Lewis Hamilton hits out over Sebastian Vettel's 'tap on the wrist'

• Mercedes driver wins in France to re-take Championship lead
• Hamilton unhappy with title rival over Valtteri Bottas crash

In a title fight that increasingly looks as if it is going to the wire, performance under pressure at key moments is going to be vital. At the French Grand Prix Sebastian Vettel was once again found wanting and Lewis Hamilton, in the manner England had shown in Russia before the race, was able to step up and clinically take advantage with a dominant display. He took the win and the lead of the world championship once again. If he is to secure his fifth title this season, these are the moments that will make the difference.

After a poor weekend at the last round in Canada, where he saw his 14-point lead in the championship turned into a one-point deficit, Hamilton had still warned that he expected Ferrari would falter at some point. He might not have been expecting it to happen so soon, however, and Vettel’s error means he again holds a 14-point lead over the German.

There was a celebratory air at Circuit Paul Ricard as the race welcomed France back to the Formula One calendar after a 10-year hiatus and the grandstands were flooded with tricolours and the stirring sound of La Marseillaise. But for Vettel, any optimism would have turned to regret barely moments after the final bars of the mighty anthem had died away.

Starting from third behind Valtteri Bottas he had been quick off the line on the faster ultrasoft tyres but was too hot into turn one, locked up and found himself with nowhere to go, clipping the rear of the Finn. Vettel had to pit for a new front wing and Bottas for a puncture. They emerged at the back of the field while Hamilton, clear of the carnage, took to the clean air and controlled the race from start to finish. He took the flag in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.

Vettel was given a five-second penalty for causing a collision but drove an impressive comeback, scything though the field to take fifth, as much as he might have expected. But Bottas could manage only seventh after taking damage to the floor of his car from the puncture.

Hamilton was pleased with his performance but critical that Vettel had not received a harsher penalty. “It’s disappointing for the team,” he said. “We all go into turn one as hard as we could but when someone destroys your race through an error and it’s only a tap on the wrist and you are still able to come back and finish ahead of the person you took out, it doesn’t add up.”

He was joined in the criticism by the Mercedes non-executive chairman, Niki Lauda. “Why Vettel gets only five seconds for this enormous mistake, I don’t understand,” said the driver who won here for Ferrari in 1975. “It is too little. Five seconds is nothing, he destroyed the whole race for himself and for Bottas.”

Vettel considered the punishment appropriate but he was left to consider another moment that proved costly. Last season his barge on Hamilton in Baku was ill-judged and his poor decision at the start in Singapore was the beginning of the end of his title fight. He was too hot on the restart in Baku this season and he lost places. He has the charging instincts of a racer but in this fight with Hamilton he simply cannot afford repeatedly to drop points.

The German admitted he had been at fault. “My start was too good and I ended up with nowhere to go,” he said. “It was my mistake, I tried to brake and get out of it but I couldn’t. I had nowhere to go, with little grip I unfortunately made contact with Valtteri.”

Mercedes had fitted their new engine here and will be buoyed by the clear evidence that it has matched and potentially bettered the step forward that Ferrari made with their new unit, although Vettel remained optimistic his team could have equalled them. “I think we had good pace,” he said. “It is difficult to say if we could have challenged but I think we had the pace to at least go with Mercedes.”

His error means waiting until Austria and Silverstone to find out but here Hamilton had climbed into the cockpit, heartened from England’s demolition of Panama, and proceeded to deliver his own masterclass in applying relentless pressure to an opponent under the cosh. Doubtless he hopes he can continue riding the same wave as Gareth Southgate’s men.

“6-1, that’s a mighty score,” he said. “What a great result for England today, if they are playing like that they need to keep opening a can of whoop-ass on everyone. That could be awesome, I don’t know how England would take it if we did win the World Cup. It’s been such a long time.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was in fourth, Kevin Magnussen in the Haas was
sixth; the Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hülkenberg in eighth and ninth and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc once again drove superbly to take 10th.

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Giles Richards at Circuit Paul Ricard

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