Lewis Hamilton neared perfection at today's qualifying for the French Grand Prix, seemingly improving lap after lap to take pole with a new lap record. Valtteri Bottas finished second, leaving Mercedes' competition easily behind.
For the top teams, the first part of qualifying was about saving tyres, given that the softs wear down so quickly. Everybody tried to get through with two hot laps on the same set of tyres, mixing a cool down lap in between the quick ones.
That initially seemed to work out well, but as the session progressed, it became clear the track was evolving quite rapidly. Times tumbled quickly, especially in the final few minutes. Both Mercedes and Lerclec retained their top 3 spots, but Vettel gradually dropped down as many improved and snuck ahead.
Similarly for Verstappen, it turned into a nail biter, as he chose not to go out again. They both got through nonetheless, but Verstappen for instance only in 13th, so there was quite some risk involved.
The most surprising quick lap was perhaps from Sergio Perez, who suddenly went 6th fastest, having struggled throughout the practice sessions. It prolongued his unbeaten qualifying record this year, as Stroll ended up 18th.
Q2 was dominated by medium tyres, which appeared to be faster than the softs after the first few runs. Both Mercedes, both Ferraris, Sainz and Hulkenberg immediately opted for the softs, but Ricciardo and Norris switched to them after first going out on the softs.
Halfway into the session, Bottas led Hamilton by 0.083s, followed by Leclerc at 5 tenths, Verstappen at 0.662s, Vettel at 0.691s and Sainz at 0.882. Hulkenberg was 7th, but later saw Ricciardo and Norris get ahead with their runs on medium.
Improvements on soft tyres at the very end of the session meant Giovinazzi made it into the top 10 shootout whereas Nico Hulkenberg dropped out and ended up 13th fastest, undoubtedly not helped by a mistake on his final run.
The final shootout saw Mercedes firmly keep matters into their own hands, with Hamilton and Bottas immediately comfortably on top of the timing sheet after their first runs. Hamilton was faultless, and three purple sectors delivered a 1:28.448s, outperforming Bottas by 0.157s.
Leclerc was the only one to stay in touch, or sort of, at 0.567s, while Verstappen was fourth fastest, but already at more than 1.2s. Sainz and Norris were right on the Dutchman's heels, followed by Ricciardo, and Gasly who completed his first flying lap in Q3 on mediums.
Vettel meanwhile messed up his first attempt, and returned to the pits immediately, knowing his time would be deleted anyway due to track limits at Turn 6.
On the second attempt, Bottas ended up nearly a second off his best while Hamilton improved yet again, lowering the benchmark to 1m28.319.
Vettel this time did set a timed lap, but ended just 7th, behind what is going to be a all-McLaren third row on the grid.
|1||44||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG||1:30.609||1:29.520||1:28.319||20|
|2||77||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG||1:30.550||1:29.437||1:28.605||19|
|4||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:31.327||1:30.099||1:29.409||19|
|5||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||1:30.989||1:30.019||1:29.418||21|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||1:31.073||1:30.319||1:29.522||21|
|9||10||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing Honda||1:31.152||1:30.421||1:30.184||19|
|10||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:31.180||1:30.408||1:33.420||17|
|11||23||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:31.445||1:30.461||-||14|
|12||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||1:30.972||1:30.533||-||14|
|14||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||1:30.964||1:30.738||-||15|
|15||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||1:31.166||1:31.440||-||17|
|16||26||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:31.564||-||-||6|
|17||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||1:31.626||-||-||9|
|18||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point BWT Mercedes||1:31.726||-||-||9|
|19||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||1:32.789||-||-||8|
|20||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||1:33.205||-||-||8|