Max Verstappen roared to pole for the French Grand Prix leaving an expected resurgence of Mercedes reeling in his wake. The Red Bull driver generously edged out Lewis Hamilton in second place, and the world champion accepted that any suggestion that past successes meant his Mercedes team could take anything for granted was out of the question.
Hamilton has clinched pole and victory in the previous two French GP races here at the Paul Ricard circuit, with Mercedes dominating on the predominantly high-speed track. This time, however, with Hamilton in a fierce title fight with Verstappen, who leads the championship by just four points, Red Bull proved crucial in maintaining the lead in areas where Mercedes had ruled supreme.
After struggling in the low-speed challenges of Monaco and Baku, Ricard was expected to play to Mercedes’ strengths once again and he did as they improved tremendously, and Valtteri Bottas also claimed third place on the grid. But Red Bull had also maintained the pace they enjoyed in previous meetings and a definite advantage that has now proven its form across the range of circuits.
Verstappen recognized his achievement. “I am very satisfied with that,” he said. “Traditionally, this has not been an incredible track for us. Being on pole here we are super happy about that. I knew it was going to be better than the last time we were here, but I didn’t expect it to be that good, so that’s very promising for us. “
Hamilton, in turn, acknowledged that he could not win more with his car and that Mercedes could not enjoy any sense of superiority derived from winning the last seven manufacturers ‘and drivers’ championships.
“We are fighting to get everything from the tires to putting the car in the right window and it is proving difficult,” he said. “It’s not about ‘putting the car on the track and it works everywhere.’ It is a great challenge. “
In the first hot races in Q3, Verstappen was powerful in the second and third sectors, the fastest parts of the lap, setting a time of 1min 30.325sec. Hamilton pushed but couldn’t match him in the last sector, finishing nearly four-tenths in second. In the last few races, the Dutchman found another level entirely. Once again he was the fastest in sectors two and three and took three tenths more of his own time, setting a 1min 29.990sec. It was a lap that left Hamilton, who had also been faster, still unable to match him, more than two-tenths behind.
Evidence, if any is needed, that Mercedes will face an all-powerful fight this season, which has so far come and gone between the two teams. In France, however, Hamilton admitted that it was much more difficult for Mercedes to balance his car, with the world champion still trying a new setup 10 minutes before the session started. “We have some areas that we need to keep working on,” he said. “Today I heard that we were losing the straights, we have to find out why this is so.”
Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez was fourth with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in fifth. Pierre Gasly was sixth for AlphaTauri and Charles Leclerc seventh for Ferrari. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished in eighth and tenth for McLaren and Fernando Alonso in ninth for Alpine.
Esteban Ocon was 11th for Alpine, Sebastian Vettel 12th for Aston Martin and Antonio Giovinazzi 13th for Alfa Romeo. George Russell was ranked 14th by Williams. Haas’ Mick Schumacher crashed in Q3, but had made an impressive run to Q2 and will start from 15th.
Nicholas Latifi ranked 16th for Williams, Kimi Raikkonen 17th for Alfa Romeo and Nikita Mazepin 18th for Haas. Lance Stroll was in 19th place for Aston Martin. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda crashed in Q1 and will start from the back of the grid.
Before qualifying, FIA President Jean Todt voiced his opposition to the concept of a speed qualifying race that F1 is set to test for the first time at the British Grand Prix. The sprint, which will last about half an hour, will replace Saturday’s qualifying to decide Sunday’s grid for the GP and will be tested in two more races this season. “We don’t call that a race, for me the race is on Sunday. If you ask me if I’m a big fan of that, the answer is no, “said Todt. “I don’t think Formula One needs it. It will be a different way of having the starting grid on Sunday. It costs nothing to try. I’m curious to see what will happen, but I’m sure it won’t hurt Sunday’s race. “
The sprint race has received criticism, mostly because points will be awarded (three, two and one for the top three) and thus detract from the full GP show. Earlier this week, F1 sporting director Ross Brawn insisted the sport would not follow the concept if it did not succeed and called on the traditionalists to at least give it a chance.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism