DANIEL Ricciardo executed a daring move on the last lap of the French Grand Prix, zipping past the McLaren of Lando Norris to claim 7th place — but the highlight of the race was dulled when the stewards later handed the Perth driver two five-second penalties.
It promoted Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) to 7th, ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) and Ricciardo.
The stewards ruled Ricciardo left the track and rejoined it unsafely, forcing Norris off the racing line and also determined he passed Raikkonen by putting all four wheels off the track.
Up front, Lewis Hamilton led from start to finish, with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas just managing to hang on to second spot from the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton finished a comfortable 18 seconds clear of Bottas for his 200th career points finish, and it also marked Mercedes’ eighth successive victory of 2019, and its sixth one-two finish. A remarkable feat.
And while there was no change in the top six procession: Hamilton, Bottas, Leclerc, Verstappen (Red Bull), Vettel (Ferrari) and Carlos Sainz (McLaren), the 53-lap race on the Paul Ricard circuit provided plenty of action and drama, especially on the last lap.
The McLarens had their best showing in a long time, starting from 5th and 6th, finishing 6th and 8th, but Norris’s car started acting up with steering and transmission problems towards the end and Ricciardo, on well-worn tyres, was steadily closing in.
Then, on the last lap, came the daring pass that spooked Norris, who was also overtaken by Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg.
The young Brit, who was voted ‘driver of the day’ thus dropped from 7th to 10th.
But the stewards’ ruling elevated him to 8th.
Track temperature was an extremely hot 57C, which bothered drivers and was unkind to tyres.
Ricciardo had trouble getting off the line, losing two places as the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi and Pierre Gasly in the Red Bull shot past.
Two laps later he got past the Alfa and his yellow Renault was filling Gasly’s mirrors until lap 18, when both he and Gasly made quick pit stops for fresh rubber.
Gasly came out in front, but was almost immediately overtaken by Ricciardo.
Meanwhile, there was a bit of concern for Mercedes after Hamilton reported a seating problem on lap 14 of the 53 lap race.
“Something broke in my seat,” he said. But he went on to score an emphatic win.
“It’s definitely been a really good weekend,” he said.
“I’ve been racing a long long time and it just never gets old, and it’s always such a challenge out there, and I just love that, trying to find the edge and just bridging the gap and really being on top of this machine.
“I’m so proud to be a part of this team, this group of people and Valtteri (Bottas) did a good job this weekend as well.”
Charles Leclerc put in a sterling performance for third spot.
“I gave it everything,” the Monegasque said.
“In the end I was catching Valtteri (Bottas). I saw an opportunity but unfortunately there were not enough laps for me to try something.”
Further back, Toro Rosso and Haas had quite a ding-dong with Alexander Albon, Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat and Romain Grosjean, all running in very close convoy before Kvyat muscled past the Dane, to make it two Toro Rossos leading the two Haases.
Then the two Toro Rossos had a great scrap, with Kyvyat coming out on top.
Hamilton had built up such a lead that he was able to pit on lap 25 — almost half distance — and still emerge in the lead.
In fifth spot at the time, was Max Verstappen, his Red Bull under pressure from Sebastien Vettel in the Ferrari.
Prompted by his pit to up the ante, the young Dutchman retorted that he did not have a ‘magic throttle pedal’ — a clear way of saying he was not holding back on the Honda engine.
Ricciardo was having a good race, although his drinking bottle had stopped working so he was probably quite dehydrated in that heat.
The sole retirement came on lap 48, when Romain Grosjean was told to park his Haas, ending a miserable race for the veteran driver (on his home track).
Ricciardo said although he was disappointed with the post-race penalties, he had no regrets.
“The last lap was a lot of fun,” he said.
“We had a fight and I enjoyed it. I’d rather give it a go than not try at all, and I’m sure the French fans and the people at home liked watching.
“There are still a lot of positives to take and we’ll be looking for an immediate response (at the next round) in Austria.”
Teammate Nico Hülkenberg was happy with his finish.
“Starting 13th and finishing 9th is a strong effort,” he said.
“The last few laps were really fun; it was tight and exciting and I was happy to make up some places there. We’ve demonstrated that our race pace is there.”
The teams now head straight across to Austria and the Red Bull Ring on June 30.
Max Verstappen won there last year, but Ferrari should be quicker — and a likely threat to Mercedes around the Spielberg circuit’s tight turns.
C. Sainz Jr.
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