Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole position ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas for a record-breaking 63rd front-row lockout for Mercedes.
Bottas had the edge over the Briton throughout the weekend, including the two preceding qualifying segments, but Hamilton found his way onto provisional pole in the top-10 shootout by eking out a crucial advantage in the first sector to set himself up for the final runs.
But the peaking track temperatures and gusting wind made it difficult to find time at the end of the session, and when Bottas failed to improve his time, the way was open for Hamilton to win pole with a 0.286-second advantage.
“It’s not an easy track, it’s quite technical,” he said. “Valtteri’s been quick all weekend. I’m happy I got the potential out of the car.”
The Briton said key to his success was adapting to the changing conditions, which made it difficult to set consistent times.
“The wind has been picking up and it’s quite gusty around the track, so you have to be quite dynamic with how you attack the lap,” he said.
Bottas admitted he struggle to do likewise, but the Finn took heart from the fact their pair has been evenly matched for so much if the weekend.
“I think Lewis had a really good lap in the end,” he said. “It’s been super close between us all weekend — it’s all about fine details. I think Lewis got it right today, but as a team it’s good.”
The battle for pole was an exclusive Mercedes affair, with the Silver Arrows holding a dominant advantage around the technically testing Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, near Marseille in southern France, so much so that even a raft of upgrades failed to bring Ferrari into the mix.
Charles Leclerc, the Monegasque enjoying a de facto home crowd, was the best performing driver for the Scuderia, but the 0.646 gap to pole was a powerful indicator of how far off the pace the Italian team has slipped.
“Unfortunately today it was not enough, but we have to keep working,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll close the gap at one point, but today it’s the best we could have done.”
As if the demoralising margin wasn’t bad enough, teammate Sebastian Vettel qualified a lowly seventh after abandoning his first flying lap to a technical problem and will start behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in P4 and McLaren duo Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in fifth and sixth.
McLaren was particularly pleased with its result as the historic British team continues to rebuild towards victory contention, and the result was doubly pleasing for the Renault-powered team comfortably outqualifying the Renault works team.
Daniel Ricciardo was the highest-placed Renault driver in eighth, almost a full 0.4 seconds behind the McLarens, but the Australian at least managed to edge ahead of Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull Racing car in ninth and Alfa Romeo’s Antonino Giovinazzi in 10th.
Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon missed out on snatching a top-10 berth from Red Bull Racing’s Pierre Gasly by just 0.04 seconds, but he kept his nose ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo in a similarly tight battle that came down to just 0.072 seconds.
Nico Hulkenberg came next, knocked out in 13th at Renault’s home race after a snap of oversteer at the chicane forced him to abandon his final flying lap and end the segment in the garage.
Sergio Perez qualified 14th in a Racing Point car poorly suited to the smooth and sweeping Circuit Paul Ricard bends, but it was enough to start ahead of Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, who qualified 15th.
Daniil Kvyat was eliminated in 16th, missing out on Q2 by just 0.119 seconds, but the Russian’s qualifying session was effectively a dead rubber — an updated Honda power unit bolted into the back of his Toro Rosso took him beyond his season’s allocations of engines, forcing him to start at the back of the grid.
Romain Grosjean was the biggest disappointment of Q1, knocked out of his home race in 17th — 16th after Kvyat’s penalty — after a mistake on his final lap at the chicane in the middle of the long Mistral straight. His Haas teammate, Kevin Magnussen, had little difficulty progressing through to Q2.
Racing Point’s Lance stroll was knocked out in the bottom five for the 12th successive weekend, qualifying 18th ahead of only Williams duo George Russell and Robert Kubica.
Russell also carried engine-related grid penalties into qualifying but will start ahead of Kvyat because he made fewer changes.
2019 FRENCH GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULTS
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing||1:29.409|
|9||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing||1:30.184|
|10||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:33.420|
|11||Alexander Albon||Toro Rosso||1:30.461|
|12||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo||1:30.533|
|14||Sergio Perez||Racing Point||1:30.738|
|16||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:31.564|
|18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point||1:31.726|