Title leader Verstappen returns to pole for the first time in six races amid strong Paul Ricard performance from Red Bull; Hamilton on front row ahead of Bottas; Watch Sunday’s race live only on Sky Sports F1 and Main Event from 2pm, with build-up from 12.30pm
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 19/06/21 3:58pm
Max Verstappen claimed a superb pole position to beat championship rival Lewis Hamilton to the head of the grid for Sunday’s French GP.
The F1 championship leader, who holds a slender four-point advantage over his British rival, topped qualifying for the first time since March’s season-opener in Bahrain amid a strong weekend so far around a Paul Ricard circuit that Mercedes had dominated at since it returned to the sport three years ago.
Despite appearing off the pace through practice, Hamilton was a strong threat in the pole shootout and Verstappen required an improved final lap of 1:29.990 to see off the seven-time world champion by a margin of 0.258 seconds.
“That was a good lap. Still over two tenths off?” said Hamilton to his race engineer over the radio after beating Verstappen’s original Q3 time with his final attempt.
Valtteri Bottas had been the faster Mercedes driver through practice but slipped behind Hamilton in qualifying, although still took third from the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez with his last final.
But Red Bull appear the team to beat in the south of France.
“If we can beat them here, really we can beat them anywhere,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner to Sky F1. “So there’s a lot at stake,”
After back-to-back poles on street circuits, Ferrari as expected slipped backwards here but it was still a strong day for Carlos Sainz, who outqualified team-mate Charles Leclerc for just the second time to take fifth.
Pierre Gasly, fresh from a first podium of the year in Baku, again performed well for AlphaTauri in sixth. Lando Norris was the lead McLaren in eighth, just behind Leclerc but ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.
Daniel Ricciardo was 10th in the second McLaren, while Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel just missed out on Q3 and start in the middle of the pack.
Both teams looking for every thousandth of performance from themselves and against their rivals.
Toto even came to the Skypad to see if he could learn anything from the side by side comparison with Max. #NoStoneUnturned
— Karun Chandhok (@karunchandhok) June 19, 2021
Crashes disrupt start of qualifying
Despite the Paul Ricard circuit being surrounded by expansive run-off areas, there were still two red flags in Q1 for crashes.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda condemned himself to a back-of-the-grid start after spinning out at the first corner at the start of his first lap, while fellow rookie Mick Schumacher later crashed his Haas at the end of the session at Turn Six.
Schumacher was battling to hold on to a maiden Q2 position at the time and, although his crash meant he actually maintained that position, he was unable to take part in the second stage after striking the barriers and heavily damaging his car.
With only a minute on the clock, there was not enough time for the session to be restarted and so Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, who did not have a lap time on the board at the time, lost out to significant effect in 19th place.
More to follow…
French GP Qualifying results
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
6) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
7) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
8) Lando Norris, McLaren
9) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
10) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
Knocked out in Q2
11) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
12) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
13) Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
14) George Russell, Williams
15) Mick Schumacher, Haas
Knocked out in Q1
16) Nicholas Latifi, Williams
17) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
18) Nikita Mazepin, Haas
19) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
20) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
When is Sunday’s French GP?
Lights out for Round Seven of what has proved a gripping 2021 season is at 2pm, live on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event. Build-up begins at 12.30pm.