French GP 2018: A first-corner mistake cost Sebastian the championship lead

The F1 circus returned to France for round 8 after a 10-year break. Circuit Paul Ricard hosted the French GP weekend for the first time in 28 years. Mercedes had brought an engine update to France, and the Silver Arrows stamped their dominance on Le Castellet. There were occasional patches of light rain during the qualifying, but slicks were still the right tyre choice. Again, Q2 saw variety in the tyre strategy. Both Mercedes and Red Bull went for an alternative tyre strategy, sending their drivers out on the red-walled super-soft compound; whereas the Ferrari drivers opted for the ultra-soft rubber. In spite of the tyre choice, Hamilton was the fastest man on track, but Sebastian was only a tenth shy off the Briton, and Kimi was third fastest. By the decisive last segment, the rain had cleared off, and it was a straight shootout for pole. However, with only four minutes of the session gone, it was red-flagged due to Grosjean's crash into the wall. Hamilton took provisional pole by 0.095s to teammate Bottas. Sebastian got quite close but was 0.178s down on the Briton. The day belonged to Hamilton, who conquered his 75th career pole already. Bottas made it a front-row lock-out for the Silver Arrows. Kimi's last attempt left a lot to hope for. In addition to making a mistake, there was a misunderstanding between Kimi and the team in terms of how many laps Kimi had fuel for... Kimi ended up a massive one second off the pace and had to be content with P6. Sebastian, too, had a scrappy second attempt, and, at the end of the day, he was 0.371s down on the pole-setter Hamilton, claiming P3. However, Sebastian has made it in the top three for every race so far this season, which is quite a remarkable streak! In P4 and P5 came the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo, who had no chance to match Mercedes' pace. Renault's Sainz qualified 7th and Sauber's Leclerc was stunning 8th.

After three boring races the French GP offered great excitement and entertainment. This time the start played a crucial role in terms of the race result. Sebastian in P3 got the best start of the top three. Ironically, Sebastian took too good a start! Going into Turn 1, he was right at Hamilton's tow, and Bottas was on the right-hand side, defending his second place. Sebastian had nowhere to go and he ended up locking up his tyres. Sebastian crashed into Bottas' Mercedes, ruining the race for both of them. Sebastian got severe front wing damage in the collision. Bottas spun and suffered a rear-right puncture. Both drivers had to limp into the pits. Sebastian pitted for a new nose and a fresh set of yellow-marked soft tyres. Bottas opted for a similar tyre choice. Both re-joined the track at the back of the pack. Sebastian's mistake proved costly, as the stewards gave him a 5-second time penalty for being at fault in the collision.

There was also another first-lap incident in the midfield. Haas' Grosjean caused a collision between Force India's Ocon and Toro Rosso's Gasly. It was kind of ironic that a French driver took two of his fellow countrymen out of the race in front of their home crowd. Safety car was deployed, as there was a lot of debris on the track. The top three turned out to be quite surprising after the action-packed opening lap. Hamilton was leading the race, with Red Bull's Verstappen second and Renault's Sainz third. After the re-start Kimi's SF71-H really seemed to come alive. The Iceman rapidly made it past both Sauber´s Leclerc and Haas' Magnussen, climbing up to P5. Sebastian, too, started an overtaking show of his own. His driving seemed so determined, self-confident and passionate! The German made his way through the field, one by one. Bottas, on the other hand, didn't have it so easy getting past his rivals. The floor of the Finn's FW09 had suffered significant damage in the first-lap collision, so he was lacking pace.

The Red Bull drivers opened the pit stop roulette, both opting for the hardest compound available for the weekend. Sebastian managed to overtake Ricciardo during the Australian's pit stop. However, Ricciardo managed to snatch his position back from Sebastian some laps later, as the German was struggling on his out-worn tyres. Hamilton, too, pitted for a fresh set of soft Pirellis, but Kimi opted for an alternative tyre strategy. The Iceman switched to the middle compound, and he was absolutely flying on his fresh super-softs! In only a few laps Kimi had closed the gap to teammate Sebastian, moving past him. The next target was Ricciardo in P3, eight seconds ahead of Kimi. So, the hunt began!

Bottas pitted on lap 40 for the second time. However, everything didn't go as planned, and there was a 6-second delay in the Finn's pit stop. Bottas dropped down to P9 when re-joining the track. Ferrari reacted right away and called Sebastian in. Sebastian suffered his 5-second time penalty and switched to the ultra-softs. Luckily, he didn't lose any positions due to his second pit stop, despite the penalty.

Towards the closing stages of the race, Kimi had hunted down Ricciardo and made a staggering overtaking move on the Australian. The move proved successful, and Kimi was storming on the podium. What an impressive and strong race from Kimi! With only a few laps to go, the front-left tyre of Stroll's Williams suddenly blew up in high speed, causing virtual safety car. Due to the virtual safety car there was no overtaking on the closing laps. Hamilton crossed the finish line as the race winner for the 65th time in his career. Red Bull's Verstappen had driven a flawless race and finished as the runner-up. Grande Kimi completed the podium. Ricciardo finished fourth, and Sebastian had to settle for P5 after his costly mistake at the start. Magnussen finished 6th for Haas, and Bottas was 7th at the end of the day. Some people say that Sebastian's 5-second time penalty wasn't hard enough for his manoeuvre, but he did lose his championship lead due to the mistake of his own! So, in my opinion, it did come with quite a high price. And I'm proud of Sebastian, who had gone to Bottas straight away after the race, admitted his mistake and apologized for ruining his race. That's definitely behaviour of a true sportsman.

Now, instead of leading the championship standings by one point, Sebastian is 14 points down on Hamilton. Mercedes managed to increase their lead by six points in the constructors' championship standings, so it's 237-214 in favour of Mercedes at the moment. However, the French GP was only the beginning of the first triple-header in the history of F1, so F1 will be back in Austria already this week! Looking forward to the Red Team to bounce back stronger. Forza Ferrari!

With passion for racing red, 
Iina Huhmarniemi

Jul 09, 2018