Lewis Hamilton has pipped his teammate to pole position for the first French Grand Prix in a decade.
The Briton had only teammate Valtteri Bottas for competition after both Ferrari drivers threw away their final laps, and though the Finn challenged strongly, Hamilton never seemed
“Qualifying is always tough,” Hamilton said. “Q3 has not been spectacular. Q3 was so-so.
“To be at the front is a great showing of all the hard work of all the guys at my team.”
Hamilton edged ahead of the field after the first runs, but the session’s rhythm was interrupted by a red flag triggered by Romain Grosjean losing control of his car and hitting a barrier with little more than seven minutes to go.
The crash was low speed innocuous enough, but the under-pressure Frenchman, who remains without a point this season, had been looking for a substantially more impressive home-race qualifying performance given his clean weekend prior to the accident.
Only a handful of drivers managed to improve when the session resumed. Both Ferrari drivers struggled on their second runs and neither could improve his time, leaving Hamilton Bottas to duke it out for pole.
Bottas crossed the line first, improving by around two-tenths of a second to take provisional pole, but Hamilton had little trouble usurping him moments later, the final margin 0.118 seconds.
“It was not a bad lap but not perfect either,” he said. “I’ve been struggling to get perfect laps all weekend, we didn’t get any running in FP2 and were catching up in FP3.”
Bottas also credited Mercedes’s upgraded power unit, delayed at the Canadian Grand Prix due to quality issues, for its part in the front-row lockout.
“It feels good, the engine,” he said. “The team has done an amazing job with that. Hopefully tomorrow we can also prove it is good.”
Sebastian Vettel finished third in his Ferrari but was 0.371 seconds off Hamilton’s pole time.
“It’s a difficult one to get the right balance,” he said. “I tried to push everything in the last attempt, but looking back I pushed too hard. You end up losing time rather than gaining.
“In the end I’m happy because the car should be good in the race. It was a good session, though.”
Max Verstappen led Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo in fourth and fifth, with Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari qualifying sixth and a whopping second slower than Hamilton.
Carlos Sainz flew the flag for Renault at the team’s home race by qualifying seventh, but Sauber’s Charles Leclerc stole the show by qualifying eighth ahead of Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, the Monegasque beating the Dane by 0.3 seconds.
Grosjean qualified 10th without setting a time.
The second segment of qualifying started in a rush, with rain beginning to fall at the end of the previous session.
All 15 cars took to the track to get in a dry lap on slick tyres, but Mercedes and Red Bull Racing nonetheless had one eye on the race and opted to use the supersoft tyre rather than the grippier ultrasoft with a view to starting the race on the more durable compound.
The declining grip didn’t seem to deter the Silver Arrows, with Hamilton scything his way to the top of the time sheet, more than 1.3 seconds ahead of anyone else and half a second ahead of his teammate.
The Briton’s fast lap was proof the circuit wasn’t as far gone as some of his rivals had thought, put off as perhaps they were by drops of rain on their visors, and the gaps closed substantially on the second runs.
The rain never got worse, however, and the midfield, which was separated by only around half a second for the most part, duked it out for the top 10.
Both Force India cars, despite their upgraded Mercedes power units, surprised by failing to make it into Q3, with Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez qualifying 11th and 13th, sandwiching Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in 12th.
Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was eliminated in 14th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who was slowest of the session — ins stark contrast to teammate Charles Leclerc, who lapped 0.8 seconds faster to qualify in the top 10.
Threats of rain that washed out free practice three failed to materialise for most of Q1, leaving the sport’s backmarkers with few avenues for progression into Q2.
Williams was therefore almost immediately out of contention, with Sergey Sirotkin leading teammate Lance Stroll, who ruined his final hot lap when he launched his car over some high kerbs.
But unhappy members of the back of the grid are McLaren, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne failing to make it into the top 15.
Alonso, fresh from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend, qualified 16th ahead of Vandoorne in 18, the pair sandwiching Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, who will start from the back of the grid after being forced into a power unit change earlier in the weekend.