Mercedes-AMG handed another lesson to the rest of the Formula 1 field after locking out the front row of the grid at the French Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton clocking a superb final lap to claim pole position over teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The Silver Arrows have been untouchable this weekend after dominating all three practice sessions at Paul Ricard, a unique circuit that is a true test of a car’s aerodynamic versatility.
It was the 86th pole position of Hamilton’s Formula 1 career, the third of his 2019 season and the 65th front-row lockout for Mercedes. Such is the pace of the F1 W10 cars, only disaster would prevent them from claiming an eighth successive victory of the 2019 season and its tenth on the trot with a run of wins stretching back to last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Ferraris briefly looked set to threaten their arch rivals in the early knockout phases of qualifying, but their challenge petered out in Q3 when Hamilton and Bottas simply found another level. Charles Leclerc qualified third-fastest, six-tenths of a second adrift, while teammate Sebastian Vettel added to an already challenging weekend by only being seventh-quickest.
Hamilton used the supreme performance of his car with two controlled, precise laps in Q3 to clinch pole positions. His first effort, a 1:28.488, saw him claim top spot from Bottas – who had been fastest overall in Q1 and Q2 – and his second run saw him reach another level where he was half a second quicker over his first two sectors alone. A mistake through the final two corners meant he lost ground, but he still crossed the finish line with a 1:28.319 to break the Paul Ricard circuit’s lap record.
With a 29-point deficit to Hamilton, Bottas will need to regroup on Sunday after proving to be arguably the quicker of the duo for much of the weekend when he outpaced Hamilton in FP2 and FP3. For the first time this season, Hamilton acknowledged that his principal threat to denying him a sixth World Championship title came from the other side of his own garage.
“I do feel strong, each weekend I feel I start on the right foot but Valtteri goes in and puts in bloody good laps every time,” he said. “I am constantly being pushed by Valtteri.”
“There are some races where we as a team have not been pushed as hard as we would like to be by the others,” he said, referring to Ferrari’s continuing struggled. “Nonetheless there is still the battle within us.
“In a lot of the races there has been half a tenth to a tenth and a half between Valtteri and I. So I still have my work cut out, I still have to perform, still have to deliver. The work ethic is exactly the same, the stress is exactly the same as if we were fighting with the Ferraris.”
Ferrari’s performance this weekend largely continued their form and run of poor luck that has beset their 2019 season to-date. The team’s attempts to have the FIA Stewards reexamine the five-second penalty handed to Vettel at the Canadian Grand Prix on the basis of “overwhelming” new evidence were summarily dismissed.
Leclerc had a tidier, error-free run – a contrast to recent races – to finish third, while Vettel had to abort his first Q3 run with a missed upshift and then could not get it together on his second and final run.
“I am not happy with that and not happy to not extract the maximum today,” Vettel fumed. “I did not have a good feel for the car. It is the inconsistency that made it difficult. Some laps it felt really good, others didn’t.”
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen finished fourth but the Dutchman will have a major threat in the form of the two McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr., who maintained the Woking squad’s fine form all weekend to claim fifth and sixth on the grid respectively.
Daniel Ricciardo took his heavily upgraded Renault, equipped with a B-spec power unit, to eighth ahead of the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly. Alfa Romeo rookie Antonio Giovinazzi made Q3 for the first time, completing the grid’s first five rows.
The preceding Q2 session saw Alexander Albon (Scuderia Toro Rosso), Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo), Nico Hülkenberg (Renault), Sergio Pérez (Racing Point) and Kevin Magnussen (Haas) all eliminated. Particular credit should go to Pérez, who put in a sterling final lap in Q1 to avoid being bumped at the first hurdle at a circuit which the team readily admitted did not suit its cars.
Toro Rosso opted to make a series of tactical Honda power unit element changes to avoid bigger penalties later in the season, meaning Daniil Kvyat (16th-fastest) will start from the back row of the grid alongside Williams’ George Russell, who earned similar penalties for an ERS element change after his failed in FP3.
Romain Grosjean will therefore start fifteenth in what is proving to be a difficult home race for the Frenchman, ahead of Racing Point’s Lance Stroll (18th-fastest) and Williams’ Robert Kubica, who was the slowest overall qualifier for the seventh time this season.
|FORMULA 1 PIRELLI GRAND PRIX DE FRANCE 2019 – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:28.319|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:28.605||+ 0.286|
|3.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:28.965||+ 0.646|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:29.409||+ 1.090|
|5.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:29.418||+ 1.099|
|6.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:29.522||+ 1.203|
|7.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:29.799||+ 1.480|
|8.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:29.918||+ 1.599|
|9.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:30.184||+ 1.865|
|10.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:33.420||+ 5.101|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:30.461||+ 1.024|
|12.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:30.353||+ 0.916|
|13.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:30.544||+ 1.107|
|14.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:30.738||+ 1.301|
|15.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:31.440||+ 2.003|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|16.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:31.564||+ 1.014|
|17.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:31.626||+ 1.076|
|18.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:31.726||+ 1.176|
|19.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:32.789||+ 2.239|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:33.205||+ 2.655|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:29.437 posted by Valtteri Bottas
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:30.550 posted by Valtteri Bottas
- Daniil Kvyat – who provisionally qualified 16th-fastest – will start from the back of the grid for multiple power unit element changes.
- George Russell – who provisionally qualified 19th-fastest – will start from the back of the grid for multiple power unit element changes.
Images via Michael Potts Photography