Leclerc slipstreams to pole over Verstappen in France

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75. 23.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Qualifying
© XPB 

Charles Leclerc clinched his seventh pole position of the season with a little helping hand from his Ferrari team mate, leaving Max Verstappen having to settle for second place on the front row of the grid for tomorrow's French Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton will line up behind them, with Lando Norris and George Russell making it an all-British line up on row three.

Despite playing a major role providing Leclerc with a helpful tow in the final round, Carlos Sainz will start at the back of the grid along with Kevin Magnussen as both have incurred penalties for taking additional engine components.

The sun continued to beat down on the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet with the track temperature up to 55C, making tyre graining and degradation an enduring concern for all the teams and drivers as they prepared to start qualifying. With a different name having topped all three practice sessions so far, it was very much an open question as to who would be on pole. However one driver firmly out of contention was Carlos Sainz, whose Ferrari was doomed to start from the back row of the grid due to penalties for engine component changes. Similarly, Haas' Kevin Magnussen would be alongside him regardless of the outcome of this afternoon's session.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75. 23.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Qualifying

Q1: Leclerc and Verstappen quickest, Schumacher eliminated after track limits penalty

When the lights went out to get the first round of qualifying underway, it was Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel together with Haas' Mick Schumacher who were quick to set off. Charles Leclerc also wasted no time in getting down to work, all of them straight onto the soft compound tyres.

Stroll set an initial benchmark of 1:33.844s but this was soon wiped out by Leclerc clocking in with a time of 1:31.727s, which was six tenths quicker than Sergio Perez in the Red Bull managed despite being quicker in the middle sector. Verstappen was next up, and even though it wasn't the tidiest of runs it was still good enough to slot into second place just 0.164s slower than the Ferrari. Meanwhile Lando Norris had claimed fourth for McLaren ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

A first run for Fernando Alonso saw the Alpine slot into fifth place behind Norris, while his team mate Esteban Ocon debuted in ninth behind Russell, followed by AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top ten. Yet to set a time with six minutes remaining were Sainz and Magnussen, but Sainz did finally come out to play and promptly made a most emphatic point by jumping straight into third, slotting in between the two Red Bulls. Magnussen also finally came out in the final minutes, with his team mate Schumacher currently at risk of being eliminating along with Zhou Guanyu, Nicholas Latifi, Sebastian Vettel and Magnussen himself.

The final minutes saw a spectacular sideways slide for Zhou which the Chinese rookie did well to control. Alex Albon also lost the rear of the Williams and spun at the chicane, triggering yellow flags that thwarted the final runs of several drivers including Hamilton who headed back to pit lane. There were fast laps for Magnussen (up to sixth) and Vettel (11th), but Schumacher's final run which had looked good enough to put him through to Q2 was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 3. Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo also had their times deleted but still scraped through in 13th and 14th respectively ahead of Albon, who had been fortunate to be handed a last gasp reprieve by Schumacher's demotion.

Not so fortunate were a frustrated Pierre Gasly together with Stroll, Zhou, Schumacher and Latifi.

Esteban Ocon (FRA), Alpine F1 Team  23.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Qualifying

Q2: Sainz and Leclerc back on top as Ricciardo and Ocon miss out

Hamilton and Russell were first back out on track but on old tyres, allowing Norris to open his Q2 account with a lap half a second quicker than both Mercedes boys. Leclerc soon took up residence at the top but he was swiftly batted away by Verstappen and Perez who were on new sets of softs, the Dutch driver setting a new target time of 1:31.990s.

Haas opted to send Magnussen out despite his penalty and he shone in fifth place ahead of Ricciardo, with Alonso's first run good enough for seventh ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and Russell. Vettel then popped into tenth leaving Russell in the drop zone along with Ocon, Albon, Tsunoda and Sainz. The Ferrari driver was last to set a time - but when he did, it was a mighty 1:31.081s putting him on top by nine tenths clear of the Red Bulls. Point once again proved for the Spaniard.

Verstappen had no need to come out for another run, and Perez was secure enough to only venture out on used rubber, allowing Leclerc to jump them both and take second place behind Sainz. Meanwhile both Mercedes drivers had serious work to do now they were on fresh tyres for their second and final runs. Ocon recovered from a slight twitch on his crucial run to jump up to the relative safety of sixth, but was immediately bettered by Alonso and Tsunoda. Then it was Russell's turn to jump into sixth, and Hamilton soon went fifth ahead of Alonso in a flurry of late fliers.

In the frantic finish to Q2, Norris found himself pushed back to ninth - but he had still made it through to the top ten pole shootout round. Tsunoda just survived on the bubble meaning Ricciardo had narrowly missed the cut along with Ocon, Bottas, Vettel and Albon.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18. 23.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Qualifying

Q3: Leclerc boosted to pole with helping hand from Sainz

Even though he had nothing left to prove, Sainz was still keen to play a role in qualifying. He was at the front of the queue waiting for the lights at the end of pit lane to go green to signal the start of Q3 and duly gave Leclerc a tow down the straight. He then backed off at turn 11 to release his team mate: the tactic gave Leclerc provisional pole on 1:31.209s by just eight thousandths of a second from Verstappen followed by Perez, Russell, Hamilton, Norris, Alonso and Tsunoda. Sainz himself pitted before setting a time, and Magnussen was sitting this round out altogether.

There was time for one more run, with Ferrari looking to repeat their game play leaving Red Bull wondering whether to try it for themselves and get Perez to assist Verstappen, or simply let things play out as they stood. Either way, it was going to be tight.

It proved to be a beautifully executed game of slipstream tag between Sainz and Leclerc that set the Monegasque up to go three tenths quicker this time, delivering an improved time of 1:30.872s; without the aid of a similar helping hand from Perez, Verstappen also improved but not by nearly enough to dethrone Leclerc who clinched his 16th career pole and his seventh of the current season.

Perez remained in third place, with Hamilton improving his time to move up to fourth ahead of Norris, Russell, Alonso and Tsunoda. Neither Sainz nor Magnussen set a time in Q3 and once their penalties are applied their places on the fifth row of the grid on Sunday will be taken up by Ricciardo and Ocon.

Pole for Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari F1-75, 2nd for Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18 and 3rd for Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB18. 23.07.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 12, French Grand Prix, Paul Ricard, France, Qualifying

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