A last-gasp lap by Lewis Hamilton has secured the Mercedes driver his 75th Formula 1 career pole position for this weekend’s French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The Englishman had to pull out a special final sector to overhaul teammate Valtteri Bottas, beating the Finn to a front-row lockout by just 0.118 seconds.
An all-silver front row was expected given Mercedes’ dominance this weekend, with Hamilton fastest in both Friday practice sessions while Bottas was quickest in the day’s rain-affected final practice hit-out before qualifying.
Hamilton, who trails Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by just one point in the Drivers’ Championship fight, took control in qualifying with the fastest overall times in the first and second knockout sessions. His opening Q3 lap, a 1:30.222, put him one-tenth of a second ahead of Bottas and set fans up for an exciting intra-team battle for pole position.
The session was then red-flagged by a crash for Romain Grosjean, who slid sideways into the barriers at Turn 4 after losing the rear of his Haas Ferrari. The Frenchman, yet to score a points’ finish this season, looked on course to have his best weekend of the season and appeared to throw away his shot at leading the ‘best of the rest’ charge behind the ‘big three’ teams.
The session restarted once his stricken car had been removed and Vettel, slower than Hamilton by two-tenths of a second, was unable to improve on his second flying lap after an untidy exit through the Turn 3/4 chicane where Grosjean had come to grief just moments before.
Bottas moved to provisional pole position with an excellent 1:30.147, but just seconds later Hamilton would cross the finish line and post a 1:30.029.
Behind Vettel, the Red Bull Racing duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were fourth- and fifth-fastest respectively ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen who survived a post-qualifying hearing with the FIA Stewards after Kevin Magnussen complained the Finn had impeded his Q3 flying lap.
In an interesting strategic play, both Ferraris will start Sunday’s race on the Ultrasoft tyres after using that compound to post their fastest laps in Q2. By contrast the two Mercedes’ and Red Bull Racing pairings will start on the more durable Supersoft tyres for their opening stints.
With Grosjean out of the session, Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr gave the French squad a somewhat unexpected seventh-fastest result. Perhaps the standout performance of qualifying went to Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc, who gave the Swiss team its first Q3 appearance since the 2015 Italian Grand Prix and went on to qualify eighth fastest.
The earlier Q2 session saw Force India’s Esteban Ocon eliminated from a top-ten shootout berth by Leclerc; he and the second Renault of Nico Hülkenberg came within six-hundredths of a second of scraping into the final session.
Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso, the second Force India of Sergio Pérez and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson completed the top fifteen qualifiers.
While Sauber was left celebrating both cars having made it out of the first knockout session, that came at the expense of former champions McLaren. The Woking squad’s MCL33 was well off the pace on low fuel, with Fernando Alonso and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne sandwiching Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso Honda in sixteenth and eighteenth respectively.
The papaya cars at least qualified ahead of fellow former champions Williams, who were the slowest qualifiers as their season of woe continues. Sergey Sirotkin survived his own visit to the FIA Stewards’ offices after allegedly impeding Hülkenberg. His teammate Lance Stroll damaged the floor of his Williams after running over the sausage kerbs exiting Turn 2.
Sunday’s 53-lap French Formula 1 Grand Prix starts at 16:10 local time (GMT +2).
|FORMULA 1 PIRELLI GRAND PRIX DE FRANCE 2018 – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:30.029|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:30.147||+ 0.118|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:30.400||+ 0.371|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:30.705||+ 0.676|
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:30.895||+ 0.866|
|6.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:31.057||+ 1.028|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:32.126||+ 2.097|
|8.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:32.635||+ 2.606|
|9.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:32.930||+ 2.901|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||no time|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:32.075||+ 1.430|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:32.115||+ 1.470|
|13.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:32.454||+ 1.809|
|14.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:32.460||+ 1.815|
|15.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:32.820||+ 2.175|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:32.976||+ 1.705|
|17.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:33.025||+ 1.754|
|18.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:33.162||+ 1.891|
|19.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:33.636||+ 2.365|
|20.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:33.729||+ 2.458|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:31.271 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:30.645 posted by Lewis Hamilton
Brendon Hartley – who provisionally qualified 17th fastest – willstart from the back of the grid for exceeding his allocation of power unit elements.
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team