LE CASTELLET, France
Charles Leclerc used the help of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. to beat Formula 1 leader Max Verstappen and take pole position for the French Grand Prix on Saturday.
Sainz had nothing at stake as he was starting from the back of the grid after several engine parts changes, so Ferrari used him to give Leclerc a tow in his two races in Q3.
Leclerc was just 0.008 seconds ahead of Verstappen after his first run. The team worked seamlessly on Leclerc’s second run as he beat his own time and finished 0.3 seconds clear of Verstappen and 0.46 ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.
“It was a great round. I have to thank Carlos for his help. It was great teamwork,” said Leclerc. “It’s quite tricky to do things right, in the first lap we were maybe a little too close. In the second lap we adapted and it was a bit better.
Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth for Mercedes.
Leclerc thanked Sainz on team radio after his seventh pole of the season and 16th of his career. It was also a good sign that Ferrari were working together, after Leclerc expressed frustration with the team’s controls in Monaco and the British GP.
“It’s a matter of trust in the end. Carlos judged it perfectly and pulled away at the right time,” Leclerc said. “It would have been a lot tighter with Max without the tow.”
Verstappen said Ferrari’s tactics were “clever” but not something Red Bull could try as they were both aiming for pole.
Verstappen was happy with Red Bull’s straight-line speed but struggled a little to get the tires into the correct window in hot conditions that are set to increase for Sunday’s race.
“On that last lap, I just had two moments that cost me a bit of lap time. But we still have two cars in the top three, so that’s good,” Verstappen said. was a little trickier than I would have hoped, but overall we have a decent car for tomorrow.”
Sainz’s engine caught fire towards the end of the last grand prix in Austria two weeks ago. He was handed a 10-place grid penalty on Friday because Ferrari changed the power unit, and additional engine changes on Saturday sent him to the back row with Kevin Magnussen, whose Haas team has performed similar engine changes.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was fifth and Hamilton’s teammate George Russel sixth. Russel was still in the drop zone four minutes from the end of Q2 and worried that a possible yellow flag could wreck his final lap, so he demanded to get out as soon as possible. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo finished 11th and eliminated.
Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Sainz and Magnussen (Haas) complete the top 10.
Sainz qualified ninth and will start 19th, while Magnussen was 10th and starts last.
The first part of Q1 saw Perez momentarily get in Verstappen’s way.
“What was Checo doing there on the line?” asked a puzzled Verstappen.
Leclerc, meanwhile, was already leading the first run and saw no need for another timed lap.
“I don’t know why we did that second push to be honest,” he said.
After two top 10 finishes at the British GP and in Austria, Haas driver Mick Schumacher was confident heading to Le Castellet. But he was one of five drivers eliminated from Q1, along with local favorite Pierre Gasly.
“I completely lost the car in turn 6. I’m very disappointed, it’s not the qualifying we wanted,” said a dejected Gasly, who drives for AlphaTauri. “I was sliding around all the corners. It doesn’t make much sense.
Earlier on Saturday, Verstappen comfortably led the third practice by 0.35 seconds from Sainz and 0.64 from Leclerc, with Hamilton fourth.
Hamilton is taking part in his 300th race and is aiming for his first victory of the season after three consecutive podiums.
Ferrari dominated the two Friday tests thanks to Leclerc then Sainz.
Ferrari is aiming for a third consecutive victory after Sainz’ victory at Silverstone and Leclerc’s victory in Austria, where he cut Verstappen’s overall lead to 38 points.
Red Bull and Ferrari have won the first 11 races between them, with Red Bull leading 7-4.
The atmosphere at Circuit Paul Ricard in southeastern France was calm compared to some rude behavior in recent races.
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