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Hamilton seeks to stretch Mercedes unbeaten run, unaided

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Lewis Hamilton out to continue his sparkling start to the season in France © AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU

LE CASTELLET, France, Jun 20Lewis Hamilton will seek to stretch his lead and extend Mercedes unbeaten run to 10 races with a victory unaided by fortune at this weekend’s French Grand Prix.

The defending five-time drivers’ champion, a lucky winner in Canada two weeks ago when Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was controversially penalised, won at the remote sun-baked Le Castellet track last year and is hunting his sixth win this year and the 79th of his career.

If he, or team-mate Valtteri Bottas, succeeds, it will mean the Silver Arrows have won all eight contests this year after finishing last season with two triumphs.

But after a testing weekend in Montreal, where four-time champion Vettel claimed pole position and finished the race first ‘on the road’, Hamilton and Mercedes are wary of any signs of complacency.

Team chief Toto Wolff admitted: “Canada was something of a wake-up call for us.

“After a run of very good reliability over the opening six races, we experienced a number of problems almost all of which were of our own making.”

He said the team would learn from their problems and thanked Mercedes mechanics for their excellent work.

“We expect another tough fight in France,” he added. “The circuit features some similarities to Montreal and the long straights will present a challenge for us.

“But unlike Canada, the corner characteristics are spread across a range of speeds, which should play to our advantage. We’re looking forward to the chance to put a few things right again.”

Hamilton won from pole last year and is driving with more assurance and maturity than at any time in his career, leaving even a revitalised Bottas, in the same machinery, struggling to keep pace. The Finn has won twice this year.

Ferrari showed clear signs of their own awakening in Montreal where the power-hungry nature of the circuit suited their engine power, but Mercedes hope to match them and draw level with McLaren’s run of 11 successive triumphs in 1988.

– Improved Ferrari –

The Italian team claimed victory and lodged notice of an appeal against the outcome following the race in which a five-seconds penalty, for the manner in which Vettel rejoined after running off across a grass strip.

They later withdrew that appeal notice, but have subsequently sought a review of the stewards’ decision, citing new evidence to follow.

Hamilton goes into the race with a 29-points lead over Bottas and 62 on Vettel who is due to arrive in France with an improved Ferrari.

“We will have a few small evolutions,” said team chief Mattia Binotto. “It won’t be a solution to our problems, but the feedback will be important for the future.”

Max Verstappen will aim to make sure his Red Bull is in the mix at the front after finishing second last year, following a collision involving Bottas and Vettel at the start. “I’m hoping we can be challenging them,” he said.

After last year’s traffic debacle around the circuit, which left thousands of fans grid-locked for more than five hours, the organisers have said they have a “good plan” to avoid any repeat.

Former McLaren team chief Eric Boullier, an ambassador and adviser to the French event, said they had partnered with Swiss experts Citec to find a solution.

“They looked after the Ryder Cup in France last year, the 2016 UEFA European Championship and they are working with the Olympics for the 2024 Games in Paris

“We have to fix the issues we had last year – that’s a given. And if we solve those problems and if we pass the second edition without mobility issues it will be forgotten.”

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