Lewis Hamilton has moved to defend Sebastian Vettel after his closest Formula 1 title rival made a costly mistake at the French Grand Prix. 

Hamilton dominated proceedings on F1’s return to France after its 10-year hiatus from the calendar and led from start to finish at Paul Ricard to move 14 points clear of Vettel in his quest to beat the German to a fifth drivers’ world championship. 

Vettel made a fast start from third on the grid but ploughed into Valtteri Bottas at Turn 1, causing the Mercedes driver to suffer a puncture and spin. Vettel also dropped down the order with front-wing damage and was handed a five-second time penalty for causing the collision, before recovering to fifth. 

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It marked the latest in a string of high-profile errors from Vettel in the past 12 months, with the four-time world champion getting caught up in incidents in Baku, Singapore and Mexico last year, as well as misjudging an overtake in April’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix that threw away his chance of victory.

But Hamilton refused to criticise Vettel’s driving when asked about Sunday’s opening lap incident. 

“I’m not really going to get into that, I know what you are saying, but it is really a racing incident in Turn 1,” Hamilton said. “Those things can happen as we are all going into that corner at great speeds and it is not always easy.

“I don’t feel he’s made any more mistakes. We’re all on the edge and fighting for world championships, we are not pootling around. We are putting our lives on the line.

“We’re out there putting cars as far on the edge as we can in a safe manner. The cars are not on train tracks that stay on the rails and sometimes you can go off. We’re only human.”

Hamilton, who converted his 75th career pole position into his 65th career win, suggested the punishment handed out to Vettel by the stewards had been too lenient in the direct aftermath of the race, while Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda also criticised the FIA’s decision.

F1 race director Charlie Whiting defended the penalty, arguing the punishment was consistent with other incidents from earlier this season. 

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