F1 – French GP – Qualifying

Salut, MiniFans! France welcomes the circus once again and we’re back in Paul Ricard, a circuit that’s not overly loved by fans. During the weekend, numerous cars have been affected by the yellow bananas and the asphalt runoff areas, the former ones getting complained about on radio to the FIA, due to team managers needing to remain under the cost cap agreed to for the year, which meant qualifying would need to be a balanced exercise of risk and reward.

Q1 started off as it always does, with the teams that would fight not to be left behind in this session coming out first, in order to have more lap attempts. Barely a couple of minutes in, a red flag came out courtesy of Tsunoda, who lost his car in turn one and softly crashed into the barriers. He couldn’t engage any gear out of neutral and the Alpha Tauri had to be pushed out of the way, ending his participation in the session. The queue in the pitlane was long but, as heating up the tyres isn’t exactly difficult in this layout, the drivers sat quietly, except for the ever so common Hamilton complaint, which was shut down by his engineer, Bono. Almost halfway through, times started appearing on the tower.

Red Bull settled in first and second, more than half a second in front of both Mercedes, who claimed that at least Bottas’ lap wasn’t a good one. The important fight, however, was at the back. With his only lap time deleted, Stroll needed to put in a good lap, something that might be difficult with the amount of cars on track. To everyone’s surprise, he aborted his first try, receiving a very kind talking to on radio and being reminded he had just one more try. However, he couldn’t complete it, as the second red flag of the session came out, effectively ending it. It was caused by Mick Schumacher who, even with an ending like that, had somehow managed to push his Haas into fourteenth, right in front of Russell’s Williams. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Latifi (P16), Raikkonen (P17), Mazepin (P18), Stroll (P19) and Tsunoda (P20). Neither Tsunoda nor Stroll scored a lap time.

The bet for medium tyres was obvious in Q2, as only one car left the pitlane with soft tyres when the timer started. Bad laps by both Mercedes left Sainz on top until Red Bull swept in and reclaimed the top spots, but Hamilton would eventually get the fastest time again. With one less car on track, as Schumacher had wrecked the front left suspension of his car, the price to get into Q3 was a high one. Only three cars chose soft tyres for their last attempt, while Norris was called in during his warm up lap, seemingly due to a team error, as he was told he’d get an explanation back in the garage. The track didn’t improve as it had been expected for the last minutes and there wasn’t any significant change of positions. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Ocon (P11), Vettel (P12), Giovinazzi (P13), Russell (P14) and Schumacher (P15).

The big guns finally came out in Q3, where there wasn’t one clear favourite for pole position. The first attempts gave the provisional pole to Verstappen, but Hamilton’s second timed lap in the same set of tyres has given him good results before. This time he did not go for it and it would be the second attempt on fresh tyres that would decide who would start from the best position on the grid on Sunday. The last lap, already under the checkered flag, saw both Hamilton and Verstappen painting sectors in purple, but Hamilton was not able to beat the Red Bull, remaining in second place while the Dutch driver claimed pole position.

With two surprise red flags at the beginning of qualifying, as the runoffs are designed for cars not to get stuck, qualifying ran smoothly and mostly as it was predicted. The fight for pole position was between Verstappen and Hamilton, with the former coming out on top yet again. Bottas managed to closely follow his teammate and claimed third, while Pérez closed the top two rows and Sainz placed himself in the best of the rest position, claiming fifth.