Max Verstappen secures first pole position since season-opener ahead of championship rival Lewis Hamilton at Paul Ricard
By Olivia Kairu
After leading FP3 earlier in the day, Max Verstappen extended his successful weekend on Saturday by claiming the pole position for the French Grand Prix. He will attempt to translate that success into a victory on Sunday at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
With FIA load tests coming into effect this weekend, the Red Bull team’s pace seems unaffected, setting a time of almost one-quarter of a second faster than Hamilton, who had the quickest Mercedes. Verstappen’s pole is his second of the season and fifth of his career.
“So far it’s been a really positive weekend, on a track that is normally difficult for us. To get pole position was really nice. Great day for us but we have to finish it off tomorrow and get 25 points, which we lost in Baku. Great promise from our side,” Verstappen said. “The car felt good, so looking forward to it.”
The championship leader set a top lap time of 1.29:990 in Q3 on the soft compound tire. Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton followed in P2, 0.128 seconds ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was disappointed to be starting the race in third after what he believed to be a strong weekend.
“We have seen it is going to be close with Red Bull. The last qualifying, in Q3, felt good, so I didn’t feel like there was that much lap time to get,” said Bottas. “I can’t be too happy being third, as it’s been a strong weekend otherwise, but Red Bull have been fast.”
The two Mercedes split up what would have been a Red Bull 1-2, with Sergio Perez qualifying in fourth. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was pleased to have the second Red Bull driver close to their rivals after the Mexican’s success in Baku.
“This has really been a Mercedes stronghold in recent years,” said Horner after Verstappen’s pole. “If we can beat them here then really we can beat them anywhere.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes Team Principal and CEO, spoke grimly about Mercedes’ pace this weekend.
“We’re lacking pace, that’s the truth. We just need to gain everywhere. There is not just one part we are looking at to up our game.”
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Red Bull brought new engines for this weekend, the first of three races in three weeks, and also made changes to their rear wing. Mercedes also made modifications to their cars, as both cars have switched chassis for the weekend.
Carlos Sainz followed the frontrunners, earning a P5 to out-qualify his teammate, Charles Leclerc, for the second time this season. Leclerc took seventh behind the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, which split the Ferraris and will start sixth on the grid. Gasly kicks off his home race weekend in a good position, after setting his third top-six qualifying result in a row.
Gasly’s teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, continued his streak of disappointing weekends, as he caused a red flag in Q1 – just 3 minutes into the session. Tsunoda spun into the barrier after clipping the curb heading into turn 1, sending oscillations through the rear axle of his car and simultaneously compromising Gasly’s first flying lap. Tsunoda starts the race in P20.
Lando Norris starts P8 and teammate Daniel Ricciardo starts P10, with both McLaren cars separated by Fernando Alonso’s Alpine.
Esteban Ocon set a time of 1:31.736 in Q2 but was knocked out of the top 10 by Ricciardo. Ocon will start his home race in P11, after signing a new long-term contract with Alpine earlier in the week. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel starts Sunday’s race in twelfth, 0.031 seconds behind Ocon.
Bad luck for Stroll
Canadian Lance Stroll was unable to set a lap time in Q1. His first try was deleted for a track limit violation at turn 6, and Mick Schumacher’s crash into the barrier at the same turn 6 ended the session abruptly. This prevented Stroll from setting a lap time at all and left him in P19.
Mick Schumacher made it through to Q2 for the first time in his F1 career, but damage to the rear end and left front of his car made him unable to resume his qualifying session. He still managed P15, ahead of teammate Nikita Mazepin, who qualified 18th.
The second Canadian driver in the field, Nicholas Latifi, was the quickest of those who were eliminated in Q1, qualifying P16, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in P17. Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi was unable to get through to Q3. He was knocked out in Q2 with a lap time of 1:31.813, to take P13.
The French Grand Prix is set for 9 AM EST, 6 AM Pacific Time on Sunday.
See the full qualifying results below: