Earning a 63rd front row lockout courtesy of a Lewis Hamilton-Valtteri Bottas 1-2, Mercedes proved to be completely untouchable in qualifying for the 2019 French Grand Prix.
Taking pole with a time of 1:28.319, Hamilton was 0.286 seconds ahead of his teammate, and a whopping 0.646 seconds up on third-placed Charles Leclerc in a performance that proved Mercedes still have the car to beat.
Unable to neither beat Bottas nor significantly separate himself from the Ferraris through Q1 and Q2, Hamilton started Q3 with some serious work to do, but in the end he had more than enough for his rivals, with both his laps in the decider good enough for what would be his 60th pole with the Silver Arrows.
Not expecting to trouble the championship leaders at the Circuit Paul Ricard, Ferrari will have to content themselves with a very consistent performance from Leclerc, although it is likely to be overshadowed by a disappointing finish from Sebastian Vettel.
Despite splitting the Mercedes at the end of Q2, Vettel could only muster P7 in the end, 1.480 seconds behind Hamilton, with Max Verstappen and the very impressive McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz all ahead of him.
Speaking afterwards, the German struggled to explain his performance, admitting “It was difficult for me as some laps were really good and other laps I don’t know why I didn’t have the grip I seemed to have the runs before.”
Having nearly won from pole in Canada, Vettel will start tomorrow’s French GP in a very different position, and he’ll need some serious overtaking and a healthy dose of luck to put behind him the latest round of criticism he has earned here on Saturday.
Starting alongside him tomorrow will be Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who got within 0.119 seconds of his old teammate and will be hopeful that tomorrow he can provide the French faithful something to cheer about.
Rounding out the top ten was Pierre Gasly in ninth and Antonio Giovinazzi in tenth, the latter out-qualifying teammate Raikkonen for the second race in the row after a tough start to the season.
Missing out on Q3 by just four hundredths of a second, Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon will start 11th, the Alfa of Raikkonen alongside him — the Finn also being lucky to avoid punishment for the manner in which he rejoined the track after an off in Q1, which affected the Haas of Romain Grosjean.
The other Renault of Nico Hulkenberg was P13, albeit without the upgraded engine afforded to his teammate. Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen the other runners to make it through to Q2.
Set to take a 25-place grid penalty for an engine change, Daniil Kvyat used the session as little more than glorified testing, but still managed P16 in his Toro Rosso.
Behind him Romain Grosjean’s dismal weekend continued, his chances of progressing stymied by the incident with Raikkonen.
Lance Stroll was a further tenth back from the Frenchman in P18, while the Williams continue to be in a Formula of their own, George Russell over a second behind the Racing Point, albeit over four tenths faster than his last-placed teammate Robert Kubica.