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Hamilton cruises to fourth successive win


"The race start is going to be one of the key things tomorrow for me, so focus on that," said Valtteri Bottas in the moments following yesterday's qualifying session which saw the Finn, who had looked quickest for much of the weekend, beaten in to second by his illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

And there you have it, today's race, the eighth in the 2019 championship, like several others this season, could well be decided in the opening seconds.

Charles Leclerc finished third yesterday, but expecting the Ferrari to pass the Mercedes pair and have them continue to hold them off for the next 53 laps would be as preposterous as... well, using a TV pundit's analysis for your defence in court.

So, let's give this one to Mercedes (again) and focus on the support cast.

While it remains to be seen whether Sebastian Vettel is going to roll up his sleeves or spend the afternoon contemplating married life, teammate Leclerc is going to be kept busy by a certain Mr Verstappen. While, like the Mercedes battle, this could be decided before the first corner, this particular little skirmish could endure for much of the race, or until one of them has a 'red mist' moment.

The McLaren pair have already done enough this weekend, and nobody expects them to claim a podium result, but a decent handful of points and the scalp of a Red Bull driver, or even a Ferrari, would be a much-appreciated bonus.

As if this wasn't enough, behind the Woking pair, and Vettel, we have Ricciardo, Gasly, Giovinazzi, Albon, Raikkonen and a whole load of others, each with a point to prove and a few points to be won.

While the straights will favour some, the tight, twisty final sector will favour others.

As ever, tyres are going to be an issue. The fastest strategy today is a one-stopper, and the optimal choice is to start on the medium tyre - which 8 of the top ten qualifiers will be doing - for 22 to 27 laps, then switch to hards until the end.

For those starting on softs, a one-stopper is marginal, doing 14 to 16 laps on the red-banded rubber, then taking the hards to the end.

Finally, there's a two-stopper but this is much slower, so best avoided unless you have to, a situation not helped by the different pit lane layout this year. For a two-stopper, one would start on the softs for five to eight laps, then run the mediums for 22 to 27 laps, and finally mediums again to the end.

The key to the strategy in any case will be managing degradation on the softs and (to a lesser extent) the mediums, in the warm conditions, which is why the first strategy is clearly the preferable one, and why so many drivers selected the medium in Q2.

Other than rubber, another factor today, and one which clearly affected a number of drivers in Q3, most notably Bottas, is the wind. As we have said before, not for nothing is it called the Mistral Straight. To further complicate matter, not only has the wind been strong all weekend thus far, it changes direction.

That long run to T1 almost invites incidents, and you will surely recall Vettel clashing with Bottas twelve months ago, not to mention the subsequent incidents which saw two 'local heroes', Ocon and Gasly eliminated barely moments after their home race had begun.

And if further proof were needed, check out the F2 support races.

And talking of exploring the limits, the stewards have made it clear that transgressors - in terms of exceeding the track limits - will be punished, and while Verstappen is the only driver to have been penalised thus far this weekend, we can expect a marginally tougher stance this afternoon.

The pitlane opens, and one by one the drivers head out. Air temperature is currently 26.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 5.38 degrees.

The drivers make their way to the front of the grid, Vettel having to run as he is clearly behind schedule.

Gasly and Giovinazzi are starting on softs, while Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen, Norris, Vettel, Ricciardo, Albon, Perez, Magnussen, Kubica and Russell start on mediums. Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Stroll and Kvyat are on hards.

As they head off on the parade lap, Gasly complains that something in his seat is scratching his back.

The grid forms.

They're away! Both Mercedes get away well, particularly Hamilton, with Norris also getting a great start. Leclerc is a little slow off the line and is caught by Verstappen.

Hamilton leads into T1, while Bottas just about holds off Leclerc, and Verstappen has McLarens on either side, Sainz making a particularly bold move on the Red Bull driver.

Leclerc loses ground to Bottas and falls into the clutches of Verstappen who has shaken off the papaya pair.

Vettel is all over Gasly, while Ricciardo is hard on the heels of the Ferrari driver, having actually got ahead of the German on the run to T1.

At the end of lap 1, it's Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz, Norris, Vettel, Gasly, Giovinazzi and Ricciardo.

Perez goes cross-country in T4, and despite the detour actually appears to gain a place or two.

A minor mistake from Hamilton on lap 2, nut he maintains a 1.2s lead over his teammate who is 1s ahead of Leclerc.

Verstappen posts an early fastest lap (37.252), as he builds a 4s lead over Sainz in no time at all.

"There is a lag, when I'm pulling out of the corners," says Verstappen.

"We are OK with tyres, OK with tyres," Albon is told, "let's get those positions back."

Lap 4 sees a new fastest lap from Hamilton (36.290), as he builds a 1.6s lead.

Vettel passes Norris going into the chicane, the Briton subsequently tries a move to retake the position, but the German has it in hand.

Lap 5 sees another fastest lap for Hamilton (35.979).

Perez is being investigated for leaving the track and gaining an advantage at the first corner.

Raikkonen is all over the back of his teammate as they battle for 10th, the Finn making full use of its hards against the Italian's softs.

As he builds a 2.2s lead, Hamilton is getting annoyed as he is given a list of engine setting chores.

Vettel passes Sainz for 5th, though he remains 15s down on the leader.

Giovinazzi pits at the end of lap 7, rejoining on hards in 20th.

"We are going to Plan A," Leclerc is told. "Gap to Verstappen is 2.0, we need this gap."

Perez is given a 5s time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. Calling Karun Chandhok, calling Karun Chandhok.

In 13th, Magnussen is under pressure from Stroll, Albon and Kvyat.

While Giovinazzi has pitted, Gasly appears to be managing with his softs.

Sainz is told of "light, inboard graining," but is told that "this is to be expected".

A new fastest lap for Bottas (35.448), as he maintains a 2.6s gap to his teammate. Leclerc is now 4.4s behind.

"Make a decision and stick with it," snaps Hamilton, as he is told to make another adjustment.

Stroll passes Magnussen, who now has the Toro Rossos all over his exhaust pipes.

Lap 12 sees a fastest lap from Vettel (35.443), as he closes to within 6.7s of Verstappen. Hamilton subsequently responds with a 35.339.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Le Castellet, here.


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1. Posted by stackvideo, 24/06/2019 23:36

"Any promoter that would pay upwards of $20 million to host a sporting event that puts it's fans to sleep must have rocks in their heads."

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2. Posted by MossMan, 24/06/2019 9:26

"Glad I didn't try and watch the recording before coming here to check the result... Had a feeling it was going to be another snoozer - probably wouldn't have stayed awake even if I had the chance to watch it live."

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3. Posted by Cobra Racer, 23/06/2019 17:38

"Sad that the most exciting part of the French Grand Prix was the Marshall recovering the loose bollard. What a yawner!

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