Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton celebrates while standing on his car after winning the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France. Image Credit: AP

Le Castellet, France: Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton won the French Grand Prix from pole position to retake the lead of the Formula One title race on Sunday.

Red Bull’s Dutch 20-year-old Max Verstappen took the chequered flag in second place with Kimi Raikkonen completing the podium for Ferrari and Australian Daniel Ricciardo finishing fourth for Red Bull.

Defending champion Hamilton was never challenged after he reached the first corner a split second before erstwhile leader Sebastian Vettel knocked into Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Vettel needed a new front wing for his Ferrari and had to work his way from the back of the pack to settle for a fifth-place finish behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Hamilton has 145 points after eight races. Vettel, who entered the race with a one-point lead, leaves trailing by 14.

It was Hamilton’s 65th career win and his third of the season. Only Michael Schumacher has more victories with 91.

“Great work guys! I’m so happy for England as well,” he said over the team radio, referring to the national soccer team’s 6-1 World Cup rout of Panama in Russia. “It’s a beautiful Sunday, everyone.”

Hamilton, who had started on pole position, now leads Vettel by 14 points after eight of 21 races. The Briton has 145 and German 131.

Hamilton had never before won in France and his victory at Le Castellet, a southern circuit that last hosted Formula One in 1990, set a record for the most wins at different grands prix.

He had shared the record of 22 with retired seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher. He also extended his record of wins at different circuits to 26.

There was drama at the start as Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Bottas lined up on the front row with Vettel just behind in third.

Vettel and Bottas collided as they jostled for position, with the German handed a five-second penalty for causing the collision.

The incident dropped both to the back of the field after pitstops while the safety car was deployed for four laps with debris scattered across the track from other accidents.

Two of the three French drivers retired on the spot, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly the unlucky casualties.

Vettel returned to the pits for a new front wing while Bottas limped back on three wheels and a rim with the remains of the tyre flailing.

Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen finished sixth for the Haas team, with Bottas seventh and Carlos Sainz eighth for Renault after losing two places three laps from the end when his car lost power.

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg took ninth place with Monaco rookie Charles Leclerc a fine 10th for Sauber and denying Haas’s French driver Romain Grosjean his first point of the season.