Lewis Hamilton pipped teammate Valtteri Bottas to take pole position for the French Grand Prix as Mercedes locked out the front row at Paul Ricard.
Armed with a power unit update, Mercedes hit back after being beaten by Ferrari in Canada, with Hamilton posting a 1m30.029s to beat Bottas by 0.118s. Bottas had been on provisional pole position with his final lap before Hamilton improved, giving the team its first front-row lockout since the Spanish Grand Prix.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel had to settle for third after a mistake on his final lap, ending up nearly 0.4s off Hamilton, and is set to start on ultrasoft tires compared to supersofts for the Briton. Max Verstappen was fourth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth, with Kimi Raikkonen sixth after making mistakes on his final attempts after a red flag period.
There was a six-minute delay during Q3 after Romain Grosjean crashed at Turn 4, losing the rear and sliding into the wall. The nose of the car got buried in the barrier and he was unable to engage reverse.
That opened the door for the impressive Charles Leclerc to secure a career-best eighth on the grid behind Carlos Sainz, with Kevin Magnussen’s final lap hurt by Raikkonen late in Q3 and Grosjean not setting a time.
Q2 began with light rainfall, leading to a queue of cars at the end of the pit lane. The first attempts saw both Mercedes and Red Bull drivers advance on the supersoft tire in order to start the race on that compound, but it took some smart strategy work from Red Bull to call off its drivers on later attempts on ultrasofts as the track improved and rain stayed very light.
Leclerc pulled out a stunning late lap to go tenth overall and he pipped Esteban Ocon to the final spot in Q3 as both Force Indias failed to progress. Nico Hulkenberg dropped out in 12th — just 0.06s adrift of Leclerc — ahead of Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly and Marcus Ericsson.
The big surprise of Q1 was both McLaren drivers being eliminated in the first part of qualifying, with Fernando Alonso following his Le Mans 24 Hour victory with 16th place in qualifying. Brendon Hartley split the two McLarens, with Stoffel Vandoorne in 18th ahead of the two Williams drivers.
Sergey Sirotkin outqualified teammate Lance Stroll but the pair were over half a second off the pace as they made errors late in the session. Stroll ran wide at Turn 2 and was launched off the exit curb, ruining what should have been his final attempt. While he went for another attempt, he was unable to improve and dropped out in last position.
For Sirotkin it was a mistake at Turn 8 — the first part of the chicane in the middle of the Mistral Straight — that forced him to abort on his last lap.