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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Lewis Hamilton defends Sebastian Vettel after mistakes at French GP cost Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes driver, however, was critical of stewards after his Ferrari rival finished ahead of his teammate

After victory at the French Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, left, leads Sebastian Vettel, right, by 14 points in the drivers' championship standings. Boris Horvat / AFP
After victory at the French Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton, left, leads Sebastian Vettel, right, by 14 points in the drivers' championship standings. Boris Horvat / AFP

Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton has defended rival Sebastian Vettel after the Ferrari driver's latest error-prone race helped the Mercedes-GP driver extend his lead in the drivers' standings.

Hamilton ruled the French Grand Prix from start to finish on F1's return to France after a decade absence to claim his third victory of the season and move 14 points clear of Vettel in their race for a fifth world championship.

Vettel started third but smashed into Valtteri Bottas's Mercedes on the 210mph opening-bend charge at the Paul Ricard Circuit. The Ferrari driver fell to the back of the pack after he pitted for a new front wing, and was then punished with a five-second penalty.

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Read more:

Race report: Hamilton dominates French GP as Vettel recovers from collision to take fifth

F1 analysis: Vettel's Montreal dominance shows he is on track for fifth F1 world title

F1 comment: F1 must use harder tyres at Monaco to help inject some entertainment

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Vettel recovered to finish fifth, but after costly collisions in Baku, Singapore and Mexico last year, as well as running off the road at April's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the German's latest faux pas was his fifth high-profile mistake in the past 12 months.

"It is really a racing incident in Turn 1 and those things can happen," Hamilton said. "We're all going into that first corner at great speeds.

"I don't feel that he's particularly making more mistakes. We're all on the edge, we're fighting for the world championship. We're out there putting our lives on the line.

"We're out there putting the cars as far beyond the edge as we can in the safest manner. It's not like a train track, you don't just stay on the rails. Sometimes you can go off. We're only human."

Despite his defence of Vettel, Hamilton, believed the stewards were too lenient on the Ferrari driver for the collision. Bottas, who raced on with a wounded Mercedes, could manage only seventh.

Hamilton shook his head as he watched a television replay in the green room before the podium celebrations.

"Jeez, he took him right out," Hamilton said. "Oh, man, that's crazy."

He later said: "For me, it is definitely disappointing because the team had a chance for a one-two finish.

"When someone destroys your race through their error, and they get a tap on the hand, and are allowed to come back and finish ahead of the person they took out, it does not weigh up.

"Ultimately, Seb should not have not been able to finish ahead of Valtteri because he took him out of the race."

Niki Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, added: "Why did Vettel only get five seconds for this enormous mistake?

"I don't understand. It's too little. Five seconds is nothing. He really destroyed the whole race for himself and for Bottas."