After a week's rest, Formula 1 returns to Europe, and lands on French soil. But the week before the French Grand Prix was anything but quiet for Ferrari. After Canada, the Maranello team took the important decision not to appeal against the five seconds inflicted on Vettel that cost him the victory, but to exercise the right of review provided by the International Sporting Code of the FIA. So the task now is to recover all the data at their disposal in order to obtain a different outcome and have a favorable outcome. Binotto remains of the opinion that Vettel did not deserve the penalty as a result of his return to the track considered dangerous.
"Looking at the images and all the data at our disposal, we are convinced that there was no impropriety on our part, Sebastian did make a mistake when he left the track. But I think that immediately afterwards he just tried to recover the car, slow down and get back on track in the safest way possible. We are trying to put together all the data to bring new elements and possibly push the Federation to a different decision".
Ferrari's position on this issue is clear, and the team is not willing to give up: Vettel's actions were not intentional, in order to gain profit or damage the opponent, but for his own safety, something that - according to the Maranello team - the collected data will prove. The international federation accepts the request of the Italian team, thus recalling the race commissioners of the Canadian Grand Prix to examine the new evidence. It will be a face-to-face meeting between these and Vettel himself. Missing from the roll call will be the current leader of the championship, Lewis Hamilton, busy in Paris for the commemoration of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. In support of the German driver there are many stars of Motorsport, including former drivers and not, conductors and World Champions, and even current colleagues, including Max Verstappen, who without mincing his words, with his statements that go straight to the point, declares:
"I don't like all these rules, even I would throw out the regulations. Safe wheel-to-wheel racing is what everyone wants to see, and I think Seb didn't deserve the penalty. It was his mistake but there was nothing he could do, except to get back in. The damage was already done, he had just regained control of his car and coming back in he definitely had grass under his wheels that made him spin. If there was no space it's because there is no space on that track, but there is the wall at that point. It was a real shame because the penalty destroyed the race from that point on. And it wasn't good for the spectators either. They could have even turned off the television because then Hamilton had already won".
Despite Ferrari's efforts to find new evidence, this is considered irrelevant and insufficient, nothing that was not already available to the parties when the decision was taken, and indeed reinforces the already intransigent position of the commissioners. The elements made available by Ferrari were seven: analysis of Vettel's telemetry including the car's set up channels, analysis of images, Vettel's frontal On-Board Video, video analysis made by Karun Chandhok on Sky Sport UK after the race, On-Board video not broadcasted live, GPS analysis of Vettel and Hamilton's cars, and a statement by the German driver (as the sanction was given before hearing both parties).
Of these, only two are recognized as new elements, while Chandhok's review is rejected as not significant and irrelevant as the result of a personal opinion, as well as Vettel's frontal OB footage. The verdict is announced on Friday, June 21st 2019, after the conclusion of the last practice session of the French Grand Prix, just in time to close an already disastrous day for Ferrari. Vettel, after having concluded the free practice in pursuit of Mercedes, without being able to go beyond the fifth place, declares himself disappointed by the FIA's decision, and lets himself go to a bit of irony:
"We just have to turn the page and look ahead. The decision doesn't surprise me, there are so many pages in the regulations that, if you want, you can always find a suitable article to penalize you. We presented that evidence because we didn't agree with the stewards' ideas and we thought we had new elements. It's disappointing that the issue wasn't even looked at, but we need to move forward. What can we do? Retreat so we don't get in trouble again? I joke of course, but the problem is that we have been damaged. With the whole white lines and curbs thing that you can't use too much, we've lost the philosophy of racing a little bit. We talk more about curbs and lines than we do about racing. The regulation now has too many pages, to change things we would have to burn everything".
The Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, is more diplomatic:
"There is no doubt that we are all very unhappy and disappointed. There is obviously disappointment for Ferrari, but also in general for all fans and for our sport".
However, the issue of the Canadian Grand Prix is not the only concern for Scuderia Ferrari in this period. Since the beginning of the season, the team's sponsor, Philip Morris, has had several difficulties in being able to display its brand name on the livery of the Maranello car. As in Australia and Canada, the Mission Winnow logo will be removed from the cars in France due to the ban on tobacco sponsorship. Instead, a commemorative logo for the ninety years of the Maranello team will be applied. However, there are rumors that the logo will no longer be displayed for the rest of the season. Despite this, at the moment there are no real confirmations, as those directly involved do not express themselves in this regard. These are the words of Simon Dowding, spokesman for Philip Morris:
"Exactly as happened in Australia and Canada, Ferrari will display the 90th anniversary logo of the Rossa on the SF90. As announced at the start of the season, we may decide race by race to offer our partners the opportunity to communicate other messages instead of Mission Winnow. We do not comment on rumors and speculation".
The same situation also involves McLaren, forced to remove the logo of British American Tobacco, one of their main sponsors, from the MCL34. Despite this, the Canadian weekend has shown a competitive Ferrari, thanks to the characteristics of the track, so long straights where speed is preferred. And as a matter of fact, the Maranello team managed to get a double podium, even if with penalties. However, the French circuit is not as favorable to the SF90, as admitted by Mattia Binotto:
"It will not be easy for us, it looks more like the Barcelona circuit than the Montreal track".
For this reason, important updates are planned on the SF90, with the hope of decreasing the gap to Mercedes. At Paul Ricard, Ferrari takes to the track with a new front wing and a re-balanced aerodynamic configuration. From the performance of the cars it will be possible to understand if the direction taken by the team is the right one, or if there is still a lot of work to do to bring back some of the lost competitiveness. The Red Bull team has also been busy: the single-seaters of the Austrian team arrive with a new engine, the third one produced by the Japanese manufacturer. Verstappen states:
"It's no secret that we need to progress, but we already knew that at the beginning of the year, so it's not a big shock. I believe in our project with Honda and we are working hard to improve performance. With more power and a better balance of the single-seater, everything can be very different".
Gasly, during Thursday's press conference, also confirmed good feelings about the new updates:
"For this weekend we will have a new Honda specification, this evolution will be more focused on performance although we don't expect a huge increase in performance. I don't think this will be able to change the performance much. Hopefully it will give us something more in the race. I think this track is more congenial to our package than Canada, there are several long straights that will definitely be a bit tricky for us, but I think we have some new components on the car that will allow us to be more competitive than in Canada".
For the French Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole supplier of tires, provides the teams with the C2, C3 and C4 compounds. The FIA indicates two areas on the track where drivers will be able to use the Drag Reduction System: the first between turns 7 and 8, with the point of determination of the gap between the drivers located before turn 7; the second on the pit straight, with the detection point located at turn 14. The FIA also reduces the possibility for drivers to freely use the track's wide escape routes. Phosphorescent posts and red and white signs are placed on the first two corners. For turns 3 and 5 the FIA has reshaped the escape routes and established the route that the driver must follow to return to the track. For this event, the pit lane entrance is modified after safety issues in 2018. The entrance has been revised and starts at Turn 14 with drivers now able to enter a safer lane. The exit from the pit lane has also been redesigned, with the entry lane widening towards Turn 1.
Regarding the technical aspect, as mentioned, Honda brings the second evolution of its power unit of the season. It benefits the two Red Bull Racing drivers and Daniil Kvjat of Scuderia Toro Rosso. Kvjat, therefore, will start from the bottom of the grid as he uses new power unit components. Renault mounts the third power unit of the season on Daniel Ricciardo's car, which sees the debut of the second specification of the season.
Friday's practice confirms once again the Mercedes domination, constant in this season. During the morning Hamilton sets the best time of 1'32''738, 0.069 seconds faster than his teammate. Chasing the two silver arrows is Charles Leclerc, four tenths of a second slower. Ferrari has focused on the new introductions, which is why few laps are run on the track. Both Red Bulls have some problems, ending up in spins during the session due to the lack of grip with the asphalt, finishing however in fourth and sixth position. The two McLarens follow, with an excellent performance of Norris. In ninth position there's Daniel Ricciardo, also in Renault are working hard on updates, including a more advanced power unit. To close the top ten is Alex Albon. FP2 confirm the difficulties of Red Bull, even behind McLaren, which is surprisingly fast at Paul Ricard. Verstappen closes his day in sixth position, 0.2 seconds behind Lando Norris, while Gasly - in eighth place - is behind Sainz. Nevertheless, the race pace is good and the overall sensations are positive, even if not at the expected levels. Verstappen comments:
"We still have some work to do, but we seemed quite competitive compared to Ferrari. The Mercedes is still too fast, but we'll look at the data and see what we can improve for tomorrow. The tires are not so easy to predict in their behavior and it seems that the softer compound is not much faster than the medium, which will make things quite interesting in qualifying. All in all, it wasn't a bad day and we were able to make a lot of changes, especially this morning, to fine-tune our set-up for the rest of the weekend".
Gasly complained about the grip, a problem encountered during the course of the day, but like his teammate he said he was satisfied:
"Today was a good day. We tested a lot of new parts on the car and now I need to analyze with the guys what worked and what didn't. Regarding the new Honda engine, it's hard to say much more because I just got out of the car, but we'll look at everything tonight. The general feeling is good, the reliability satisfactory and in terms of performance we need to see if it's giving us what we expected. Overall, it's a little bit different from what we expected for this weekend, but that's the case for everyone. In FP1, there was less grip initially, but this afternoon it seemed to be a bit better".
Ferrari continues its desperate pursuit of Mercedes, once again leading the standings with a time of 1'30'937 scored by Valtteri Bottas, having to settle for a third and fourth place at 0.6 and 0.7 seconds from the Finn. The car of the Anglo-German team is also unreachable in the race pace, clearly superior to all the competition, not to mention the excellent tire management, which are causing major problems to all the other teams, including Ferrari, whose Soft tires tend to overheat too quickly. Leclerc, third both in the morning and in the afternoon, is in fact not completely satisfied despite his good position:
"Overall I am satisfied with our free practice: the feeling in the car was good and we also tested some updates. I think, however, that there is still a lot of work to do to set up the car in the best possible way for qualifying. We know that our rivals are very strong but we have to keep focusing on ourselves to optimize the potential of our SF90. I like this circuit because it is different from the others and the walls are quite far: all this allows us to push hard since Friday. I can't wait to get back in the car tomorrow morning".
Sensation also shared by his teammate:
"I think there is still a lot of work to do in front of us since not all the new components have performed exactly as we wanted. We have a lot of data to analyze before going on track for the third session and I hope we'll be in a position to improve ahead of qualifying. Regarding the events in Canada, I would say that we didn't agree with the judges' decision during the race and we thought we had brought some elements that could have been an additional point of view to take into account. Instead, we are rather disappointed that the matter will not be further explored. Unfortunately, that's the way it went, so we'll just have to turn the page and look forward".
Obviously, the mood is different inside the Mercedes box, where Valtteri Bottas comments satisfied with the first tests carried out on the Paul Richard circuit:
"At the beginning it was not easy, everyone had to struggle in the morning, because the track was much more slippery than usual, but the track improved quickly; lap after lap I could see how it was improving enormously, especially in the corners. The more the track improved, the better the balance of the car, and despite these problems, the car is ready. We made good changes between sessions and I felt much more comfortable in FP2, that's why the lap time was better, it's very hot, so the tires will be on the limit, especially on Sunday. Tonight we'll take a look at the data to see what we can improve for tomorrow".
Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, talks about the difficulties undertaken in finding the right balance for the car:
"It was very hot today, but we did most of the program, it was a bit difficult with the balance of the car, maybe this has to do with the new asphalt they have here and the high temperatures, I think the track reached about 55°. Overall, the pace of the car is really good, we just need to fine tune the balance. I didn't do great laps in FP2, towards the end I had a little problem with the Power Unit, and I went back to the pits, but otherwise, it was a quiet day".
The results of Saturday's session don't change much: Mercedes doesn't leave the top positions and Ferrari holds on to its role as a constant chaser. Bottas is still in the lead with a time of 1'30''158, while the Maranello team can only follow at 0.4 seconds from the Finn. In seventh position, behind the two Red Bulls, follows once again Lando Norris, who is experiencing one of his best weekends as a rookie. Closing the top ten are respectively Ricciardo, Sainz and Raikkonen.
There's nothing to do: even when Bottas seems to be the favorite, it's always Lewis who gets the better of it. The Briton, with all the tranquility and serenity possible, a few hours later wins the eighty-sixth pole of his career. Arriving late to the circuit due to his commitments with the fashion world, skipping not only the Thursday dedicated to the press, but also the meeting with the commissioners - almost indifferent to the issue - and after being beaten by his teammate in free practice, Hamilton demonstrates for the umpteenth time that the lion never sleeps, but rather is always ready to attack. This is the third pole position of the season, and another record on the track.
In Q1 the first driver to lower his times, bringing the limit to 1'31''846, is Sebastian Vettel, but he is forced to give up his position almost immediately to Bottas, Leclerc and Hamilton. While the front runners are fighting for the best time, Kimi Raikkonen finds himself at the center of two investigations: when the Finn is approaching turn 11, he finds Ricciardo in his path and, in order to avoid him, he goes off the track; this first dynamic brings him to re-enter while Grosjean arrives, who, launched for his fast lap, sees the Alfa Romeo driver at a short distance, so he slows down and cancels his lap. For both incidents, the race commissioners will investigate at the end of the session.
Shortly afterwards Leclerc tries again and takes the first position, but the Finnish Mercedes driver does not give in and scores a time of 1'30''550. The first three are separated by less than a tenth of a second between them. The leading group is missing only Sebastian Vettel, who immediately takes back the position lost on Verstappen. A few minutes before the end of Q1, Stroll, Perez, Magnussen and the two Williams drivers are at risk of elimination. In the last attempt many drivers improve. The Mercedes drivers, the Ferrari drivers and Verstappen are not back on track, confident in their time; maybe a bit too much in the case of the Dutch driver.
In fact, behind Leclerc, all the drivers improved their times, from Hulkenberg to Giovinazzi, making Verstappen climb up to fourteenth position. Luckily for the Dutch driver, there are no further improvements, so Kvyat is excluded from Q2, he will start last due to the replacement of the power unit, Grosjean, who commits a mistake also hindering Giovinazzi, Stroll and finally the two Williams drivers, Russell and Kubica.
A few minutes of waiting time separate the signal given by the green light, indicating the start of Q2. Attempting to enter Q3 on Medium tires are the Mercedes drivers, the two Ferrari drivers, Verstappen and surprisingly the McLaren drivers, showing a lot of confidence in their performance. It's immediately a fight between the two drivers of the Silver Arrows, who challenge each other in the conquest of the track record. The enterprise seems to be already in favor of Valtteri Bottas, when Lewis Hamilton manages to establish a new record, lowering the time to 1'29''520. A time of absolute value, set on Medium tires. Leclerc can only follow the two Mercedes drivers, at 0.9 seconds, while Vettel is more than one second behind, even behind Verstappen. However, Bottas doesn't give up and immediately responds to his teammate by making a second attempt, setting a time of 1'29''437. And all this with a less performing tire compared to the Soft tires. Nothing to say, Mercedes is unreachable.
But even more surprising is Carlos Sainz, who places his McLaren in third position, immediately taken away by Verstappen. Leclerc takes back the third place, while Vettel is once again lined up with the Dutch driver. Behind them are all the other drivers on Medium tires, then Sainz, Norris, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg and in tenth position, starting the series of drivers on Soft tires, are Gasly, Albon, Perez, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen and Magnussen, who risk exclusion from Q3.
In the final minutes all drivers launch on a last attempt, including Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen on Soft tires. The three, however, abort the lap as soon as they realize they have enough time to pass to Q3, while in the back of the field it's an open battle. An extraordinary Lando Norris sets a fantastic fourth time on Medium tires. Behind, it's a fight between the Alfa Romeos and the Red Bull drivers. Raikkonen moves up to ninth place, excluding Gasly, but immediately moves up to tenth after Giovinazzi takes his position. Eliminating the French Red Bull driver from Q3 seems to be Alex Albon, but a few moments later he loses the access to Q3 because Pierre manages to improve himself. Alex Albon, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen are eliminated from Q3. Vettel ends Q2 in second place, just 0.069 seconds behind Bottas.
Since the first moments of Q3 Hamilton shows all his competitiveness, and sets a new record in 1'28''488, while Vettel complains of a gearbox problem and returns to the pits, leaving himself only one chance. The only one not on track is Giovinazzi, as he has no more sets of tires available. Behind the Mercedes drivers it's an open fight, with Max Verstappen being chased by Carlos Sainz, who is just 0.013 seconds behind, followed by Norris.
The second and last attempt is fundamental to win the pole position. There are only three minutes left to the end of these qualifying sessions, when Bottas is the first to start, without improving in the first sector, as well as in the rest of the lap. The pressure rises and with it also the wind. Hamilton stays on Bottas' pace in the first sector but improves in the second, thus securing the pole and another track record: 1'28"319.
Leclerc crosses the finish line and sets the third fastest time, but remains 0.6 seconds off Hamilton's pole. A few moments later Norris takes away the fourth place from his teammate, but Verstappen takes over the second row, alongside Leclerc. Nevertheless, for McLaren the conquest of the third row represents a great satisfaction, being the best result since the beginning of the season, a sign that the work done in the factory is paying off. At the end of qualifying, Carlos Sainz exclaims:
"First of all, congratulations to the whole team here and to those who work in the factory. I think it's the consequence of a lot of hard work done, and the updates we've brought recently. This shows that we have to keep pushing and continue in this direction. Next, as far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty tough weekend, even if it doesn't look like it from the outside. I tried a lot of new things yesterday and it probably led me to decide to take a step back today. I wasn't completely comfortable with the car, but I was more or less able to recover and feel better today. We did some good laps in Qualifying which allowed us to get the sixth position in front of our rivals, and doing it in Q3 on Medium tires gave us a very good chance to fight for the race. Now we just have to complete the job tomorrow".
And Norris adds:
"I drove well, but I had done that on other weekends. Fifth place is a great result, also because we managed to beat a Ferrari and a Red Bull. It's obvious that tomorrow Sebastian will pass us quite easily, but we'll still try to collect as many points as possible. If Carlos and I are the secrets of McLaren's rebirth? I would certainly like to answer yes, and we have certainly improved the situation. We work well together and have a good relationship, and that helps a lot within the team. But more generally, I think it also depends on the changes made at the beginning of the year in terms of team personnel. It's a new year for so many, there's been a nice reset in some aspects, and we're improving".
For Vettel, on the other hand, it is a weekend of disappointments. The German qualifies only seventh, at almost 1.5 seconds. The Ferrari driver precedes only Ricciardo, Gasly and Giovinazzi. For the Italian it is the best qualifying position in Formula 1:
"I'm really happy with our performance today. I had a positive qualifying and I'm happy to be back in the top-ten. There are a few factors behind this performance of ours, namely the upgrade package we brought here, which seems to be working well, and the fact that we were able to exploit the tires very well. The track was improving lap by lap, so it was crucial to make the best of the last attempt in every part of qualifying. The only thing let's say negative is that in the top ten we will be the only ones starting on soft, but we hope to stay in the points with the strategy. We have a good race pace and we believe we can get that result that has always eluded us so far".
Sixty-third Mercedes front row: an absolute domination. In spite of the updates brought by the main rivals, there seems to be no comparison. This is yet another record for the Anglo-German team and for Lewis Hamilton. Satisfied and happy with his performance, the five-time Champion greets the French public in his best possible interpretation:
"Bonjour. First of all, I want to greet everyone. This is not an easy track, there are very wide run-off paths but it's very technical. We were fast all weekend, even Valtteri. I tried to chew up some time from lap to lap. I brought out the full potential of the car, I'm happy. The team did a great job. There were several gusts of wind down the track. You have to be pretty dynamic in your approach to the lap. There are points where you could attack and others where you have to watch out for the wind. I maybe overdid it before the last corner and a gust brought me back. Anyway, I'm happy because I'm first. We have worked hard from an engineering point of view to get the best out of the car on this circuit and we managed to do a great job. The whole team has allowed me to express myself at my best".
All this under the disappointed gaze of Valtteri Bottas, who, after another seemingly dominated weekend, saw his teammate take away his best time right in the most important session:
"Overall, it's been a good weekend for me so far, but Lewis did some very fast laps in Q3, which unfortunately I wasn't able to match. I couldn't get the combination between turns 8 and 9. I lost a tenth and a half in the first attempt in Q3, otherwise, our times were very similar: in the second attempt, I didn't have a single-seater to follow on the straights, which made it almost impossible to improve. Tomorrow will be challenging, the expected temperatures will be very high, which will make it difficult for the tires, so it will not be easy, but the points are given tomorrow".
Hamilton, however, seems to be more enthusiastic about fighting against Charles Leclerc, who qualified third. The British driver, smiling, first joins his interview with two pats on the young man's shoulder, then exclaims that he can't wait to clash with him on the track. To which, the Monegasque replies:
"Hopefully tomorrow will be a good opportunity to fight with Lewis as well. With him in Bahrain there was a real fight".
A clear reference to the race at the beginning of the season, in Bahrain, where the Monegasque almost managed to win, but then saw all the advantage cancelled due to an engine problem. Despite this, the Ferrari driver finds himself starting from the third place, as well as being the only one able to go under the wall of 1'29'' together with the two Mercedes drivers:
"I am happy with my lap. Today was not enough but we have to keep working. I'm sure we will get closer at some point. Today we could not do better than that. Surely our goal is to fight with them in the straights. A good start would be important. On the straights we are pretty strong, they are better in the corners. Overall I'm satisfied, because today we saw the fruits of our improvement in qualifying. In the previous weekends I couldn't put the pieces together to have a good Q3, but today we did much better".
Max Verstappen, who managed to set the fourth fastest time in qualifying after working in Free Practice on the balance of his Red Bull, is moderately satisfied:
"After making some improvements to the car, we had a good qualifying compared to Free Practice. In Q3 I think we could have been closer to Ferrari, but my last lap was not very clean. Something happened in the last corners and the car had a strange behavior, so we have to check it, otherwise I think we could have been closer to Ferrari. At the moment, it seems that McLaren is very close but we should have three or four tenths on them. Once again, we have maximized our grid position and it's nice to be on the second row and start with the medium tire. I think we need a bit of luck for a podium, like last year, as this is not our track, but tomorrow will be all about tire management. I'm not sure we can fight with Mercedes, but I hope we can do it with Ferrari. Of course, we want to get a good result and we will see where we can go".
In the other half of the Ferrari box, the mood is not the best. Sebastian Vettel sees a possible first or second row slip away, due to a gearbox problem. Not being able to make a first attempt, the German driver could not materialize anything in the only lap made at the end of Q3:
"It didn't go ideally today. It was a strange session, as I didn't have a constant feeling with the car and I couldn't get the maximum potential out of it. In short, I can't say I'm satisfied. In the last lap I couldn't really feel the same car I had in other parts of the qualifying and that's why we didn't qualify where we should have been. Our car is better than where we qualified. On the other hand, I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. It's going to be hard to manage the tires, but in the race usually things settle down, so it's all much easier and smoother. Let's see what Sunday brings".
The starting grid, before the start of the race undergoes some changes: together with Kvyat, Russell is also penalized, due to the replacement of the power unit. On Sunday, June 23rd 2019, the sensations and emotions on the starting grid are mixed: from Ferrari mechanics noticeably tense, after working on Vettel's car only a few hours before the start for the replacement of an auxiliary oil pump, to a nineteen-year-old Lando Norris who, after an excellent qualifying, shakes his head in his cockpit cracking a smile at the Formula 1 fans, anxious for the start of the French Grand Prix. After the formation lap, the cars are getting ready to occupy their positions, waiting for the traffic lights to go off.
The Mercedes cars both start very well, but Hamilton manages to keep his position on Bottas and Leclerc. Behind, it's an open battle for the fourth position between Sainz and Verstappen: the Spaniard gives his best trying to overtake the Dutchman on the outside, but without success. Shortly after, the Red Bull driver tries to threaten Leclerc's third position, ending up wheel-to-wheel with the latter and risking a contact, touched by a few centimeters. Vettel, who started seventh, is close to the two McLarens. In the meantime Perez goes off the track, attracting the attention of the marshals. The Mexican will end up under investigation for having gained a position, in the return to the track, without giving it back.
From the very first laps Hamilton imposes his pace, and starts setting record laps. On the third lap the DRS is made available, so Vettel now has more chances to overtake Lando Norris. Heeled by Pierre Gasly, the German driver attempts to overtake the Briton and passes him at the chicane, thus also getting rid of the bulky presence of the French Red Bull driver. A matter of a few seconds and the Ferrari driver manages to overtake also the second McLaren, then chasing the four drivers in front of him. Quite easy and permissive overtakes by the McLaren team, also because their fight is certainly not against Ferrari, but with Renault.
On lap 8 Giovinazzi enters the pit lane to make his first pit stop. The Italian driver replaces the Soft tires, opting for a set of Hard tires. The Alfa Romeo driver was suffering a lot from Ricciardo's attacks, after having overtaken him at the start. So he starts a comeback race, after having re-entered the track in last position. While at the front of the race the positions remain unchanged, and Hamilton is setting fast laps, in the midfield it's an open fight. Kvyat is already behind his teammate, and is now struggling with Stroll. Meanwhile, the race direction decides to penalize Sergio Perez by five seconds.
In the following laps, Hamilton complains of seat problems, but nevertheless manages to have a race pace below 1'35'', a pace that allows him to extend his lead over Bottas and bring it to almost four seconds. On lap 16, Daniel Ricciardo, who tries an undercut on Gasly, and Kevin Magnussen stop to change tires. Gasly pitted on lap eighteen, and mounted a set of soft tires, then managed to get back on track just in front of the Renault driver. The Renault driver has warmer tires, replaced one lap earlier, so he's able to overtake the French Red Bull driver.
Norris and Perez come back to the pits to change tires on lap 20; the McLaren's British driver rejoins the track ahead of Grosjean, in twelfth position. Sainz makes his stop on the next lap, ahead of Kvyat who in the meantime is put under pressure by Norris. The Briton overtakes the Toro Rossa without any difficulty, and is back behind his teammate. The first pit stop among the leading drivers is Max Verstappen, who anticipates the return of the Ferrari drivers. Vettel, however, is asked to stay on track, thus moving up to fourth place, while the Dutchman returns to fifth position. On lap 22, Charles Leclerc comes back into the pit lane, now second after the pit stop made by Valtteri Bottas. Both are on hard tyres.
Verstappen is told by his engineers to put pressure on Vettel, but the Red Bull driver complains of problems with the accelerator pedal. Meanwhile, Hamilton runs a perfect race, to say the least, and warns his engineer that his tires are still good, hinting that he doesn't want to pit. Nonetheless, the British driver is called back to the pits on lap 24, to fit Hard tires as well. Vettel, who started seventh, is now second, two seconds behind Hamilton, but without having made a stop.
The German driver makes his pit stop on lap 25, due to a tire lock up, and falls behind his Red Bull rival. Sebastian would now have the task of overtaking the Dutchman, but he finds it difficult to bring the tires up to temperature. Therefore, the gap between the two increases by six seconds in a few laps. No surprises, however, at the front of the race: Hamilton commands the first place, and without too much difficulty sets a new fast lap, bringing the gap between him and his teammate to twelve seconds at only half the race.
Meanwhile Pierre Gasly contends the thirteenth position to Romain Grosjean. Kimi Raikkonen, who started seventh on the grid, makes his pit stop on lap 31 and prepares to complete his last stint on Medium tire. Three laps later Nico Hülkenberg, who also opts for Medium tires, stops as well. Behind Vettel is now Lance Stroll, who is still in the race on the start tires, ahead of the McLaren duo. The Racing Point Canadian stops only on lap 39. It is curious what happens to the British driver Lando Norris, who starts to gain ground on Carlos Sainz, then asks his engineers for a pass alluding to the fact that he is currently faster on the track:
"Either he pushes harder or I can't do anything else".
But the orders are negative, even if leaving the positions unchanged the two McLaren drivers will have to watch out for the return of Daniel Ricciardo, who is slowly approaching. Lando is informed that he is not allowed to use DRS, even if he were to approach Sainz, because of a problem.
"You can't use DRS against Sainz, even if it's available".
At this point, the British driver asks for an explanation, but the answer he gets leaves no room for replication:
"In the sense that it doesn't work or I don't have permission to use it?"
Comes the stark reply from his engineer:
"You're not allowed".
The last driver to make a pit stop is Lance Stroll, now in sixth position and on the verge of lapping Russell's Williams. The Canadian driver pits only thirteen laps from the end, and is back in the race behind Sergio Perez. In the meantime Leclerc begins to increase his pace and drops below the 1'34" level, starting to gain ground on Bottas, although there are a good seven seconds between the two. The problems for the McLaren continue, and Norris returns to exclaim on the radio:
"I'm having bad gear changes, very aggressive".
But from the pits, the British team's engineers respond that it's just the problem they've been having, and there's not much they can do about it.
"Just handle it as best you can".
Shortly after, Hamilton is informed that Vettel might make one last pit stop to try to collect the additional point of the fastest lap; therefore, there is no need to increase the pace further, as it will be difficult to get it. It's an open fight, instead, between the two Toro Rosso cars, with Kvyat trying to overtake at every corner, but Albon doesn't give up his position. The Russian driver will have to wait one more lap before overtaking his teammate. The weekend that seemed perfect is becoming almost a nightmare for Lando Norris: the engineers from the pits warn him that he will soon notice several problems with the single-seater.
"The car will become unstable because of the differential first, and then the steering will become heavier. That will be the problem to deal with. Keep your head down, stay focused".
It goes just as badly, if not worse to Romain Grosjean: his race ends earlier than expected. The French driver is forced to stop the car with six laps to go. While in the back of the field the battle between Hulkenberg and Raikkonen rages on, Leclerc reduces the gap between him and Bottas to just three seconds. In the final part of the race Alex Albon hits one of the pins placed at the first chicane to avoid the cuts of the chicane. The race direction establishes the virtual safety car, which lasts for a few seconds.
On lap 51 Sebastian Vettel stops at the pits, to mount Soft tires, and try to get the fastest lap. In the meantime Charles Leclerc gets closer to Bottas, until he reduces the gap to less than a second, and the fight for the seventh place is also animated, due to a differential problem to Norris' car. The last lap starts; it's the last effort for the young McLaren driver, who sees his opponent attached to him. Leclerc tries to overtake Bottas at the last corner, without success, while Norris is passed by Räikkönen, Ricciardo and Hülkenberg. The Australian of Renault then overtakes Räikkönen, going beyond the limits of the track, and being penalized at the end of the race, ending up outside the top ten.
Lewis Hamilton wins his seventy-ninth race in the Formula 1 World Championship, ahead of Bottas and Leclerc. The Englishman, who started in pole position and led the race for its entire length, sees the Grand Chelem fade away, due to Vettel who, on the last lap, sets the fast timing. Behind the Finnish Mercedes driver cross the finish line Leclerc, Verstappen, Vettel, Sainz, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg and Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly close in ninth and tenth place. The British driver, after collecting satisfactory results throughout the weekend, is forced to settle for ninth place due to a malfunctioning differential. In this regard, words of encouragement come from his track engineer, who urges him to keep his head up and be proud of his performance. Evidently, the fans think the same way and Norris is awarded Driver of the Day.
At the end of the Grand Prix, the race direction decides to penalize Daniel Ricciardo by ten seconds on the total race time: five seconds for going off track and taking the lead; another five seconds for re-entering the track in unsafe conditions. At the end of the race, he is seventh and eleventh. The Australian driver also has three points deducted from his Superlicense. Sergio Pérez, in addition to the five second penalty imposed on him during the race, is deducted one point from his Superlicence for having left the track and taken the lead.
For the fourth consecutive time Hamilton wins, beating his teammate again and extending the championship lead to 187 points. This is his sixth victory of the season, the second in a row on this circuit since it was put back on the calendar and the 79th success of his career, unattainable is the only adjective suitable to describe him, now the only record he has left to beat is that of victories, now held by Schumacher at 91:
"A masterpiece is the first word that comes to mind. It was a great weekend. We are making history together, I thank all the guys in the team. It is the best start of my career, I want to enjoy it. With the team we are building pages of history".
With a smile on his face he shifts the camera to his own team, as if to say: frame them, they did this.
"It's a constant challenge out there on the track to try to find the limit and the best tuning with the car, to master it completely. I'm proud to work with this team. This circuit has so many bumps, it's not easy. It was not an easy race".
An unrivalled Championship for him, with his teammate now minus thirty-six. A lone race, it couldn't be more perfect than this, yet the hunger to improve doesn't leave him, improve what then? He's already flawless.
"I've really been running for a long time, but I can't get enough of it. It's always a challenge to be at the top and find the limit with this car. This is a fantastic circuit, with some very technical sections; from the outside it may look easy, but it's not at all, when everything is on the limit. So, when I could, I tried to save tires, engine and fuel. I had some blistering, especially on the front, and I was a bit worried. But I made it to the end and I couldn't have done it without this incredible team. I am proud of everyone and very happy to be part of this group. This is the best start ever for us, and we have to enjoy it".
Eight races out of eight won by Mercedes: it is the sixth double win of the season, and for this Bottas must be praised. But the mood of the Finnish driver is not as happy. After a good start to the season, Valtteri is starting to take a hit and the top of the world championship is getting further and further away. As many as fifteen seconds separated the two Mercedes drivers at the finish line, and it is the journalists who are feeding the discontent, asking Bottas, apparently disappointed, for an opinion on Lewis' magnificent performance:
"At the end of the day it was a pretty quiet race. I had bet on the start, but Lewis also started well, and I had no opportunity to pass. He was very fast today, and I tried to keep up; unfortunately my front tires started to fall apart, both when I was on medium and when, in the second stint, I had hard tires. At the end we were very worried about blistering, and I had to slow down; I had some margin, but we wanted to make sure we got to the finish. In the end, though, Lewis had a lot of margin and managed the tires better; it's something to look at and learn from. As a team, I'm proud of the work done and of this new one-two".
A totally different race for Leclerc, who almost amusedly tells of his feat in pursuit of Bottas. Starting third and arriving third, the Monegasque driver was nonetheless the author of a valuable race. In the last two laps, the Ferrari driver completely cancelled the gap that separated him from Mercedes, after he had been asked to push harder during the race, but had categorically refused because he did not want to wear out the tires. Leclerc thus shortened the gap to half a second, trying all sorts of overtaking moves, but unfortunately the available laps were not enough for him to cross the finish line in second place.
"Overall my weekend was positive. I'm satisfied above all for being able to get close to Valtteri's second place in the final, even though I was never really able to attack him. I think we managed to maximize the potential of our single-seater. After some so-so races, finally everything went smoothly, starting from free practice, continuing in qualifying, and ending in the race. The strategy was perfect, both in terms of timing of pit stops and tire management, especially in the second stint. Hard work always pays off, and we proved it. Now we move to Austria, where I hope to follow up on this result".
Applauding the young Monegasque was not only the entire French audience, but also Ferrari's team principal, Mattia Binotto, accompanied by Camilleri:
"Charles did a great race, he managed his tires well. Today the difficulty was that, who knows, maybe with a few more laps...We knew that France was difficult for us, but we did better than in Barcelona. It means that we are somehow developing in the right direction. This is still not the result we want. We have been looking for the first step for a long time now, we will get there".
Sebastian Vettel can't be happy, despite the comeback from seventh to fifth place, and the fastest lap in the race. The German driver still looks dejected after the previous weekend's results, and his chance to fight for the championship is now almost completely compromised:
"Mine was a pretty lonely race, except for the initial chaos, where we got a bit surprised by the lights going out. It was fun to fight with the McLaren guys, first Lando then Carlos; the first stint went quite well and I was closing the gap to Max and Charles. In the second one, on the contrary, I felt some balancing problems and I didn't feel very comfortable with the car. I think this fifth place was the maximum possible today, also because both Charles and Max and I were practically on the same race pace. With the fast lap at least we got one more point. What we have to understand is why we struggled so much on Friday, with some of the new features we brought in that didn't work as we expected. I know that everyone in Maranello is working hard and with a lot of passion, but we are still not competitive enough. Lewis had an easy time again today, and the fault is ours; it's up to us to improve".
The celebrations are not only limited to the Mercedes box, but it is also a big party in the McLaren box. Despite Norris' mishap, this is the first weekend in which both cars have managed to enter the top ten, collecting ten points against Renault's four, this weekend. This is how McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl comments:
"I'm very happy because we showed that we have the pace, of course it's a pity with the positions lost by Lando at the end, but great work from him, he fought well despite all the problems so we are very happy. We knew it was going to be tough towards the end and the SC didn't help because it made Daniel get closer, now he is under investigation and we will see, but we are very happy".
Carlos Sainz crossed the line in sixth place, earning important points for the team:
"At the beginning I had fun with Max, and once I settled in sixth position I tried to manage the race as best I could. The team helped me with a good strategy, and I'm very happy with the outcome of this weekend. We were finally the fourth fastest car on the track, and that's exactly what I asked the team after Monaco. I said, guys, okay, we're fourth in the championship standings, but now we have to be the fourth fastest team on the track. And it's not always the same thing. This weekend I can finally say we achieved that goal".
For Norris, it was a different race; after qualifying ahead of his teammate, the rookie showed that he had pace and was able to defend himself from the attacks of the other drivers. Unfortunately, he was betrayed by a hydraulic problem that did not make his life any easier:
"I got a good start, as did the guys around me. Being on the inside, I went in tight in turn 1, while Carlos managed to go wider, an impossible maneuver for me given where I was. Having said that, the rest of the race was positive, with a good pace and managing the gap to Carlos, so as not to wear out the tires too much. About twenty laps from the end, a hydraulic problem cost me a lot of time and made the car really difficult to drive. The steering wheel became very heavy and I lost power steering. It was really difficult and I did my best not to lose positions, but it was a problem as I had lost a lot of pace. Considering everything, this is still a good result, as it could have been much worse. The team has done a great job all weekend, as well as everyone in the factory, with the aim of giving us a fast and competitive car".
Crossing the finish line, one would expect to find a disappointed driver, but instead the smile reappears very quickly on the face of the 19-year-old McLaren driver:
"I was voted driver of the day, wasn't I? I'm very happy, I lost a position at the start because I was on the dirty side of the track, but it wasn't my mistake, it's part of the game. I think I did the best I could considering the problems I had, and bringing points to the team makes me proud".
Adding to the technical problems was the presence of Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian driver aimed at Lando in the last laps and, taking advantage of the exposure of the race neutralization, managed to get closer to the McLaren. However, the overtaking was not approved by the race direction, which imposed to the Renault driver a ten second penalty (finishing eleventh) and three points on his license. Daniel has been penalized for flanking Norris, leaving the track, and then reentering in an unsafe way, squeezing the McLaren rookie's trajectory, who in turn had to exit to avoid contact.
Moreover, the penalty also includes his maneuver on Raikkonen, since according to the race direction's judgment the Australian driver apparently used the inside space of the track, crossing the white line, to get closer to Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo, which in the meantime had managed to gain another position. The news is given shortly after the end of the Grand Prix, generating turmoil in Renault. Ricciardo has no regrets, but is happy to have tried the overtake.
"It's very disappointing to finish outside the points because of a penalty imposed after the race, especially in the team's home event. The last lap, from my point of view, was definitely fun; we battled and I enjoyed it. I'd always rather try than not, and I think the French fans and people at home had as much fun as I did. It's really unfortunate to be sanctioned for this, but we need to look ahead as soon as possible. Moving on to the race, the start was not great, despite a very good break; I braked too early in turn 1, I was too cautious. This complicated my race, but from there on we were very good. This weekend has given us many positive aspects, and we will look for continuity in Austria".
Therefore, we are back to talking about sporting regulations, after the events of the Canadian Grand Prix. The fight between Ricciardo and Norris, along with that of Leclerc, were the few moments of adrenaline and competition during this race, considered by many to be boring. Yet, fans still find themselves having to talk about penalties given as a result of episodes that could simply be considered race incidents, avoiding limiting the drivers' actions on the track and thus nullifying the pure competition. There had already been complaints about the facts of Canada: just think of the words of Vettel and Verstappen, willing to burn the regulation, or even Hamilton not satisfied to have taken the victory in that way. If there is one thesis that all drivers strongly support, it is: let's not cancel the competition. Lewis Hamilton, for example, comments on the complaints regarding the lack of dynamics within racing, stating:
"I've felt this feeling so many times, it's something that never gets old. It's a constant challenge to push the limits. If they say it's been boring, I completely understand, but you shouldn't point the finger at the drivers because we don't write the rules. Pressure should be put on those at the top who make the decisions, even though they have been making the wrong decisions for many years".
The British driver is not just talking about the sporting regulations, which push drivers to be more careful and almost self-limited on the track, but also about this overwhelming dominance, which has been going on for years now. Formula 1 needs a change, and on this the voices are unison. Therefore, in this regard, Hamilton emphasizes:
"We want to be involved on the discussions regarding the drafting of the 2021 regulations. You can't change the rules without understanding the c consequences for us as drivers. And people want to see Formula 1, the sport with the fastest cars in the world".
In support of the five-time World Champion, as well as the drivers in general, rushes the team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff, who says:
"It's a different perspective when you're sitting in front of the television and when you're sitting where I'm sitting, thus feeling everything that you have to manage during the race. I understand the fans' perspective, and it's very difficult for me to deal with that. But what would they do in our shoes? They would continue to relentlessly push for performance, and improve - as we do - in all areas, although I understand their feelings, because the fan in me sees races that are less enjoyable to watch. But it's really important that people realize that it's not the drivers' fault. Until the management structure changes, it will continue to be like that, in my opinion".
A statement on which there is much to think about, both for today's Formula 1 and for the future. Especially if you think that, in the meantime, the deadline for the change of technical regulations, starting from the 2021 season, initially scheduled for June 30, 2019, has been postponed to October 31st 2019. The decision is made official at a meeting of the FIA World Council, held in Paris on June 13, 2019, despite the fact that, to make major changes, ratification is required at least a year and a half in advance of the actual entry into force.
The decision comes after meetings in the paddock in Montreal last weekend and after the meeting held in Paris on the eve of the FIA World Council. An appointment that was also attended by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg, as well as Alexander Wurz president of the GPDA, who accepted the invitation sent to all drivers. This outcome was only possible thanks to the unanimous opinion of all parties involved, taking advantage of the possibility of postponement contained in Article 18.2.4 of the Federation's International Sporting Code.
"In the interests of the sport, it was agreed that the best result would be achieved with additional time available for refinements and future consultations".
A decision that was certainly not a foregone conclusion, because some teams (above all Renault and McLaren) were considered to be opposed to a shift in the deadline. Among the reasons, there was the fear that the top teams could have more chances to keep their advantage, especially if in October less radical regulatory changes than those promised by Liberty Media were to be approved. But in the end an agreement was found, at least for now.