Max Verstappen backed up his form from practice by putting in a sensational qualifying lap to take pole position for the French Grand Prix.
Sir Lewis Hamilton threw everything he had at snatching pole position, but ended up 0.258s behind his title rival. Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez will fill the second row as Mercedes and Red Bull locked out the top four positions at Paul Ricard.
Carlos Sainz looked on form as he earned P5 on the grid, while home hero Pierre Gasly put in another strong performance to line up alongside the Spaniard on the third row.
After Verstappen threw down the gauntlet by being over seven tenths faster than anyone else in FP3, qualifying got started with the wonder if the World Championship leader could be as commanding again at Paul Ricard.
Having had qualifying troubles on a couple of occasions this season already, Yuki Tsunoda thought he had turned a corner by earning his first Q3 outing at the last race in Baku.
This time, however, he brought out the red flag under four minutes into Q1 by going too aggressively onto the kerb at Turn 1, getting a snap of oversteer and careering into the wall backwards. After trying and failing to get his car back into gear, his session was over.
With just 14 minutes on the clock to get two planned qualifying runs in for each team, the cars queued up to get on track to set their first representative times – with everyone straight onto the soft tyres.
Tsunoda’s troubles left only four places to fill in the elimination zone in Q1, but a crash for Mick Schumacher ended the session prematurely as it had in Q3 in Monaco and Baku.
Schumacher had actually set a good enough time to get through to Q2 at that point, but he did not get the chance to compete in that session after putting his car in the wall at Turn 6.
Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen were the two main losers from that situation as they could not set another lap. Stroll in particular will be ruing his first attempt after having his lap time deleted for infringing track limits at Turn 6, which ultimately left him to start in P19 on Sunday for the second race running.
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Onto Q2 and the majority of drivers started out on the medium tyres, as they looked to get through to the top 10 on what will be the preferred race tyre come the start on Sunday. With Schumacher’s untimely exit, only four slots in the knockout zone needed filling.
Lando Norris saw his first lap time deleted by following Stroll in running too wide at Turn 6. Norris eventually managed to set a representative time, but he was called in before trying a final flying lap – leaving him vulnerable to those behind.
Luckily for the McLaren driver, however, those below could not leapfrog him as Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel narrowly missed out on a place in the top-10 shootout, with Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell also out at the end of the second qualifying session.
Crucially, though, each of the top 10 runners got through on the mediums, which offers them the flexibility they wanted heading into the race.
But as Q3 started, Verstappen looked in a class of his own after the first flying laps, 0.386s ahead of nearest rival Hamilton and comfortably at the head of the field.
While Hamilton found the time he needed to bridge the gap to Verstappen, the Dutchman was able to go even faster and was the only man to post a sub 90-second lap around Paul Ricard.
The two World Championship protagonists will be facing off on the front row once again on Sunday, and it’s set up for a fascinating French Grand Prix.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:29.990
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.258s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.386s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.455s
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.850s
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.878s
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.997s
8 Lando Norris McLaren 1.262s
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.350s
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.392s
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:31.736
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 0.031s
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 0.077s
14 George Russell Williams 0.329s
15 Mick Schumacher Haas NO TIME SET
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:33.062
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 0.292
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas 0.492
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin NO TIME SET
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri NO TIME SET
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