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.

"Somethings broken in my seat," warns Hamilton.

As his tyres, understandably, begin to go, Gasly is under pressure from Ricciardo.

"Be careful exit last corner and exit turn 5, rear tyres," Gasly is warned. The Frenchman wants more power in order to hold off Ricciardo, but there is no response.

There is absolutely nothing Magnussen can do when Kvyat makes his move, while Albon also prepares to nail the Dane.

Ricciardo pits at the end of lap 16, Renault going for the undercut. He rejoins in 16th on the hards. Magnussen also stops, rejoining in last position.

Gasly pits at the end of lap 17, the Frenchman rejoining in 15th, ahead of Ricciardo. However, the Australian, on slightly warmer tyres, makes a typically bold move on the Red Bull driver to claim 15th.

Norris and Perez both pit at the end of lap 18. The McLaren driver rejoining in 12th, ahead of Grosjean. Perez rejoins in 16th.

Sainz is told that Ricciardo is 9s out of his window but that he needs good pace. The Spaniard subsequently pits, rejoining in 10th.

Bottas is told that the Ferraris are "starting to struggle with their fronts".

As Verstappen pits, Norris passes Kvyat for 11th.

Vettel is told to do the opposite of Verstappen as the Dutchman rejoins in 5th.

"We go as long as possible," Vettel is told. "Copy, with you, I'm with you," he responds.

Meanwhile, Leclerc pits at the end of lap 21, rejoining behind his Ferrari teammate.

Verstappen is still unhappy with suspected throttle lag.

"Tyres still good," reports Hamilton on lap 23, as he posts a new fastest lap (34.683), and teammate Bottas pits.

Bottas rejoins in third on a brand new set of hards.

Next time around, Hamilton gets the "box, box, box, box," call. He rejoins still leading.

"I locked up my front-left, it doesn't look good," warns Vettel. He subsequently pits, rejoining in 5th, ahead of former teammate Raikkonen who has yet to stop.

Lap 26 sees a new fastest lap (34.581) as he maintains an 11.9s lead.

Hulkenberg is all over Raikkonen's rear as they battle for 6th.

As he struggles for grip, Grosjean runs wide, which is all the invitation Ricciardo needs as he passes the Haas for 12th.

That said, replay shows that in his efforts to pass the Renault the Australian had all four wheels off the track. As ever, Grosjean isn't happy.

However, as he is subsequently passed by Gasly also, it is clear that Grosjean's issues go beyond Ricciardo's off-track excursions.

Lap 28 sees a new fastest lap from Bottas (34.250), but he remains 11.7s off the pace.

Told to have a drink, Ricciardo reveals that it is not connected, so no 'amber nectar' for the Honey Badger.

The McLarens are currently 9th and 10th, but three of the cars ahead have still to pit.

Another fastest lap from Hamilton (34.003) on lap 31, as he enjoys a 12.1s comfort cushion.

Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 31, the Finn rejoining on mediums in 12th. Grosjean also pits, rejoining in 17th.

Ricciardo sweeps by Kvyat to take 10th. The Russian subsequently pits.

After 32 laps, all bar Hulkenberg and Stroll have stopped, the pair currently running 6th and 7th.

Raikkonen passes Gasly for 11th and sets about closing the 2s gap to Ricciardo.

Hulkenberg pits at the end of lap 34, as does Russell. The German rejoins behind Raikkonen. But ahead of Gasly, as Giovinazzi also stops.

Hamilton complains that his hards "don't feel as good" as the mediums.

The stewards reveals that no investigation of the Ricciardo / Grosjean incident is necessary.

"I can't do anything," complains Norris, "tell Carlos to pick up the pace, I can't do anything, I'm just stuck behind him."

Bottas is told that both Mercedes have blistering on their fronts but that it won't be an issue. Dare we say, famous last words.

As Stroll pits, after 40 laps, it's: Hamilton, Bottas (+ 13.043), Leclerc (+ 20.202), Verstappen (+ 27.054), Vettel (+ 35.039), Sainz (+ 79.081), Norris (+ 81.571), Ricciardo (+ 85.513), Raikkonen (+ 88.209) and Hulkenberg (+ 89.771).

Stroll rejoins in 13th.

As Hamilton reports blisters, he is told that all should be OK, and that the tyres will come back to him.

As he continues to shadow his teammate, Norris is told that he cannot use DRS. He asks whether this is due to a fault or that he is simply not allowed to use it. "Not allowed," is the response.

Despite his blisters, Hamilton sets another fastest lap (33.720).

"I've got a really aggressive upshift," reports Norris, which could explain the DRS instruction. He is advised to manage as best he can.

"Plan F, Plan F," Vettel is told.

Ricciardo closes on Norris as the Briton's struggles continue.

Hamilton is advised that Vettel will have the opportunity to pit for fresh rubber and go for fastest lap.

Kvyat makes a great move on his teammate for 15th, as the Toros battle. The Thai driver retakes the place, but his Russian teammate hasn't given up.

Bottas is told to avoid certain kerbs due to "high loads".

Norris is advised that his steering will get heavier and the car unstable as his problems worsen.

Ricciardo is appraised of Norris' various issues. "It's up for grabs," he is told.

At the end of lap 46, Grosjean becomes the first retirement of the day. A dismal end to a dismal weekend.

Despite his many issues, Norris posts a PB in S1.

Hulkenberg is all over Raikkonen as they battle for 9th. The Finn, meanwhile, is hunting down Ricciardo.

Out come the yellows and then the VSC as a bollard is spotted rolling down the track. The bollard is removed by a brave marshal.

"The tyres are ****," reports Verstappen.

Ricciardo closes right in on Norris, with Raikkonen and Hulkenberg in hot pursuit.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Le Castellet, here.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 51 as Norris slams the door on Ricciardo.

In Norris' dirty air, Ricciardo is really struggling.

As Vettel goes for fastest lap, Leclerc closes on Bottas and 'the train' closes on Norris.

Ricciardo passes Norris and Raikkonen and Hulkenberg follow through. Heartbreak for the youngster.

"****, I'm sorry boys," says the McLaren driver.

Leclerc catches Bottas, who has struggled to get heat back into his tyres following that brief VSC period, and makes a move in the final corner, but it's too little too late.

As Hamilton takes the flag, he also posts a new fastest lap (32.764), but moments later Vettel crosses the line at 32.740.

Hamilton wins, from Bottas, with Leclerc third ahead of Verstappen, Vettel, Sainz, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Norris.

Gasly is eleventh, ahead of Perez, Stroll, Kvyat, Albon, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Kubica and Russell.

As a replay shows Ricciardo going over the track limits with all four wheels as he passed Norris, the stewards announce that they are to investigate.

Indeed, Raikkonen passes the pair of them, and in order to retake the position Ricciardo once again goes fully off track in his efforts to pass the Finn.

All in all, a very, very processional afternoon, albeit with a number of promising performances.

As our good friend Mat Coch points out, this is Mercedes' 10th consecutive race win. The record for consecutive wins by a team in F1 history is 11, which McLaren managed at the start of 1988.

Mercedes could tie a 31 year old record in Austria, and then potentially beat it at Silverstone.

Ferrari managed ten at the end of 2002. Red Bull did 9 at the end of 2013. Mercedes did 10 in the middle of 2016, and won 18 of 21 races that year.

Based on today's evidence - which is not that of Karun Chandhok - the Mercedes and Hamilton steamrollers are not only on their way to more titles but many more records.

And while that might not make for entertaining Sunday afternoons, it is very, very impressive, and it us to the German team's rival to derail those steamrollers.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Le Castellet, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 23/06/2019
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