F1 2021 French Grand prix Qualifying report: Verstappen beats Both Mercedes to get pole at Paul Ricard
After a point-less weekend for the title contenders in Baku, both drivers were giving it all going into this weekend. But, aside from them, Charles Leclerc was looking for his third successive pole position in his Ferrari.
Max Verstappen was on fire going into qualifying, topping the timing sheets in FP3 by seven tenths of a second, but Mercedes did show good pace and so did Carlos Sainz. The battle was wide open going into Qualifying.
Here are the highlights from Qualifying!
The action started immediately in Q1 as Yuki Tsunoda put his car in the wall at the exit of turn 2. He hit the curb on the inside of the turn 1 and spun his car round. The crash brought out the red flag.
Yuki tried to get the car into gear to pull away again but the car refused to go into first gear which forced him out of the session. This crash was Yuki’s third retirement from Qualifying this season.
All the cars lined up in the pitlane to get a lap in as the session resume with 14 minutes left to go. After the first round of fast laps it was Red Bull who was setting the pace with Max leading Perez in a Red Bull 1-2.
Track limits was a phrase being thrown around once again with Lance Stroll having his time deleted for going wide on the exit of turn 6. Before that he stuck his Aston Martin in 4th place. His team-mate Sebastian Vettel was also running well putting his car in 7th on his first run.
As the drivers were completing their final flying laps there was another red flag, this time it was Mick Schumacher in the wall. Mick was running in 14th place and managed to get into Q2 with the red flag, therefore would be starting in 15th tomorrow. Of course this will depend on the state of his gearbox.
It was unlucky for Lance Stroll who had no lap time due to track limits. His first attempt was hampered by traffic and the red flag meant he would start on the back row of the grid.
Along with Stroll and Tsunoda, Mazepin (18th), Raikkonen (17th) and Latifi (16th) were eliminated from Q1. Latifi missed out on Q2 by 0.002 seconds with Mr Saturday, George Russell making another Q2 appearance.
Q2 time and both Mercedes and Red Bull went out on the Medium tyres as expected. All the midfield teams also opted to go for the Mediums as well. Only George Russell went out on the soft tyres at the start of Q2. Williams hoping this strategy would get them into Q3.
Norris was another victim of track limits as his time was deleted for running wide at turn 6. His time would have been good enough for 6th place.
It was Sergio Perez who set the initial pace with Verstappen close behind. It looked as though Mercedes were looking to conserve their tyres as Bottas could only achieve 4th place, behind Carlos Sainz. Hamilton was further back in 6th.
Norris was forced to do another lap on his Medium tyres and put his McLaren in 7th place. He wasn’t the only driver to do multiple laps though. Hamilton stayed out for a second run and put himself at the top of the timing sheets by less than a tenth of a second.
Drivers did not opt for the softs for their second runs apart from Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Norris went out for his second run, however he was told to box. He wasn’t safe into Q3 so it would be tight if he would make it into the top 10 shootout.
He was saved though as the drivers behind struggled to improve. It was also great for Daniel Ricciardo as he would not have to start the race on the soft tyres.
It was disappointment though for Ocon in his home race as he could only put his Alpine in 11th. Alonso in the other Alpine though did make it into Q3, putting his car in 8th.
The drivers eliminated in Q2 were Mick Schumacher (15th), George Russell (14th), Antonio Giovinazzi (13th), Sebastian Vettel (12th) and Esteban Ocon (11th).
Time for the final shootout. It was one a piece between Mercedes and Red Bull, but it did look as though Red Bull had the pace advantage on the soft tyres.
Mercedes looked very quick on the Medium tyres so they could choose to make the switch for the second run if Red Bull had too much of an advantage.
Norris did emerge for Q3 despite pitting early in Q2 and not completing a second run.
Verstappen was the first to set a lap time out of the front runners and, despite going a bit wide at turn 2, he put it on provisional pole, four tenths of a second faster than Hamilton.
Perez was third, a tenth behind Lewis with Bottas three tenths further back in fourth. It was going to be a big ask for Lewis to make up 4 tenths of a second, but he is a seven-time world champion.
As the drivers went out for their final flying laps, pressure was on Pierre Gasly who had his lap time deleted for tack limits.
Lewis set the fastest first sector and was keeping up in the middle sector. However, Verstappen went a further 3 tenths faster than his first lap and it was too much to ask for Lewis to beat it. Lewis managed to find half a second, but Verstappen took his second pole position this season.
Bottas pipped Perez to get third place and Carlos Sainz was just behind in 5th.
It is game on for the race tomorrow and it’s going to be a big ask for Max to keep those Mercedes behind.