French Grand Prix qualifying: Dominant Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to claim pole

Lewis Hamilton was second with his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas third at the Paul Ricard circuit.

Philip Duncan
Saturday 19 June 2021 15:54
<p>Max Verstappen is congratulated by Lewis Hamilton</p>

Max Verstappen is congratulated by Lewis Hamilton

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 Perez 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.

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.

Max Verstappen

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.

AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda

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.