Max Verstappen will head the French Grand Prix grid after beating Lewis Hamilton in a duel for pole position.
The Dutchman started the qualifying hour as the form man after final practice, but Hamilton’s mechanics were busy making changes to the Briton’s Mercedes as the session began to cure its uneasiness on the soft tire.
After the pair’s first laps in Q3 Verstappen led the way, his advantage a seemingly unimpeachable 0.4s. Hamilton, however, had more than that up his sleeve for his second lap and improved enough to pinch what would have been provisional pole — only for the Red Bull Racing driver to find an extra 0.3s with his only own attempt and seal the deal.
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It was Verstappen’s best qualifying result at the French Grand Prix, having previously started no higher than fourth, and he becomes the first non-Mercedes pole-getter since the race returned to the calendar in 2018.
“So far it’s been a really positive weekend on a track where normally it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Verstappen said. “Of course we have to finish it off tomorrow and try to get 25 points, what we lost in Baku.
“It’s great promise from our side, and I hope we can keep it up.”
Hamilton was pleased to be in arrears by just 0.258s after struggling with setup and the softest tire throughout practice.
“It’s been a really, really hard weekend…just trying to get the car into a happy place — you wouldn’t believe how many changes I’ve made since practice one,” he said. “I’ve been generally unhappy in the car all weekend.
“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 give it everything.”
Valtteri Bottas finished close behind his teammate to take third, 0.386s off the pace, and the Finn said he go the maximum from his car.
“It’s been a strong weekend and for sure a lot better than a couple of weeks ago [in Baku],” he said. “I can’t be too happy being third, but I think Red Bull was faster today.”
Sergio Perez will line up fourth after qualifying 0.455s slower than teammate Verstappen, but the Mexican was 0.4s quicker than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in fifth, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc behind in sixth and seventh.
Lando Norris led the way for McLaren in eighth, but he was a reduced 0.1s quicker than teammate Daniel Ricciardo in an improved showing for the Australian, though it wasn’t enough to prevent Fernando Alonso slipping between them and into ninth for Alpine.
Alonso’s teammate, Esteban Ocon, qualified 11th in his and the team’s home grand prix, beating Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel by 0.031s.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Williams’ George Russell were both outliers in sampling the unfancied soft tire n Q2 in an effort to crack the top 10, but it was in vain, the pair qualifying 13th and 14th.
Mick Schumacher made it through to Q2 for the first time in his F1 career, but he did so after spinning into the barriers in Q1 while in a position to progress, leaving the Haas driver to claim 15th by default.
But Lance Stroll was the biggest loser from the crash. The Aston Martin driver had his first flying lap of Q1 deleted for exceeding track limits, lost his second to traffic and then wasn’t allowed to complete his final attempt when the Haas smash brought out session-ending red flags.
The Canadian will start 19th ahead of only Yuki Tsunoda, who crashed out of Q1 at the first corner. The Japanese rookie took too much curb at the first apex and his car swapped ends until it slid helplessly into the barrier outside Turn 2. Unable to select first gear, he was forced to leave his AlphaTauri parked by the side of the road.
Williams driver Nicholas Latifi was knocked out of Q1 in 16th by an agonizing 0.002s ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Haas driver Nikita Mazepin.