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Max Verstappen dominated qualifying for the French Grand Prix to put his Red Bull on pole position.
The championship leader finished 0.258 seconds clear of title rival Lewis Hamilton with his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas third at the Paul Ricard circuit.
Sergio Pérez will start fourth in the other Red Bull ahead of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly.
Hamilton has bossed the past two editions of the French race, winning both rounds from pole, but the seven-time world champion has not had an answer for the pace of Red Bull and Verstappen here this weekend.
Hamilton, using Bottas' old chassis following a planned rotation of parts, has not been entirely at one with his machine, complaining in practice on Friday that there was something wrong with his car.
So he will take some comfort from joining his title rival on the front row. Nevertheless it is Verstappen, who should have won in Azerbaijan a fortnight ago before he suffered a tyre blowout with just five laps remaining, that heads into Sunday's race as the favourite to extend his four-point advantage.
There were fist-pumps in the Mercedes garage with Bottas taking third to split the Red Bulls.
"So far it has been a positive weekend on a track that has been really difficult for us," said Verstappen after claiming his fifth pole.
"No points are scored but for us today but it is a great day. We need to finish it off tomorrow and get the 25 points that we lost in Baku."
Hamilton said: "It has been a really hard weekend, mentally, trying to get the car into a happy place.
"You would not believe how many changes we have made.
"I have been unhappy in the car. Max has been incredibly quick. We have got a race on our hands and we are loving the battle."
Earlier, Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher both crashed out of Q1. Tsunoda slid backwards into the barriers after carrying too much speed through the opening corner.
The Japanese rookie was unable to engage first gear in his AlphaTauri and the session was stopped to retrieve his stricken machine.
Then, in the closing minutes of Q1, Schumacher lost control of his Haas through the right-handed Turn 6 and collected the barriers.
Schumacher sustained damage to the left-front and rear of his car, having appeared on course to take part in Q2 for the first time in his career. FIA race director Michael Masi deployed the afternoon's second red flag.
Despite the accident, Schumacher is due to line up in 15th for Sunday's race, one spot behind British driver George Russell in his Williams.
French Grand Prix: Qualifying times
Max Verstappen, Red Bull 1:29.990
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1:30.248
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes 1:30.376
Sergio Pérez, Red Bull 1:30.445
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari 1:30.840
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri 1:30.868
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari 1:30.987
Lando Norris, McLaren 1:31.252
Fernando Alonso, Alpine 1:31.340
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren 1:31.382
Esteban Ocon, Alpine 1:31.615
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin 1:31.736
Antionio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo 1:31.767
George Russell, Williams 1:31.813
Mick Schumacher, Haas 1:32.942
Nicholas Latifi, Williams 1:33.062
Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo 1:33.354
Nikita Mazepin, Haas 1:33.554
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin 2:12.584
Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri (no time)
French Grand Prix: Provisional classification
TSU (no time)
Toto Wolff of Mercedes speaks to Sky Sports F1
Difficult weekend because we are just lacking pace. It looked much worse than at the end – we just need to gain everywhere. There is not one part that we are not looking at to improve our game. In Q1 and Q2 the second run, basically the third lap, Lewis was able to go much quicker. It's heating it up in the out lap... but there's something out there.
Verstappen did have just about enough time in his pocket in the end
But it wasn't the seven tenths that we saw in FP3 earlier today. Mercedes and Hamilton did well to claw it back, though, as ever, they were perhaps not showing their full hand in final practice.
"It's a great team performance," says Christian Horner, speaking to Sky Sports F1. "We've taken a bit of downforce out of the car. We're using less energy in sector two so we're going faster down the straight... hopefully we'll be good for the race tomorrow."
"If we can beat them here, we can beat them anywhere," he adds.
"I've been generally unhappy in the car all weekend," he says. But it's good to find the time to get second place. "In second you have a fighting chance down to turn one and there's going to be some interesting strategy and maybe it'll rain... so you potentially get a chance to see the rainmasters do their thing."
So far it's been really positive weekend on a track where it's been a bit difficult for us. FP2 was a bit of a turnaround. To get pole position was really nice. No points I scored today but for us - great day. We have to finish it off tomorrow and try and get 25 points that we lost in Baku. The car felt good yesterday in FP2, so looking forward to it.
Q3 - Classification
Good improvement from Leclerc. McLaren not quite there with Ferrari this weekend...
MAX VERSTAPPEN TAKES POLE POSITION FOR THE 2021 FRENCH GRAND PRIX
Well, I'd say there was little doubt in the end. But that's not quite true.
Hamilton did find a big chunk of time but then so did Verstappen. It was mightily close behind him. Hamilton and Verstappen on the front row again. Mercedes looked quite decent on the medium tyres...
A fine lap from both Hamilton and Verstappen.
Q3 - Verstappen improves by 0.335s
What does everyone else do?
Perez improves to go second! 0.455s down... Can Hamilton beat it? Bottas does! Into second... but Hamilton still has to finish his lap...
Can he get onto the front row?! Yes he can! But not enough to catch Verstappen...
Q3 - Verstappen 0.262 up after two sectorsd
Perez improving but is some way off his team-mate...
Hamilton loses a tenth or two to Hamilton in sector two, though...
This could be close...
Q3 - Verstappen improves after sector one
Perez improves on his time but not Verstappen's. Bottas is thereabouts and Hamilton goes quicker than them all...
Q3 - The cars literally going 50km/h before they start their hot laps
Verstappen has a fairly clean run, Hamilton is behind Perez and Bottas...
Here we go... sector by sector...
Q3 - 2 minutes to go
How is this ending up? Hamilton needs to find four tenths and that's if Verstappen doesn't improve...
Mightily tight behind them, though. Can Pérez secure a Red Bull front row lockout? That very rare thing...
Q3 - Verstappen wants his mechanics to have a look at his front wing
He ran wide at turn two but kept his lap time, but may have gone over the yellow sausage kerbs on exit and caused some damage.
Gasly comes out on his own to set his first lap time. He should be aiming for somewhere around Sainz and Norris, I think.
Q3 - Order and gaps after first runs
GAS (no time)
So, Leclerc really struggling compared to Sainz here.
Q3 - What can the Mercedes cars do?
Bottas only fourth, 0.8s down...
Hamilton is looking a bit better and splits the Red Bulls by going into second! But he's still 0.386s down on Verstappen.
That is going to be hard to find that much lap time.
Q3 - Here we go
Verstappen and Perez very evenly matched in the first sector... but Verstappen went off the track at turn two and will lose the lap...? Or will he? Gasly has had a lap deleted but Verstappen seems to be okay.
Verstappen looks to have the upper hand here...
He posts a 1:30.325...
What does Pérez do? He's 0.539s down...
Q3 - Alonso and Ricciardo on medium compound tyres
Everyone else on the softs. Alonso, by the way, gradually finding his feet and his pace in F1 this year after two years out.
Q3 - Out come the Red Bulls and Mercedes
A little delayed but hopefully they will not be baulked by any cars ahead of them. It's a risk, though...
GREEN LIGHT: Q3 BEGINS
Looks like Mercedes had decent pace on the mediums, but Red Bull had the advantage on the softs. It'll be the softs in this session. 10 drivers, 12 minutes, one pole position. Every driver but the "big four" out on track at the moment.
Everyone in the top 10 starting on medium tyres, I believe
That does point towards a slightly dull race... sorry.
Q2 - Top 10 and gaps
These men make it through.
Decent from Alonso. Better from Ricciardo after a poor two weekends in Monaco and Azerbaijan. That does not seem to be a very true reflection of Red Bull's pace, mind you.
Q2 ends - Drivers out
Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Russell. Plus Mick Schumacher, who did not run due to his crash at the end of Q1.
Q2 - Final runs underway
Ocon stays 11th, he's out. Alonso doesn't improve but should still be through... those runners behind him are either finished or will not be able to improve.
The remainder of the drivers back off as they know they are safe.
Q2 - Doesn't look like Leclerc is going to improve all that much if at all
He's 0.444s down after two sectors. Gasly with the quickest sector one time of the session.
Russell improves but only to 13th so that'll be it for him. Nope – he can go again, but he's on softs might not be optimal.
Bottas quickest, 0.224s ahead of Hamilton, so he's through...
Q2 - 2 mins remain
Everyone out, then. Norris will be coming in at the end of this lap, though. Engineer says he will explain later. He is definitely in danger of dropping out, especially now.
Q2 - So, who needs to improve?
Ocon, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Russell are the men in the drop zone. Ricciardo and Leclerc are just above it. Think everyone from Bottas down needs to improve, by the way.
Q2 - Drivers out for their final runs
Well, they are starting to come out at least. Wonder who will stay in? I'd imagine the top four are safe, but beyond that... not sure. Bottas not safe.
Hamilton, Pérez and Verstappen stay in the garage for now... but it looks like Verstappen at least will be coming out.
Q2 - Hamilton goes quickest
Another lap on those medium tyres, though. Why? Suppose that is him through, though. But it is a vast improvement on the second hot lap for Hamilton. 0.012s quicker than Pérez.
Q2 - Alonso into seventh
And Ocon into ninth, a couple of tenths down on Alonso, who was 0.595s off Perez and very close to what Hamilton did.
Norris goes seventh with his first legitimate timed lap.
Q2 - Order after first runs
NOR (no time)
OCO (no time)
ALO (no time)
MSC (no time)
Both Alpines on hot laps as I write...
Q2 - Verstappen goes quickest by 0.066s on the mediums
Pérez goes even quicker! 0.109s ahead on the mediums... interesting.
Norris has his lap time deleted so will definitely need to run again and possibly on the soft tyres due to the jeopardy... mediums should still be quick enough, though.
Q2 - Bottas a tenth up on Hamilton after one sector
As Gasly is the first man to set a time, a 1:31.353, which is decent and quicker than both McLarens by a couple of tenths.
What is Bottas going to do? Only second, behind Sainz – who had just gone quickest.
Hamilton down in fourth... what do the Red Bulls look like doing? Pérez looking decent.
Q2 - Pretty much everyone on the mediums
Apart from George Russell, that is. The drivers in this session that qualify in the top 10 will be required to start on the same set of tyres (the exact same set) that they set their fastest lap with in Q2. So it is an important choice.
Mercedes and Ferrari cars crawling towards the end of the lap as they line up their first quick lap of the session.
GREEN LIGHT: Q2 BEGINS!
15 drivers (well, fourteen minus Schumacher), five to go out (including Schumacher) and 10 through (of which Schumacher will definitely not be a part). 15 minutes to go...
There was only 22 seconds on the clock when Schumacher crashed
So that was the end of the session.
Q1 - Top 15
These men are through.
Russell makes it through by just 0.002s over his team-mate Latifi.
Drivers eliminated: Latifi, Raikkonen, Mazepin, Stroll, Tsunoda.
Top 15 incoming...
Q1 - Final runs underway
Russell improving so far, aiming for the top 10 on this lap.
And we've got some more yellow flags in sector two... what's happened? It's Mick Schumacher in the wall... and now it's a RED FLAG.
That's Stroll done, then...
Ironically Mick Schumacher makes it through into Q2, technically, though will not take part.
Q1 - 2 mins remain
Stroll backs off on one hot lap but has enough time to set another lap. And it's all or nothing for him. Russell, in 15th currently, needs to find some time somewhere if he is going to keep up his Q2 record.
Q1 - Top 10 and gaps after first runs
Q1 - Norris improves to fifth
What can Hamilton do? Quite sluggish looking in the final sector but improves by half a second to go second, 0.236s off Verstappen's quickest time.
Q1 - Leclerc lining up another lap on these tyres
He is down in 16th, so that makes sense. He is improving by a few tenths already after two sectors. He ends up 11th, which isn't great... not sure how much life was left in the tyres.
Hamilton is going again, though. And he does look to be improving. Norris also circulating and on a hot lap.
Q1 - Order with seven mins left
STR (no time)
TSU (no time)
Stroll, who was briefly fourth, had his lap time deleted due to infringing track limits.
Q1 - Pérez into second
He's a tenth ahead of Bottas but half a second behind Verstappen, who seems to be operating on another level to his rivals.
Q1 - Bottas quickest
He's 0.229s ahead of Gasly as it stands. Verstappen has a sector to go as Vettel pops up into fourth before being beaten by Stroll.
Hamilton goes second, behind Bottas and then beaten by a huge margin by Verstappen! Seven tenths in it.
Q1 - 10 mins remain
Leclerc has to go around several slow cars as he finishes his lap, Leclerc posts a 1:33.187 but Sainz beats that by a whole nine tenths. Russell beats Leclerc, even. I think he backed out of that lap a bit towards the end.
Gasly and Ricciardo pip Sainz. Bottas looking tidy-ish here but so is Verstappen.
Q1 - 12 minutes remain
No surprise, literally everyone is out there. Bar Tsunoda, of course. I reckon we could see a fair few radio messages complaining about traffic and blocking. Max Verstappen flies past a Williams towards the end of the lap after a few corners right behind one.
Anyway, Leclerc starts his hot lap...
14'19 on the clock.
"I wonder whether we should pull aside, this is going to be a nightmare – there's a lot of cars out there," Hamilton asks his engineer. "We are limited on time," comes the reply.
Christian Horner on Sky Sports F1
Says he doesn't think Mercedes showed their full hand in FP3 and thinks they have perhaps another half a second in their pocket. Would make sense really but you never know...
Q1 - RED FLAG
Nobody had set a time in the three or so minutes we had in that session, by the way. Going to be a busy final few minutes, you feel.
Q1 - RED FLAG
That is the end of his session. Tsunoda cannot find first gear and gets out of the car. Time for the recovery vehicle to get around and recover it.
The replay showed an incredible amount of sideways "wobble" for want of a better word, going through the rear wing, wheels and suspension.
Q1 - Tsunoda casues a red flag
14 minutes and 18 seconds left on the clock. It was turn one where he spun and he did indeed go into the barrier backwards. It was not an especially high speed crash but that is his session over, I presume.
Or not – he's still in the car but he can't find first gear.
Q1 - Gasly could be the leading driver of this lot out now
Verstappen leaves the pits but we have some yellow flags in sector one.. it's Yuki Tsunoda who seems to have spun. Has he gone into the barriers? It's hard to tell here but his rear wing is not far away...
And that's a RED FLAG.
Q1 - 16 minutes remain
Everyone but the two Red Bulls, two Alpines and two Mercedes out there, lining up there hot laps.
GREEN LIGHT: Q1 BEGINS
As ever, 18 minutes, five drivers to go out, 15 to go through.
A bit of cloud covering out there, though it is burning off
Air temperature 28C, track temperature 34c and 52 per cent humidity. Wind speed is pretty low, at just around 10km/h.
Only six minutes left until we get going...
...and there is a fair bit of work going on Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes. A problem or a late set-up change? More likely to be the latter, though arguably the set-up has been the problem so far today.
10 minutes until qualifying
Predictions? It's anyone's guess, to be honest. That lap by Verstappen was almost a complete shocker, so far ahead he was of anyone else. Would be surprised if the gap is that big at the end of it, but four or five tenths? Possible. Hard to say if Mercedes should be looking forwards or backwards given their performance and Bottas looked the more comfortable of the two drivers.
I do think McLaren/Norris could sring a surprise.
This was a near miss for Mick Schumacher/Nikita Mazepin/Carlos Sainz
Thankfully no contact towards the end of final practice.
Bit of rain about...
Not today, but tomorrow?
More news from the past few days, in case you missed it
Esteban Ocon signs three-year extension with Alpine
Esteban Ocon received a three-year contract extension from Alpine on Wednesday that keeps the Frenchman with the Formula One team through 2024.
Ocon joined the French team when it was known as Renault last year. He scored his first F1 podium at Bahrain.
The 24-year-old has scored points four times this season and outperformed teammate Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion who returned to the series after a two-year hiatus. The contract extension was announced ahead of Ocon's home race, the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Ocon, who is 12th in the championship standings, started his relationship with Alpine/Renault in 2010 as a Lotus junior driver. The former FIA F3 and GP3 Series champion made his F1 debut for Manor halfway through the 2016 season and then moved to Force India and Racing Point.
He was the reserve driver for Mercedes in 2019 before returning to Renault in 2020.
Raw pace rankings after six rounds
This is basically a measure of who has, on average, the quickest car in qualifying trim. It's remarkably close. The percentage is calculated by working out a team's quickest time in qualifying compared to the overall quickest time in qualifying. So the team who sets the quickest time will get a rating of 100.000 per cent. So, if the pole time was a theoretical 100 seconds, then if a team posts a quickest time of 101 seconds, their rating would be 101.000 per cent.
Mercedes - 100.171%
Red Bull - 100.273%
Ferrari - 100.539%
McLaren - 100.696%
AlphaTauri - 100.927%
Alpine - 101.138%
Aston Martin - 101.339%
Alfa Romeo - 101.765%
Williams - 101.913%
Haas - 103.125%
As you can see, it is very close. Less than two per cent separating the top nine teams. For reference the gap between first and ninth at the end of last year was 102.874 per cent. And there was only Red Bull within a per cent of Mercedes come the season's end, Red Bull. In 2021 there are five.
Red Bull have stolen a bit of a march on Mercedes after the last two rounds. However, with the season as it is and the midfield a lot closer to threatening at least one or two of the Red Bulls or Mercedes, then it can easily turn around in a short space of time.
I'm sure Red Bull would rather be 26 points ahead than 26 points behind, but there is so long to go.
Current driver standings: Top 12
A bit of consternation from the teams about the yellow exit kerbs this weekend
Here's what happened to Bottas yesterday.
British Grand Prix cleared for capacity crowd after being added to pilot event list
The British Grand Prix was cleared to have a 140,000 capacity crowd, and the Open Championship to be three-quarters full, after being added to the Government’s list of pilot events for the return of spectators.
French Grand Prix, final practice times
Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 31.300secs
Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:32.047
Carlos Sainz Jr (Spa) Ferrari. 1:32.195
Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:32.238
Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:32.266
Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:32.336
Fernando Alonso (Spa) Alpine 1:32.624
Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:32.681
Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:32.707
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) McLaren 1:32.759
Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:32.820
Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:33.017
Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:33.051
Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Aston Martin 1:33.200
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:33.328
George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:33.364
Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:33.424
Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:33.584
Mick Schumacher (Ger) Haas F1 1:34.143
Nikita Mazepin (Raf) Haas F1 1:34.642
Good afternoon F1 fans
And welcome to our coverage for qualifying for the 2021 French Grand Prix. It's the first of F1's several planned triple-headers this season, with the following two rounds both taking place at the Red Bull ring, for the Styrian and Austrian Grands Prix.
Paul Ricard returned to the F1 calendar in 2018 but was absent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Given how the 2019 race panned out – and the 2018 one, in fairness – that was no great loss. Fair to say that this is not one of the better thought-of tracks in the minds of F1 fans. And that is probably fair enough.
Still, we have a fight in both championships and it has been an excellent season so far. And weekend with a race at a bad track is much better than a weekend without a race, right? We shall see.
Anyway, it has been neck and neck between Red Bull and Mercedes and indeed Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the championship this year. In the last two rounds, though, it is Verstappen and Red Bull who have edged ahead. Verstappen leads Hamilton by four points – though it should and could, arguably, be more – and Red Bull as a team gained 55 points on Mercedes at the two street circuits in Monaco and Baku. Fair to say that Mercedes have to turn it around.
Can they do it at Paul Ricard? They have dominated here every year since we returned, with Hamilton winning both races. Friday was okay for them but in final practice this morning things looked a little dodgy. Max Verstappen put in a stonking lap to finish 0.7s ahead of Valtteri Bottas with Hamilton in fifth nearly a whole second down. Mercedes may yet make tweaks to their set-up and the absolute potential of any car is rarely seen in FP3, but that looks worrying for the defending champions. Still, Sergio Pérez was fairly adrift of his team-mate too.
Qualifying gets underway at 2pm BST and we'll be here, as ever, for all the build-up, latest update and reaction from the session.