LE CASTELLET, France -- Another race, another Mercedes win ... you know the drill by now. This one lacked the controversy of the Canadian Grand Prix, where Mercedes' win was secured in the stewards room. On Sunday, Mercedes utterly dominated at the Paul Ricard circuit.
Lewis Hamilton has extended what already looked like a commanding lead in the championship before we've even gotten close to the halfway point. Our roundup of the main talking points of the race must start with the man who looks set to be celebrating title No. 6 well before the season finale on Dec. 1.
Championship over? Right now, it's hard to imagine anyone would be willing to bet much on the 2019 champion being anyone other than Hamilton. He is in the sort of form he reaches at least once a year and is in a Mercedes that looks stronger than ever. A lot of people bigged up Valtteri Bottas 2.0 at the start of the season, but that's starting to look like wishful thinking (more on him below). Right now the championship battle needs to be injected with some real drama in the coming rounds to have any hope of it going anywhere close to the distance.
The problem Hamilton has now is one that faced Sebastian Vettel at the start of the decade and Michael Schumacher 10 years before that: No one dominating like this is appreciated while they are doing it. Concerns about the spectacle will linger on and unfortunately those will be mixed up in frustrations with Hamilton's dominance. This whole weekend must surely be one of the most complete of Hamilton's career, but it's a hard storyline to sell against when the narrative is so one-sided.
Ferrari's lack of pace laid bare: Of all the stats that underlined Mercedes' domination this weekend, the most intriguing was the battle for fastest lap at the very end of the race. Vettel -- running in fifth place and out of contention for fourth -- adopted "Plan F," Ferrari's code for making a late pit stop and going for the fastest lap. At the end of Lap 51, Vettel came in for soft tyres to attack the track on Lap 53 while Hamilton also started to weigh up his chances of taking the fastest lap. The big difference being Hamilton was on 29-lap-old, hard tyres.
Hamilton set a 1:32.764, the fastest lap of the race up to that point, before Vettel just pipped him by 0.024 seconds with a 1:32.74. But considering Pirelli estimated the difference between a fresh set of softs and hards at 1.2s and Hamilton had completed 29 laps on his tyres, the gulf in performance between Hamilton and Vettel was staggering. Vettel said he had an issue with deployment on his final lap, which may have accounted for some of his lack of pace, but on this circuit and in these conditions, Hamilton and Mercedes looked like they were racing in a different category.
What happened to Bottas? The French Grand Prix could have been exciting if Bottas had taken the fight to Hamilton, but after just a handful of laps it was clear he wasn't going to challenge his teammate Sunday afternoon. The core issue is that Bottas can't quite get the same level and consistency of performance from a set of tyres over a race distance.
But there were also a couple of specific factors that explained why Bottas was so far off at the finish. A misfire developed in the final six or seven laps that saw him lose chunks of time to Charles Leclerc behind him, and he also struggled to get his tyres back up to temperature after the Virtual Safety Car. But ultimately this was a weekend Bottas will need to learn from and then quickly forget.
The best bit of a dull race: The fight on the final lap between Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Hulkenberg added some last-minute excitement at Paul Ricard. The strategies of all four drivers converged on the final lap -- albeit with some help from a hydraulics problem on Norris' car (see below) -- to make for a four-way battle for seventh place. Ricciardo came out on top but also attracted the attention of the stewards after going beyond track limits. At the time of writing, the final result still rested on the stewards' interpretation of events.
UPDATE: Ricciardo was later hit with two separate time penalties, worth a combined ten seconds, dropping him from seventh to 11th. Read his reaction that here.
Norris drops like a stone: You have to feel for Norris. Seventh place would have been his had it not been for a hydraulics issue late in the race that saw him lose the use of his drag reduction system and struggle with heavy steering and a misbehaving differential. Up until Lap 52 of 53 he was just about holding it together, but with Ricciardo -- one of the grid's best overtakers -- behind him, there was always going to be fireworks on the final lap.
It was a cruel end to a brilliant weekend in which he qualified fifth and only ended up being vulnerable to the cars behind due to reliability issues. McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl said: "Unfortunately in the second half of the race a hydraulic issue developed on Lando's car. Then it was simply a case of engineers plus Lando trying to survive, which they did. They did a great job in battling it through because it was affecting gear shifting, braking, power steering, and unfortunately on the last lap it was just not enough anymore."
What's going on at Haas? Haas is having a baffling year. Coming out of winter testing, it looked like the strongest team in the midfield, but it wobbled at the start of the year. The Spanish Grand Prix showed the raw pace it had in the car as it finished best of the rest there, but the team has struggled more than most to understand their tyres this year, and it's form has been yo-yoing dramatically as a result.
Tyres have become such a frequent theme of discussion, Kevin Magnussen started his Thursday media session at Paul Ricard with the press by saying: "Great, more tyres ..."
However, his teammate Romain Grosjean suggested the team should start looking elsewhere. After being eliminated in Q1 on Saturday, Grosjean said: "I think we need to stop blaming the tyres and start blaming ourselves. It's 50 degrees [track temperature] today and it's a lot of energy in the circuit. So we don't have really any excuse to not warm the tyre up."
The problems continued on Sunday, with Grosjean retiring in the final laps and Magnussen finishing 17th -- with only the Williams cars finishing behind him, which was the same story two weeks ago in Canada. That says all you need to know about how far down the pecking order Haas has dropped recently.
From bad to worse for Gasly: Pierre Gasly only left his home race with a point because Ricciardo was penalised for the incident outlined above. Given that he's in the third quickest car, that's baffling. The Red Bull driver had a difficult qualifying session and only managed to progress to Q3 with a late lap on the soft tyre, forcing him onto the least favourable strategy on Sunday afternoon. Gasly struggled from the beginning, dragging those tyres through his first stint and then fading after his pit stop.
The French driver will surely have a difficult job explaining his weekend to Red Bull management as he is struggling to find answers himself.
"It's disappointing to perform in that manner at home, but the bigger issue is understanding what is wrong with the car," Gasly said. "I'm giving everything at the wheel but I'm sliding everywhere. There is something to understand here."
The team has limited options right now in terms of replacing him anytime soon, but Gasly is looking less and less like he will be part of Red Bull's long-term plans at this rate.
JET MAN: To finish on lighter note, the French Grand Prix featured a return of Franky Zapata, who invented his own version of a jetpack/hoverboard hybrid: the Flyboard. Zapata was a star of the pre-race show last year, and his routine this year included him swooping down to steal one of the trophies from the grid.
Given how the race panned out after his high-flying antics, F1 could do with Zapata sharing some of his jet technology with one of the teams that isn't Mercedes.