Red Bull's Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix on Sunday and took a huge stride towards a second Formula One title after Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc crashed out of the race while leading from pole position.
Leclerc was in charge of the race before he sensationally lost control of his Ferrari through the right-hand Turn 11 and slammed into the tyre wall.
Verstappen took advantage of Leclerc’s demise to race unchallenged to the chequered flag, and extend his lead over the Ferrari driver from 38 points to 63. In his 300th Formula One appearance, Lewis Hamilton finished second to claim his best result of the season and his fourth podium in succession, while Mercedes teammate George Russell was third.
"I think we had really good pace from the start. I was putting pressure on Charles [Leclerc] but following around here, with this heat, the tyres were overheating a lot and I could never really go for a move," said Verstappen.
"We just tried to stay calm and stay close. We pitted a bit earlier and from there onwards you never know how the race was going to go.
"The car was quick today - of course, unlucky for Charles, I hope he is okay - but I just did my race and looked after the tyres.
"I always try to get the most points possible. Some moves, you see they are on, and sometimes you just have to back out and wait for the end of the race. That's what we did. There are plenty more races to come where you have to score points. In that aspect today was a great day."
Leclerc’s championship challenge appeared to be back on track after he built on his commanding win a fortnight ago in Austria with pole position in France.
But his response over the radio was emphatic after crashing out. “Nooooooooo,” he yelled, before later admitting it was driver error.
Asked if it was a mechanical failure, Leclerc replied: “No it doesn’t look like it was. It was just a mistake.”
As the crest-fallen Leclerc jumped on the back of a scooter, the safety car was deployed to remove his wounded Ferrari.
It opened the way for Hamilton, who had leapfrogged Perez at the start.
"I have to give it up to this big crowd, the biggest crowd we have had in France," said the seven-time world champion.
"It was a tough race because my drinks bottle didn't work but what a great result considering we've been so far off these guys all weekend.
"Reliability is one thing my team is amazing at so huge congratulations to the team back at the factories and the team here, without them we wouldn't get this podium. George did an amazing job as well.
"I didn't see my weight but I would imagine [lost] three kilos. I'm looking forward to downing this drink. I hope everyone back home had a good Sunday!"
Leclerc could be leading the championship, but for mechanical and strategical troubles, and a spin at Imola in April and his exit in France.
But he will head to next weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest – the last round before the summer break – the equivalent of two-and-a-half wins behind Verstappen with 10 rounds remaining.
Hamilton added: “"Budapest? I love it at Budapest. Super excited to see the crowd there. It will be hard to beat Ferrari and Red Bull, they have the pace advantage still but I'm hoping we bring upgrades to the track and hopefully step forward. Hopefully in that race, even closer."
Third-placed Russell said: "I am absolutely sweating, I am a bit knackered now to be honest. It was a long race, a tough race. The pace was strong but we really struggled with the warm-up on that restart, so I was glad to see that chequered flag and to come home P3."