Max delivered a measured, if somewhat lonely, drive to his fifth fourth place finish of the season at the French Grand Prix, as Pierre took 11th place following a tough home race at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
Further back, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo made a cautious start and that allowed Pierre to climb from ninth on the grid to eighth place behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Over the first 10 laps Hamilton steadily built a slender 2.6s gap back to Bottas, who in turn eked out a 3.8s advantage over Leclerc. Max was staying in touch with the Ferrari driver, but behind he was now being chased by Vettel who had got past the McLarens. The German was 7.3s behind Max and though the gap contracted on occasion, Max always looked secure over the opening stint.
Pierre, meanwhile, became the only man on track on soft tyres when compound starter Antonio Giovinazzi pitted after seven laps to shed the fragile set.
However, despite nursing his fading tyres Pierre held P8 with relative ease until the end of lap 18 when he pitted for hard tyres. He emerged ahead of Ricciardo who had made his own first stop for hard tyres on the previous lap. However, with his tyres up to temperature, the Renault driver was able to get past Pierre and the Red Bull settled into his second stint in P15.
Max made his stop for the white-banded hard compound at the end of lap 20 and after an excellent 2.1s stop he emerged in P5. Leclerc was next in, on the following lap, and when he rejoined, on the same compound, he was fourth, five seconds ahead of the Red Bull. At the front of the field, Hamilton now led Bottas by 7.5s with Vettel now third.
Bottas made his sole tyre stop on lap 23 and the Finn was followed by Hamilton. The Briton emerged just ahead of Vettel and after locking up on the next lap the German also pitted for hard tyres, at the end of lap 25. He emerged in P5, 4.5s behind Max.
The order at the front now stabilised and over the next 15 laps Hamilton increased his lead over Bottas to 12.9 seconds, while Leclerc fell back 7.2s behind the second Mercedes. Max was also now in a race of his own, with the Dutchman lying 6.7 seconds adrift of Leclerc and more than seven seconds clear of Vettel.
Further back, Pierre was battling hard to make progress and after hard tyre starters Kimi Räikkönen, Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll made their stops for medium tyres, the Red Bull driver found himself in P11.
With the gaps throughout the field looking relatively fixed the race order looked like remaining static until the chequered flag. However, a handful of laps from the finish the competition ignited once more, first when Norris began to suffer hydraulic problems and then when Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon clipped a bollard that had to be recovered from the track.
The Albon incident brought out the Virtual Safety Car, and the spell at lower speed left Bottas struggling to get heat into his tyres. Leclerc closed him down and prepared to attack.
Behind them Norris’ woes were going from bad to worse and on a chaotic final lap he was passed by Ricciardo, Räikkönen and Hulkenberg, though Ricciardo was then placed under investigation for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.
In the midst of it all, Hamilton sailed to the flag unchallenged and with 18 seconds in hand over Bottas who denied Leclerc’s late charge to claim P2 by just 0.9s.
Max followed the Ferrari man to take his fifth fourth place finish of the season to date. Behind him Vettel took fifth, and fastest lap after a late pit stop for soft tyres, while sixth place went to Sainz. The Spaniard crossed the line ahead of Ricciardo, Räikkönen, Hulkenberg and Norris, while Pierre was forced to settle for the 11thplace he had risen to midway through his final stint.
However, once the race had finished the stewards at Circuit Paul Ricard reviewed an incident involving Ricciardo and issued him with two five-second penalties. One for re-joining “unsafely forcing another driver off track” and the other saying he “left the track and gained a lasting advantage”.
This saw Ricciardo drop to P11 and in turn promote Pierre to P10 and pick up a single point at this home race.
OUR RACE IN NUMBERS:
100 – Fourth place today brings up a ton of 2019 points for Max who lies fourth in the Drivers’ standings. He’s 11 points behind Vettel and 13 clear of Leclerc.
136 – Points for the Team. We’re still third and now 62 points behind Ferrari.
5 –That’s Max’s fifth P4 of the season so far. He adds today’s results to P4 in Bahrain, China, Azerbaijan and Monaco.
French Grand Prix - Race Result Top 10:
1. Lewis Hamilton
2. Valtteri Bottas
3. Charles Leclerc
4. MAX VERSTAPPEN
5. Sebastian Vettel
6. Carlos Sainz
7. Kimi Räikkönen
8. Niko Hülkenberg
9. Lando Norris
10. PIERRE GASLY