For the first time since 1990 F1 returned to Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix. As expected, Mercedes were on it from the very start topping all three practices. The circuit was one where Mercedes had the clear edge, Hamilton was dominant in qualifying with him two tenths faster than Bottas and half a second faster than Vettel.
It wasn’t a great start for Grosjean for his home race, he spun off and crashed the car at L’ecole as he exited onto the Mistral Straight. Starting ahead of fellow Frenchman Ocon, while Gasly would start thirteenth.
Hamilton went on to dominate the race after pulling away from both Bottas and Vettel. In another botched move, the Geman hit the Finn as they went into the first corner, Bottas spun off and that earned Vettel a stop-go penalty, dropping both to the back of the field.
Yet again it was Vettel’s mistakes costing him points, with him not only dropping back the stewards awarding him a stop and go penalty. Verstappen was the main benefactor finishing second with Raikkonen third.
Raikkonen took third from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, as he fought through the field using a faster strategy. Ricciardo was strong position in the closing stages, however, he was struggling with downforce as he lost a piece of his front wing.
The man who triggered the drama Grosjean had no luck, taking both fellow Frenchman out and finishing eleventh.
Also impacted by the incident was Alonso, the McLaren attempted to go through the race non-stop. That wouldn’t pay off as he stopped later in the race before a suspension failure on the last lap forced him to retire
Drivers – 1) Hamilton 145, 2) Vettel 131, 3) Ricciardo 96;
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 237, 2) Ferrari 214, 3) Red Bull 164
Bottas was again the stronger of the two Mercedes in qualifying at the Red Bull Ring. The Finn was narrowly faster than his teammate Hamilton, while the silver arrows were clearly faster than both the Ferrari’s. Mercedes had dominated the race and qualifying every year since it returned to the calendar in 2014.
However, 2018 would turn out to be a dramatic conclusion for the Silver Arrows. Bottas came in for his pit stop mid-race, however, when re-joining the car began to slow and then stopped on track. Hamilton led behind the safety car until the team failed to bring him in, meaning they dropped to fourth.
Mercedes bad luck wasn’t over as Hamilton developed a fuel pressure failure in the closing stages. That lead to his retirement Mercedes third double retirement since 2010, and Hamilton’s first since Sepang in 2016. That then allowed Verstappen to build the lead over both the Ferrari’s.
But, Ferrari failed to capitalise on the double DNF for Mercedes with Vettel, deciding not to switch Vettel and Raikkonen. Meaning Vettel couldn’t maximise his lead, while third saw him take the lead by just a point.
Verstappen, however, was in control of the race, the Red Bull team had expected their home race to be one they would struggle, he was in control winning the race by a second and a half to take victory from both Ferrari’s.
It was another strong weekend and race for Haas, the US team had looked strong and the best of the rest with Romain Grosjean fourth and Kevin Magnussen fifth. The teams best result since they entered the sport in 2016, and the Frenchman’s first points of the season.
Drivers – 1) Vettel 146, 2) Hamilton 145, 3) Raikkonen 101;
Constructors – 1) Ferrari 247, 2) Mercedes 237, 3) Red Bull 189
Hamilton was on it in qualifying for his home race, by now it was becoming clear that on high-speed low downforce tracks that Mercedes had the lead over Ferrari slightly. Hamilton’s title rival Vettel showed Ferrari could upset the sliver arrows.
Vettel suffered from a strained neck in FP3, failed to improve on his final run in Q3, but was unable to improve when it mattered. Raikkonen was looking strong on his final run in the first sector but was unable to carry momentum to go fastest missing out by a hundredth of a second.
The race turned into a four-way battle between the top two teams, a dramatic start saw both Hamilton and Vettel collide into Abbey, and drop to the back. While both recovered through to the front, it was Vettel who made the better progress with Hamilton not far behind.
Red Bull was unable to get in the mix with the Ferrari’s and Mercedes’s but tried during the first safety car. The safety car was caused by Sauber’s Marcus Ericson crashing into the barriers at Abbey, the Swede suffered a huge impact with the barriers.
As the race neared its conclusion, Bottas looked on course for his first win of the season. But Vettel wasn’t over, Mercedes decision not to take a second stop proving to be wrong, he was gaining on Bottas. Another safety car with ten laps to go, created the sprint to the finish.
Under pressure, Grosjean, was attacking the Renault of Sainz as they went through Copse. However, the Haas driver had a wobble and ran into the back of the Spaniard.
As the sprint got underway, Hamilton and Vettel fought between themselves with the German finally getting the move to stick trough Brooklands, before pulling away from Bottas at Luffield. Vettel pulled away to hang on and take victory, he was ultimately on the right tyres.
But Hamilton would come back in Hockenheim…
Drivers – 1) Vettel 171, 2) Hamilton 163, 3) Raikkonen 116;
Constructors – 1) Ferrari 287, 2) Mercedes 267, 3) Red Bull 199
Vettel took pole at Hockenheim after edging out the Mercedes of Bottas in the final moments of Qualifying. This put him in a position to extend his championship lead after Hamilton ground to a halt and started fourteenth. Not the start Mercedes wanted to their home Grand Prix, but that allowed Verstappen to edge out Red Bull teammate Ricciardo.
It was a stunning drive from Hamilton, he worked his way into the top three by the midway point. He had run a very long first stint and as he closed in on Bottas his title rival Vettel had total control. Hamilton had now by lap 45 made his stop and was running third.
Then a flash of lighting and the rain began to fall, by stopping at the right time Hamilton now had the edge over the rest of the field. Vettel remained in the lead and after Hamilton’s stop on lap 45, rain began to fall. At this point, it was Vettel, Raikkonen and Hamilton.
Vettel had a clear lead, however on his in lap the German misjudged his breaking into Sachs and crashed into the barrier, bringing out the safety car. That allowed Hamilton to make a free stop and stay in the lead after switching to Inters. As was the 2018 story, it was Hamilton’s recovery and maximisation on Vettel’s mistakes which were defining the season.
After the restart, Bottas launched a fearsome assault on his teammate and Hamilton defended like a terrier until the team ordered the Finn to hold station. As race engineer Pete Bonnington put it, “Miracles do happen”, and in a race where Hamilton needed to limit the damage, he left with a seventeen point lead, after taking the win.
Drivers – 1) Hamilton 188, 2) Vettel 171, 3) Raikkonen 131;
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 310, 2) Ferrari 211, 3) Red Bull 211
Vettel and Ferrari arrived in Budapest days later with questions about his errors and Ferrari decisions being questioned. However, a media blackout was in place by the team because chairman Sergio Marchionne died in between Germany and Hungary following complications from surgery.
Conditions were the same in Qualifying as they were in the latter part of the race in Germany. This proved key for Mercedes who had struggled in the dry as Hamilton unlocked the performance in the wet to push Raikkonen off pole. Bottas then pushed his fellow Finn down to third.
It was a race which Mercedes and Hamilton ultimately got right, a later pit stop and a long stop for Vettel brought the Englishman out in third. Bottas had the lead of the race until Hamilton’s stop. Vettel in the meantime had been caught in traffic losing two seconds and being stuck behind the Finn.
When Vettel tried to use the cut back on Bottas, the Finn braked too late trying to hold the position. They made contact, three laps later Bottas would make contact with Ricciardo, earning the Finn a ten-second penalty and two points on his licence.
On a difficult weekend for Force India, where the team went into administration, Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were thirteenth and fourteenth.
Drivers – 1) Hamilton 213, 2) Vettel 189, 3) Raikkonen 146;
Constructors – 1) Mercedes 345, 2) Ferrari 335, 3) Red Bull 223
As F1 headed into the summer break, five races in seven weeks had proved unpredictable. But Mercedes and Ferrari were still fighting hard, with every weekend being a bit unpredictable.