.
Having had several similar ‘moments’ in the last year, notably in Baku (twice), Singapore, where he crashed on the opening lap, and Mexico, this was another error that contrasted with Hamilton’s overall consistency as he reeled off his record 33rd consecutive finish in the points.
Vettel also managed to upset two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso when he took advantage of the Safety Car’s exit to force his way past his McLaren, causing Alonso to spin.
“I touched with Vettel,” said Alonso. “I hope he has damage. It was a stupid move…”
For Alonso, like Vettel, it was also a race to forget as the hero of Le Mans a week earlier struggled to finish in an uncompetitive car for a team gripped by crisis.
“I have no tyres, no brakes, and I am out of the points,” he told his team. I am trying to do whatever…. I don’t care too much.”
Vettel’s discomfort was enjoyed by Dutchman Max Verstappen, who came home second for Red Bull ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
After much criticism of his own series of incidents this season, including barbed remarks by Vettel, he enjoyed a chance to get his own back.
“Honestly, it’s not acceptable,” he said of Vettel’s driving. “That’s what they said to me at the beginning of the season so I think they should do the same for him…
“Seb should learn from this and change his style – that’s my advice.”
Hamilton and Mercedes are unlikely to take much notice of the storms around their rivals as they rebuild their momentum in defence of their titles in Austria and Britain as the calendar delivers three races in succession for the first time and five in six weeks overall before the European summer break.
“It is good for us to feel we are back in control,” said team chief Toto Wolff. “This is the time to stay on course.”