Lewis Hamilton will start the French Grand Prix on pole position alongside his team mate Valtteri Bottas, as Mercedes manage a front row lockout in Qualifying.
Hamilton had looked on the ball all weekend, having topped the two practice sessions unaffected by rain, as Qualifying got underway. The world champion was fastest again at the start of Q3 but was then overtaken by Bottas when the shoot-out resumed following a red-flag stoppage for the Haas of Romain Grosjean.
Hamilton however made no mistake on his final run, crossing the line a tenth of a second quicker than Bottas to clinch the pole position from his team mate.
With the new spec engine finally in the back of the Mercedes, after being delayed from the Canadian Grand Prix for reliability issues, the Silver Arrows were able to manage only their second front row lock out of the season. With Hamilton a tenth ahead of Bottas.
“We have all pulled together and done a great job in putting the car where we need it, for both Valtteri and I,” said Hamilton. “It’s something we have been working on for so long. And the pressure is…you can see how close it is between us all. It’s really, really great to have this result.”
The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel will like up third, nearly four tenths off of the pace set by Hamilton. The lap was uncharacteristically scrappy from Vettel, who appears to be suffering in the Ferrari this weekend. Compared to the smooth style of the Mercedes, Ferrari have looked rougher round the edges this weekend especially with the quick directional changes of the Paul Riccard circuit.
“I tried to push everything in the last attempt, but looking back, I pushed too hard,” accepted the Ferrari driver. In the end with P3 I’m happy because the car should be good in the race.”
The Red Bull’s of Max Varstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will line up 4th and 5th respectively with the sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen lining up in 6th position. However, Verstappen could be a driver to watch in the race come Sunday as he is running ‘skinny’ on downforce to maximise his chances for overtaking.
In a twist for the race as well Ferrari seemingly have opted for a contra-strategy to the other top teams, opting to start the race on the faster ultrasoft tyres, while Mercedes and Red Bull will all be starting on the supersoft tyres.
“I’m not really sure why they have gone with that tyre,” Hamilton said of the Ferrari decision. “They must be confident. Either they know something we don’t or they have made a mistake.”
The Renault of Carlos Sainz is best of the rest in seventh, lining up alongside the star of qualifying Charles Leclerc in his Sauber. The Ferrari young driver made it into Q3 for the first time in his rookie season and will start eighth. Just two places behind the Ferrari of Raikkonen.
“I am very happy with my qualifying today. It was not only a success in terms of the final result, but also because since yesterday we made a huge step forward.” Leclerc said after the session. “To finish qualifying in P8 (Q3) is an amazing feeling, and I would like to thank the team for the job they have done. The car feels great and I feel very comfortable on track. I look forward to the race very much and am excited to see what will be possible.”
The two Haas drivers round out the top ten, with Kevin Magnussen ahead of Grosjean, who was unhurt after a crash into the barriers in Q3.
Outside of the top ten on the grid it was the two Force India’s, with Esteban Ocon outqualifying Sergio Perez. Ocon will line up 11th with Perez in 13th, while the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg splits the pair in 12th.
Pierre Gasly is the highest placed Toro Rosso in 14th palace, with the sister Sauber of Marcus Ericsson lining up 15th.
It was a disastrous Qualifying session for the British teams though, with both McLaren and Williams failing to get out of Q1. It was the fifth time this season Williams have failed to progress through to Q2 as their season goes from bad to worse. While an under-pressure McLaren team were eliminated at the first hurdle as well. The team’s worst result in qualifying this season. Worryingly for McLaren, they were almost 1.5 seconds slower than Red Bull, who also use the Renault engines McLaren currently have.
Alonso, who was celebrating winning Le Mans just a week ago, described the result as “very disappointing”. The Spaniard added: “This is where we are. Nothing went wrong, the performance is what it is.”
Meanwhile, under pressure Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley will start the race from last after receiving grid penalties for an engine change.
With storms predicted around the circuit before and during the race, there is a prospect of a wet race on the cards that could be critical in the championship, especially as this is the start of the triple header.
French GP Qualifying result
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes:
2) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes:
3) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari:
4) Max Verstappen, Red Bull:
5) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull:
6) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari:
7) Carlos Sainz, Renault:
8) Charles Leclerc, Sauber:
9) Kevin Magnussen, Haas:
10) Romain Grosjean, Haas:
Out in Q2
11) Esteban Ocon, Force India:
12) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault:
13) Sergio Perez, Force India:
14) Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso:
15) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber:
Out in Q1
16) Fernando Alonso, McLaren:
17) Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso: (Will start last due to engine penalties)
18) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren:
19) Sergey Sirotkin, Williams:
20) Lance Stroll, Williams: