Lewis Hamilton puts on another qualifying masterclass in France
Mercedes lock out front row as Valtteri Bottas qualifies in second spot
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton celebrates pole after qualifying with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Lewis Hamilton is in the box seat to extend his championship lead after securing pole position for the French Grand Prix.
The world champion delivered another one-lap masterclass to see off the challenge from Valtteri Bottas in the sister Mercedes.
British teenager Lando Norris finished an impressive fifth, the best qualifying result of his young career.
Hamilton, who is 29 points clear of Bottas in the race for his sixth world crown, has won five of the seven rounds staged this season.
And the 34-year-old British driver will be expected to add to that tally at the Circuit Paul Ricard on Sunday after claiming the 86th pole of his life – now 20 more than any other driver.
Bottas had appeared to hold a slight edge over his team-mate this weekend but Hamilton pieced together a fine effort to finish 0.286 seconds clear, improving his laps as the pole shoot-out wore on.
“I was just chipping away, and the last two laps were the ones,” said Hamilton. “I am happy I got the potential out of the car.
“We are all working our butts off out there. Valtteri had the edge through Q1 and Q2 and I was still dialling in the car, but once I got to Q3 I knew where I had to find the time.
“The first lap was fantastic. I went out for the second run, and I was on for one of the best laps I have done for a long time – I was up four and a half tenths – but it is windy out there and I lost the back end through the penultimate corner.
“I am grateful to be where I am. It is going to be a close race.”
For Vettel, his underwhelming campaign hit a new low after he could manage only seventh.
The four-time world champion, already 62 points behind Hamilton in the standings, lost control of his Ferrari through the chicane and had to abort his opening flying lap.
He failed to hook up a second lap, and crossed the line an eye-watering 1.4 sec slower than Hamilton, and behind both McLarens.
Norris has not been fazed by Formula One life, and the British teenager continued his encouraging start by putting his McLaren fifth on the grid.
McLaren are enjoying a resurgence this year, and although they remain a long way off ending a seven-season winless run, they can be excused for feeling they are turning a corner.
Indeed, Norris was just nine thousandths behind Verstappen on a day he is unlikely to forget in a hurry.
The 21-year-old Englishman was nearly half-a-second clear of the struggling Pole.
FINAL QUALIFYING POSITIONS
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 28.319secs, 2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:28.605, 3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:28.965, 4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:29.409, 5 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:29.418, 6 Carlos Sainz (Esp) McLaren 1:29.522, 7 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:29.799, 8 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:29.918, 9 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Red Bull 1:30.184, 10 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:33.420, 11 Alexander Albon (Tha) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:30.461, 12 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:30.533, 13 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:30.544, 14 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:30.738, 15 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:31.440, 16 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:31.564, 17 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:31.626, 18 Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:31.726, 19 George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:32.789, 20 Robert Kubica (Pol) Williams 1:33.205