Wind in Mercedes' sails

Hamilton and Bottas take front row in gusty qualifying, Vettel seventh with gearbox issue

LE CASTELLET•  Lewis Hamilton was never going to allow himself to be swept away by challenges, seizing pole position for the French Grand Prix in a track-record time as Mercedes swept the front row of the grid yesterday.

The five-time Formula One world champion, who won from pole last season, ended qualifying fastest in 1min 28.319sec on the 5.842km Paul Ricard circuit, 0.286 quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc qualified third, six-tenths of a second off the pace and Max Verstappen of Red Bull was fourth.

Said Hamilton: "The wind has been picking up and been gusty so you have to be dynamic with the track and I took a bit much into the last corner and the wind took the back end.

"It is not an easy track, there are a lot of run-off areas and Valtteri has been quick all weekend.

"I am really happy I got the potential out of the car. We have been working hard on the engineering side so, overall, great team work."

It was a record-extending 63rd front-row lock-out for Mercedes, with Hamilton taking 60 of his 86 poles with the German team.

  • FRENCH GP GRID

  • 1ST ROW

    Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes

    2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes

  • 2ND ROW

    3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari

    4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull

  • 3RD ROW

    5 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren

    6 Carlos Sainz (Esp) McLaren

  • 4TH ROW

    7 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari

    8 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault

  • 5TH ROW

    9 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Red Bull

    10 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo

The Briton, with five wins this season, leads the standings on 162 points. He is 29 ahead of Bottas, who won the other two races, and 62 clear of Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who will start in seventh after a gearbox issue in the final session.

Said Bottas: "Lewis had a really good lap and it's been super close between us and it's all about fine details in qualifying.

"The wind changed direction and there was a couple of corners my line didn't work and I had to work it out but Lewis had a better lap.

"It's a nice run into Turn 1 so the start will be one of the key things."

British rookie Lando Norris impressed with a fine effort to take fifth ahead of his McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz.

Vettel, almost 1.5 seconds behind Hamilton, said: "I don't know what happened, I lost so much momentum. It was up and down.

"Some laps, it felt good and others didn't. I didn't get the best out of the car but it was difficult. Some laps I didn't have the grip I had before. Shame it happened in Q3.

"Mercedes are far away but we should be in the mix with Red Bull."

The week has not gone well for the four-time champion. On Friday, he had a bid rejected to appeal against his five-second Canadian GP penalty for an unsafe return to the track which cost him victory.

Should Mercedes triumph today, they will clinch their 10th successive win, after ending last season with two victories.

It will match their 2016 run and also Ferrari's 2002 sequence of success. Only McLaren, with 11 in a row in a near-perfect 1988 season, have strung together a better run in the modern era with champions Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the cockpit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

F1 FRENCH GRAND PRIX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 23, 2019, with the headline 'Wind in Mercedes' sails'. Print Edition | Subscribe