Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen put on a blinding display in Saturday’s qualifying to seize pole position ahead of title rival Lewis Hamilton.
The 23-year-old lapped the 5.8km long Paul Ricard circuit in one minute 29.990 seconds in his Red Bull, 0.258 clear of Mercedes’ Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by four points in the overall standings and will line up alongside him on the front row.
Valtteri Bottas, in the other Mercedes, was third while Sergio Perez, winner two weeks ago in Baku, was fourth for Red Bull.
Verstappen’s display, which made him the only driver to lap below the one minute, 30 second mark, earned the Dutchman his second pole of the season and fifth of his career.
It also ended the run of practice and qualifying dominance for Mercedes at this track. The reigning champion had led every practice and qualifying session for the two races the circuit has hosted since joining the calendar in 2018, with Hamilton winning both from pole.
Return to form
Nevertheless, it marked a welcome return to form for Mercedes after two poor weekends in Monaco and Baku.
The qualifying was interrupted by two red flags. Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda caused the first stoppage just three minutes into the hour-long session when he lost control of his AlphaTauri at the first corner and ended up in the barriers.
Mick Schumacher brought the red flags out for a second time in the dying seconds of the opening phase of qualifying, when the German spun off into the barriers. The 22-year-old Haas driver, who was 14th when he crashed, nevertheless progressed out of qualifying’s opening knockout phase for the first time in his career, even if he couldn’t take part in the remainder of the session.
He will line up a career-best 15th on Sunday.
The starting grid:
Row 1: Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes); Row 2: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Sergio Perez (Red Bull); Row 3: Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri);
Row 4: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Lando Norris (McLaren); Row 5: Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren); Row 6: Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin); Row 7: Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Rome), George Russell (Williams);
Row 8: Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nicholas Latifi (Williams); Row 9: Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), Nikita Mazepin (Haas); Row 10: Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri).