Verstappen wins pole position showdown from Hamilton

Max Verstappen has beaten his championship contender Lewis Hamilton to pole position at the Circuit Paul Ricard.

After the Red Bull driver finished the final practice session by over 0.7 seconds, Verstappen led the way again after the first runs in Q3, with a 0.386 seconds advantage over Hamilton.

The defending world champion found enough time on his final run to out-do Verstappen’s first flying effort in the final segment of qualifying, but the championship leader had already put the P1 benchmark out of reach as he led the top four runners to the line, as they ran at the rear of the pack on the final laps.

Although Hamilton ultimately came away with the best time in the first sector, purple sectors for Verstappen in the second two thirds of the lap, after he’d put in his own personal best in the opening sector, resulted in a one minute, 29.990 seconds.

Hamilton ended up 0.258 seconds adrift, but beat his Mercedes teammate Bottas for the first time in the weekend, as Valtteri finished 0.386 seconds down on Verstappen after topping Q2.

Perez was followed by Carlos Sainz, who led the way in qualifying for Ferrari for the second time in 2021, with Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc taking sixth and seventh – Gasly needing to deliver on his final Q3 run after losing his first time for running too wide through Turn 6.

Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were separated by Fernando Alonso’s ninth-placed Alpine, as the trio rounded out the top ten.

All of the top ten runners will start the race on the medium tyres, after traversing the middle segment on the harder rubber, which is expected to perform much better than the softs in race conditions on Sunday.

In Q2, Esteban Ocon set a personal best on his final lap in the middle segment but was knocked out by 0.121s behind Ricciardo – who had switched to run the softs on his final Q2 lap, which he abandoned when it was clear he was through to ensure he will start the race on the preferred medium starting strategy.

Sebastian Vettel’s final run in Q2 was nearly a slower than his personal best as he ended up P12, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Williams driver George Russell.

The latter pair ran contra tyre strategies for the Q2 runs, with Giovinazzi copying the rest in taking the mediums at the start of the segment, while Russell went for the softs.

When they swapped compounds for their final laps, Russell nipped ahead into P13 as he ran the mediums, but the soft-shod Giovinazzi got back ahead at the chequered flag fell to end the middle segment, and both drivers will be free to pick any starting compound for the race.

Mick Schumacher made it through to Q2 for the first time in his Formula 1 career, but only after he had ended Q1 25 seconds early when he crashed at Turn 6, the long right-hander that feeds into the Turn 7 left kink and the Mistral Straight early in the lap.

The rear of the Haas came around midway through the corner as he went to complete on final Q1 run and he went off backwards at high-speed, facing the wrong way across the runoff before hitting the barriers backwards on the outside, which damaged his rear end and the left-front was knocked off as the car snapped back around in the impact.

That stopped any late improvements, and kept Schumacher in a Q2 berth he could not take up, finishing P15 in qualifying’s provisional classification, with Nicholas Latifi leading the eliminated drivers in P16 – the Williams driver knocked out by just 0.002 seconds behind Russell, who had been set to complete a much faster late Q1 time before having to abandon the lap when the red flags came out.

Kimi Raikkonen and Nikita Mazepin were trapped in P17 and P18, while Lance Stroll ended up P19 with no competitive time set.

Stroll had lost a time that would have got him through Q1 in the top ten for running too wide through Turn 6 earlier in the opening segment and getting his lap deleted.

He had enough time to complete two runs before the scheduled end to Q1, but after abandoning the first lap and setting up for one final run, he was caught out by the late red flag and unable to set a time under two-minutes as the session was not restarted.

The opening segment had already been disrupted by a red flag after just three minutes, when Yuki Tsunoda spun off backwards into the tyre barrier behind Turn 2.

The AlphaTauri driver had clipped the kerbs on the inside of Turn 1 as he started his first flying lap, which unsettled his car and sent its rear quickly swinging around as he went off the track backwards before reaching the second corner.

The AlphaTauri’s rear suspension wing were already oscillating wildly as the car went backwards off the track, before being damaged against the barriers, from which Tsunoda was unable to get engage a car and drive away.

He eventually climbed out of the board and will start last, with Q1 suspended for ten minutes, after which the first times of qualifying were finally set.

So congratulations to Max Verstappen in scoring Pirelli’s 250th pole position in Formula 1. Fantastic P1 effort with title rival Lewis Hamilton alongside him on the front row. Roll on race day!

French Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:29.990
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.248
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:30.376
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:30.445
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:30.840
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:30.868
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:30.987
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.252
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:31.340
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:31.382
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:31.736
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:31.767
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:31.813
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:32.065
15 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari No time
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:33.062
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:33.354
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:33.554
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 2:12.584
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda No time

3 thoughts to “Verstappen wins pole position showdown from Hamilton”

  1. French Grand Prix qualifying review as reported by

    Paul Ricard hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull in the past, but Max Verstappen ripped up the formbook in French Grand Prix qualifying to fend off title rival Lewis Hamilton and take sensational pole position.

    The French track, which returned to the calendar in 2018, has traditionally been a Mercedes stronghold, with Hamilton taking pole and victory in each edition, but this time it was Red Bull who looked like the ones to beat.

    Verstappen set the early pace in Q3, four tenths of a second quicker than Hamilton, but things heated up in the second runs as Hamilton went quickest in the first sector. Verstappen responded with a purple second and final sector to better his time and take his second pole of the season.

    Hamilton slotted into second, alongside the Dutchman, with Valtteri Bottas taking third as Mercedes confirmed a bounce back in performance after two very difficult weekends in Monaco and Azerbaijan.

    Sergio Perez was a fourth, albeit it half a second adrift of Red Bull team mate Verstappen, while Carlos Sainz outqualified the other Ferrari of Charles Leclerc for only the second time this season as he ended up fifth.

    Pierre Gasly gave the French fans in the grandstands plenty to smile about with sixth, in what is his fifth top-six starting spot in seven Grand Prix weekends this year. Leclerc, pole-sitter in the last two races, could only manage seventh as he was beaten by a team mate for the first time at Paul Ricard.

    It was a tougher day for McLaren, as while they got both cars into Q3, they were down towards the bottom of the pile with Lando Norris eighth and Daniel Ricciardo a tenth further back in 10th.

    They were separated by Fernando Alonso, the sole representative for Alpine in Q3 in the team’s home race, with the Spaniard making it four Q3 appearances in seven this season. His team mate and home favourite Ocon will start 11th.

    Q1 – Verstappen sets pace, as Tsunoda and Schumacher crash

    With several thousand fans in the grandstands watching on, qualifying got under way in glorious conditions. But it was just six minutes old when FIA Race Director Michael Masi was forced to throw the red flag after Yuki Tsunoda lost control of his AlphaTauri at Turn 2 and slid into the barriers.

    When running got back under way, Verstappen set a scintillating pace with a lap that was more than six tenths of a second quicker than Valtteri Bottas. His main title rival Lewis Hamilton did a second fast lap on the same set of tyres to move into second, but he was still 0.2s off.

    Elsewhere, Lance Stroll had his first lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. He bolted on a fresh set of tyres for a second run, but backed out of it with just two minutes to go, leaving him with one shot to get to Q2.

    Unfortunately for the Canadian, he didn’t get that chance as another red flag was required when Mick Schumacher hit the barriers hard – and that meant everyone’s final runs had to be aborted.

    As a result, Schumacher made Q2 for the first time in 14th – but would be unable to take any part following his accident. Stroll had to abort, meaning he ended up 19th, with Nicholas Latifi missing out on progressing by just 0.002s as Williams team mate George Russell scraped through. Kimi Raikkonen and Nikita Mazepin were booted out early doors.

    Knocked out: Latifi, Raikkonen, Mazepin, Stroll, Tsunoda

    Q2 – Ocon misses the cut, as Mercedes move to the front

    Mediums were the compound of choice in Q2, with the field keen to get through on that rubber to avoid having to start on the soft and more than likely have to do a two-stop rather than one-stop strategy.

    Hamilton set the early pace, sneaking ahead of Perez – but he was then usurped by his team mate Bottas, making it a Mercedes one-two, the silver cars looking more comfortable on the more durable medium.

    Home favourite Esteban Ocon was just 0.1s off making it into Q3 after the first runs and he wasn’t able to improve sufficiently on his next run, meaning he’ll start 11th, one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

    Antonio Giovinazzi was the leading Alfa Romeo in 13th, with George Russell and Schumacher – who took no part – the other drivers to exit at the Q2 stage.

    Knocked out: Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell, Schumacher

    Q3 – Verstappen fends off renewed Hamilton threat

    Verstappen moved back to the front when drivers swapped mediums for softs, the Red Bull driver setting the pace with a lap that was comfortably quicker than anyone else could muster.

    On the second runs, the track started to improve, meaning the majority of drivers went faster. Hamilton was one of those, setting the quickest first sector of all, but Verstappen hit back to take his fifth career pole position – and Red Bull’s eighth in the turbo hybrid era that began in 2014.

    Hamilton will start second for the fourth time in seven races, with Bottas showing a return to form as a rear-gunner, beating the second Red Bull of Perez to give Mercedes a greater chance of attacking Verstappen with two cars on Sunday.

    Elsewhere, Gasly recovered from having his first lap deleted for exceeding track limits – the time would have been good enough for seventh after the first runs – to slide into sixth, behind Sainz.

  2. Defending champion Lewis Hamilton happy to prove ‘myth’ about Mercedes chassis swap wrong by taking P2 on the grid. has the news story.

    Lewis Hamilton felt pleased to have disproved any “myth” about Mercedes’ Formula 1 cars after qualifying ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas for Sunday’s French Grand Prix.

    Hamilton and Bottas swapped chassis ahead of the Paul Ricard race weekend as part of Mercedes’ planned rotation through the season.

    Bottas impressed throughout practice on Friday, beating Hamilton in both sessions, and was able to lead Mercedes’ charge again in final practice on Saturday morning.

    Hamilton struggled more in Friday’s running, leading to questions about whether the chassis swap had made any difference to the two Mercedes drivers’ performance.

    But Hamilton managed to string together a quick lap in the final stage of qualifying to secure second place on the grid behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, relegating Bottas to third.

    Hamilton felt it had been a “really hard weekend mentally” trying to get the Mercedes car into a good performance window, saying his team had been “chasing our tail” on set-up, but was happy to prove any theories about the chassis swap wrong.

    “I’ve been generally unhappy in the car weekend,” Hamilton said in the post-qualifying interview with Paul di Resta.

    “I saw you come up with some myth, and so I was happy to be able to prove it wrong – the quality of our engineers’ work, you know, all the cars are exactly the same.

    “Congratulations to Max, he did a great job today. They’ve been incredibly quick. You see they’ve got a new engine this weekend, not a new spec or anything as far as I’m aware, but anyway, they’re quick down the straight.

    “I think it was a lot of time on the straight today, so we’ve got a race on our hands, and we’re loving the battle. So we’re just going to keep pushing, keep fighting and giving it everything.”

    Hamilton heads into Sunday’s race trailing Verstappen by just four points at the top of the drivers’ championship, with their title fight looking set to rage on throughout the year.

    Although Hamilton felt uncertain about Mercedes’ long-run pace from Friday’s practice running, he took confidence from the changes that had been made on his car since then.

    “In practice, it was a real struggle and our long run pace, I think [Red Bull] were a tenth or two quicker than us on a long run,” Hamilton said.

    “But my car is in a much different place now. So I’m just going to stay hopeful, do everything that I can obviously. We’re in second, you’ve got a fighting chance at least down to Turn 1 and there’s going to be some interesting strategy probably tomorrow.

    “I don’t know, maybe [there is] rain, so you get to see kind of potentially get to see the rainmeisters do their thing. I’m excited.”

  3. Mercedes does not believe that going down the low-downforce route that Red Bull has taken for Formula 1’s French Grand Prix would have helped it do better in qualifying.

    Max Verstappen grabbed pole position at Paul Ricard, where Mercedes has been dominant in the past.

    The Dutchman’s form was helped by Red Bull electing to run its low-downforce rear wing configuration, which helped boost its speed on the straights.

    But while Mercedes acknowledged that Verstappen was gaining an advantage thanks to his extra top speed, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff does not think it would have been faster even with less downforce and drag.

    “We believe, that as far as simulation [tells us], it was the slower version,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1.

    “You can see they were fast in the straight line. If we are bolting on the low-downforce wing, we will be losing in the corners much more.”

    Red Bull team principal Christian Horner reckoned the rear wing disparity between his team and Mercedes explained the differences in pace over the lap.

    “We’ve taken a bit of downforce out of the car, you can probably see by the size of the rear wing between us and the Mercedes,” he told Sky Sports F1.

    “We’re using less energy in Sector 2, so we’re going faster down the straight because we’ve got less resistance there.

    “We’re still managing to do a very good time in Sector 3, so that’s helping us to generate a competitive laptime around here. Hopefully we’ll be good for the race tomorrow.”

    Wolff said that the ultimate problem for Mercedes was that it has been lacking pace compared to Red Bull, irrespective of downforce levels.

    “[It’s a] difficult weekend because we are just lacking pace,” he said. “That’s the truth. It looked much worse than at the end [where] we ended up, but we just need to gain everywhere. There’s not one part that we are not looking at, in order to improve our game.”

    As well as a smaller rear wing helping Red Bull down the straights, the team is also running fresh Honda engines for this weekend’s French GP.


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