Hamilton on pole for French GP

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The French Grand Prix is now nestled in the south of France and the track is known as a world-class testing circuit, but could it deliver a world-class race? That mostly depends on how well the teams qualify for the 60th French Grand Prix on Sunday.

If you had your stop watches out on Friday and early Saturday, you’ll know that it continually showed you that Mercedes are the team to beat in France and possibly to the tune of 0.450s per lap over Ferrari. Could anyone bring a challenge to Mercedes or would the battle for pole position be between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas?

Q1

The session started with 26 degrees Celsius ambient temperature and a track temp hovering around 50 degrees Celsius. The heat has exposed the red-striped soft tire compound as the one that is questionably fit for purpose with graining and serious degradation.

The teams came out for initial laps and in order to save the red-striped soft tires, their initial out laps were very slow…incredibly slow. Apparently that is how delicate the reds are to the hot track.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc led Sebastian Vettel but both were eclipsed by Bottas with Hamilton slotting into third behind Leclerc for their initial laps. It was the impressive pace of the McLaren of Carlos Sainz in 5th and to be fair, McLaren had looked impressive all Free Practice sessions.

What was also interesting was the apparent struggle for Red Bull who were buried deep into the field on their initial runs. They would need additional runs to have a chance to make it into Q3.

Charles Leclerc made the most of his second run and jumped to the top but he was immediately met by Bottas and Hamilton who re-took the top two spots with Bottas in the lead. With just 0.097s between the Ferrari and Mercedes, it did make you wonder if Ferrari were taking things a bit easy on Friday or if Mercedes were simply sandbagging. Could we see a closer race than what the practice sessions were foreshadowing?

Daniil Kvyat, who was starting at the back of the grid due to an engine change, set a nice lap with three minutes left to 9th and it did put his teammate, Alex Albon, in a spot of bother as he was now on the bubble. With two minutes left, all the teams were out, nose-to-tail, trying to put in their final laps.

Max Verstappen did not come out for the final effort and he was dropping like a stone as the Renault’s, Racing Point of Perez, were forcing Max lower but he managed to hang on for Q2.

Out in Q1- Kubica, Russell, Perez, Stroll, Kvyat

Q2

Valtteri Bottas led the field on to the track for the start of Q2 and as the stewards were busy assessing possible impeding penalties for Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen during Q1 having balked Romain Grosjean, the rest of the teams were intent on making it into Q3.

On the initial laps, Hamilton pipped Bottas for the top spot with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull in third but both Ferrari’s were in the process of setting their initial lap times setting green sectors but not purple. Leclerc jumped to third with Sebastian Vettel in 4th behind Verstappen.

Hamilton’s 1:29.5s lap was the benchmark and he set it on Medium compounds as all the cars were using the yellow-stiped tires for Q2 because the session dictates the tires the teams will start the race on. Bottas took his second attempt, having lost time on his first lap, and took the top spot by0.083s over Hamilton.

The Renault’s sere also on the Medium compounds making you wonder if they would be able to hold their pace to make it through to Q3 if other teams chose to run Reds. Ricciardo set 7th fastest with Nico Hulkenberg in 9th with just two minutes left in the session.

Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris hauled both McLaren’s into Q3 while Hulkenberg was eliminated but it was the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi into Q3 that was good result for the Italian.

Out in Q2- Magnussen, Perez, Raikkonen, Albon and Hulkenberg

Q3

McLaren were the first team out in Q3 but it wasn’t long before Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull Renault and Alfa Romeo were out for their initial runs. Lewis commenting that there were a lot of cars ahead of him.

All teams on red-striped Soft compounds tip-toeing around their out laps in order to save the tire during the formation lap. It was Bottas to the top briefly until Hamilton eclipsed him by over a tenth of a second. Leclerc slotted in third behind Bottas and Vettel abandoned his lap due to a missed up-shift. The lap was ragged as he chased the rear-end of his car and ran wide.

The final runs were led by Bottas with Hamilton following. The Ferrari’s were last in the train with just 2 minutes left. Could Bottas have anything for Lewis? Would Leclerc manage to stay in front of Vettel?

Bottas left too much on the table while Hamilton improved his time for pole position. It Max Verstappen in 4th with Leclerc in 3rd. The McLaren duo slotted in 5th and 6th ahead of Vettel in a terrific qualifying run and reversal of fortune for the team besting Renault.

Results:

POSDRIVERCARTIMEGAP
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1m28.319s
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1m28.605s0.286s
3Charles LeclercFerrari1m28.965s0.646s
4Max VerstappenRed Bull/Honda1m29.409s1.090s
5Lando NorrisMcLaren/Renault1m29.418s1.099s
6Carlos Sainz Jr.McLaren/Renault1m29.522s1.203s
7Sebastian VettelFerrari1m29.799s1.480s
8Daniel RicciardoRenault1m29.918s1.599s
9Pierre GaslyRed Bull/Honda1m30.184s1.865s
10Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo/Ferrari1m33.420s5.101s
11Alexander AlbonToro Rosso/Honda1m30.461s2.142s
12Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo/Ferrari1m30.533s2.214s
13Nico HulkenbergRenault1m30.544s2.225s
14Sergio PerezRacing Point/Mercedes1m30.738s2.419s
15Kevin MagnussenHaas/Ferrari1m31.440s3.121s
16Romain GrosjeanHaas/Ferrari1m31.626s3.307s
17Lance StrollRacing Point/Mercedes1m31.726s3.407s
18George RussellWilliams/Mercedes1m32.789s4.470s
19Robert KubicaWilliams/Mercedes1m33.205s4.886s
20Daniil KvyatToro Rosso/Honda1m31.564s3.245s
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