Max Verstappen has claimed pole position while Lewis Hamilton has struggled with his car at the French Grand Prix.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
Verstappen laid down a dominant marker after final practice to start qualifying as favourite, but Hamilton admitted his team has been working right up to the start of the crucial grid-setting hour to try to find a set-up that would work for the reigning world champion.
The result was an improvement, but not enough to make a difference. Verstappen’s advantage shrunk from 0.8s to 0.258, the Dutchman digging in to claim pole all the same.
It’s the first time since F1 returned to France in 2018 that a Mercedes won’t start at the front of the grid.
“So far it’s been a really positive weekend on a track where normally it’s been a bit difficult for us,” he said. “Of course we have to finish it off tomorrow and try to get 25 points — what we lost in Baku — but it’s great promise from our side, and I hope we can keep it up.”
Hamilton admitted he’d been struggling all weekend to find the car’s sweet spot, and the Briton said he wasn’t sure whether the changes he made for qualifying would keep him in the fight in the race.
“It’s been a really, really hard weekend … just trying to get the car into a happy place,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how many changes I’ve made since practice one.
“I’ve been generally unhappy in the car all weekend.
“[Max] did a great job today. They’ve been incredibly quick.
“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 will line up third after qualifying a tenth behind Hamilton, though the Finn doubted there was any more for him to extract from his car.
“It’s been a strong weekend,” he said. “It’s going to be close with Red Bull.
“I didn’t really feel there was that much more lap time to be got … I can’t be too happy being third, but I think Red Bull was faster today.”
Sergio Perez will start alongside Bottas on the second row in fourth after lapping half a second slower than teammate Verstappen.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz will start fifth at the head of a tight battle with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and teammate Carlos Sainz in sixth and seventh.
Lando Norris beat Alpine’s Fernando Alonso to eighth, with McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo completing the top 10.
Esteban Ocon missed the top 10 in his home grand prix, and the Frenchman will line up 11th alongside Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin. Antonio Giovinazzi put his Alfa Romeo 13th alongside Williams driver George Russell.
Mick Schumacher will start 15th for Haas, the highest grid spot of his career, but only after crashing at the end of Q1, which allowed him to progress into the top 15 but left him unable to take part further part in the hour-long session.
Nicholas Latifi was pipped by just 0.002s to lock his Williams car into 16th ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Haas driver Nikita Mazepin.
Lance Stroll was a lowly 19th after having his best time deleted driving off the track at turn six. His next attempt at a lap was baulked by traffic, and his last was aborted when Schumacher’s crash brought out the red flags.
Yuki Tsunoda will start last for AlphaTauri after crashing his car at the first corner of his first lap at the start of the session.