Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position since the Spanish Grand Prix, as Mercedes AMG Petronas locked out the front row at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
Hamilton’s time of a 1 minute 30.029 seconds was enough to topple team-mate Valtteri Bottas‘s late effort, with Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel sitting in third, almost four-tenths off of the pace.
Hamilton lead all three Qualifying sections as Mercedes’ new engine upgrade worked in their favour. Vettel provided competition in the middle part of the hour, a tenth off.
In Qualifying 1, Max Verstappen set the early pace for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, before Hamilton eased towards the top of the leaderboard. Romain Grosjean and the Haas F1 Team enjoyed a fruitful start to their hour in seventh and eighth. Verstappen’s second place at the end of Q1 was as good as it got for Red Bull, as they struggled for outright performance with their low drag setup.
Dark clouds and spots of rain remained for Qualifying 2 in the south of France, with times improving in the dying moments. Hamilton was safe at the top of the leaderboard, but a late scramble to make it into the top produced some unlikely results. Charles Leclerc secured the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team‘s first Qualifying 3 appearance of the season with a barnstorming lap that affirmed his status as a future Ferrari driver. Both Mercedes and Red Bull drivers will start on the slower, super-soft tyres tomorrow, providing a counter strategy to the Ferraris.
In the session’s final sector, Hamilton held the upper hand once more on ultra-soft tyres, with Bottas and Vettel in close company. Kimi Räikkönen opted for a longer spell on the track as he looked to improve his sixth place, but a horrible snap of oversteer compromised his best run, leaving him over a second away from the ultimate pace. A far cry from his pole ten years ago, 583km away at the Circuit Nevers Magny-Cours.
As the hour reached its climax, Bottas looked set to pinch the limelight away from Hamilton as rain started to fall once again, but the Brit was not to be denied a landmark 75th career pole, taking it by just over a tenth.
Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo had to be content with fourth and fifth as Räikkönen was left disappointed in sixth. Carlos Sainz Jr. gave the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team something to smile about in seventh, followed by an ecstatic Leclerc in eighth.
Haas fell away towards the end, ending up at the back of the top ten. Kevin Magnussen beat Grosjean by default, the Frenchman blotting his copybook once again.
Minutes into Q3, Grosjean lost the back end of his car at Turn 3, sliding into the barriers and causing minor front end damage; enough to end his afternoon and red flag the session briefly.
Force India, Hülkenberg just shy of Q3
Esteban Ocon narrowly missed out on a top ten start at his home Grand Prix, failing to make the cut by two-hundredths of a second. His Sahara Force India F1 Team colleague Sergio Pérez also fell by the wayside in Q2, sandwiching former Force India man Nico Hülkenberg. The German expressed his shock over the radio, suggesting that he couldn’t have gone any quicker.
Pierre Gasly joined his countryman Ocon, finishing in fourteenth, ahead of Marcus Ericsson, who made Q2 for the first time since the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix.
McLaren and Williams continue to fall
Fernando Alonso suffered a dismal return to Formula 1 qualifying, just nine days after taking pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both McLaren F1 Team cars were subject to early exits, Alonso outqualifying team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne once again, maintaining his 100% record in that department this season.
The same fate hit Williams Martini Racing, despite a glimmer of optimism coming into the weekend. Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll propped up the field, only saved from starting at the very back by Brendon Hartley‘s multiple engine penalties. Stroll even suffered a scary moment on the exit of Turn 2, launched into the air by the outside kerbs, damaging his floor in the process and stalling his final run.
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