Max Verstappen has beaten championship rival Sir Lewis Hamilton by two and a half tenths to take pole position for the French Grand Prix. The Dutchman looked to have the slight edge over Hamilton throughout the weekend and carried his strong form into qualifying.
Verstappen and Hamilton need a good result after both failing to score in Baku, and at a circuit where Mercedes have dominated the last two races, it further underlines the close battle between the two. Hamilton set the fastest first sector before the Red Bull went fastest in the middle and final sector, leaving two and a half tenths between them.
Verstappen has looked to be a strong contender all weekend, on his first run in Q3 was three and three-quarters of a second ahead of Hamilton, and although the seven-times champion did manage to improve on his second lap the Dutchman had enough to seal pole position.
Valtteri Bottas was third over a tenth behind his teammate after going fastest in Q2, the Finn going seven hundredths ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez. This creates a very interesting battle between the top two teams, which could become about strategy as the Circuit Paul Ricard is one where overtaking can be more difficult.
Verstappen said, “So far it has been a really positive weekend where normally it has been a bit difficult for us. To get pole position was really nice. No points are scored today but we have to finish it off tomorrow and try to get twenty-five points we lost in Baku. But it is great promise from our side.”
Hamilton said, “It has been a really hard weekend just trying to get the car into a happy place. You wouldn’t believe how many changes I’ve made and I’ve ended up back close to where we started. But I’ve generally been unhappy all weekend in the car. Max has been incredibly quick. They are quick down the straights. We have a race on our hands and we are loving the battle.”
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was best of the rest four-tenths behind Perez in fifth, the team were expecting to slip back after two strong races in Monaco and Baku. However, will be happy to be best of the rest, with Charles Leclerc going seventh.
Pierre Gasly underlined the strong pace shown by Alpha Tauri in practice after going a tenth ahead of Leclerc. The Frenchman looking to build on his strong result in Baku as he begins to build his image as the Italian team’s leader.
McLaren couldn’t match their recent form with Lando Norris going eighth and Daniel Ricciardo tenth, separated by the Alpine of Fernando Alonso. All those who made it through to Q3 will start on the medium tyre which is expected to be the better tyre to start the race on.
Esteban Ocon was fastest of those knocked out in Q2, the Frenchman setting a personal best in the middle sector before being knocked out by Ricciardo. The Australian had switched to the soft tyre to ensure his place in Q3 but backed out of his lap on the soft tyre at the end of the session once he was safely through.
Sebastian Vettel was twelfth going three-hundredths ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi. The four-times champion was slower than his personal best, while George Russell was fourteenth ahead of Mick Schumacher who made it out of Q1 for the first time.
However, the Haas driver was unable to take part in Q2 after bringing out the red flag at the end of Q1. Schumacher lost the rear mid-way through L’ecole, when he went off backwards running unto the wall damaging his rear end and the left-front was knocked off as the car snapped back around in the impact.
That brought the session to an early close, Nicolas Latifi being one of the biggest losers in Q1 missing the cut off by two thousandths, he looked on course to improve out of the drop zone, but Schumacher’s crash meant he was unable to improve.
Also, unable to improve was Lance Stroll, he failed to qualify within the 107% rule after losing his fastest time after going to wide at Sainte-Beaurme and having an earlier time deleted for track limits. The Aston Martin driver starts nineteenth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda who failed to set a time.