Morning After: Zak in bear hug mode and other more familiar tales

The 2019 greatest Formula 1 hits record is stuck in the same groove! Namely, Mercedes dominate the charge with Lewis Hamilton inevitably fastest of all in that rocket ship of a Mercedes; Valtteri Bottas is his traditional quarter second slower; Sebastian Vettel has a mini-meltdown while Red Bull chase as they piggyback Honda.

Hamilton’s performance in qualifying for the French Grand Prix was what we have come to expect as he nabbed his 86th F1 pole position start with a power lap during his first Q3 attempt. Then went a tenth and a bit faster with his final effort even when shot number one did the business.

None of his rivals improved with their second efforts. Ominously, but no surprise, he probably had more in his ‘Hammertime’ reserves.

No answer Bottas was next best followed by Charles Leclerc who has had the edge over his Ferrari teammate all weekend and had Lewis relishing a battle for the Monegasque

On the other hand, Vettel had a wicked little tete-a-tete with his engineer which clearly psyched himself out and he will start from seventh. The German’s best Q3 effort was only good enough for seventh and over half a second shy of his teammate.

Ferrari chief Mattia Binotto and Vettel himself pointed out that the updates they brought to France have not worked to expectations, while Merc have remained mum what new bits they have bolted on to their car – which they are sure to have – and again simply delivered when it matters. This W10 is, without doubt, one of the best, if not the best, F1 car ever built.

McLaren! Now that was a pleasant surprise with both the lads doing solid jobs while the tech guys at the factory have really delivered. Is this leap in performance attributable to James Key’s arrival? Or Andreas Seidl taking command of the team? Or a combination of both?

Whatever the case it was good to see Zak Brown in bear hugging mood as the Woking outfit enjoyed their best Saturday in ages reminding us all how much we miss them slugging it out at the front.

A special mention for Lando Norris. The 19-year-old has become something of a revelation seven races into his rookie season, and at Circuit Paul Ricard this weekend he really asserted himself by outqualifying his more experienced teammate Carlos Sainz by a tenth of a second. For a change the hype is right, the kid is special!

While it was a Good day for the orange cars, it was a relatively Bad day for the Renault boys, with Daniel Ricciardo best of the pair – using an updated PU unlike teammate Nico Hulkenberg – the Aussie was half a second shy of Norris who was best of the quartet using French horses.

It was a Bad day Pierre Gasly for the obvious reason of being severely trounced by his Dutch teammate who was eight-tenths of a second quicker in Q3. The Frenchman is in trouble.

Also in the Bad day category would be the Toro Rosso duo and the increasingly funny (in a sad way) are the misadventures of Romain Grosjean who just can’t catch a break and when he does he messes up or is tripped up by someone else. That Balotelli T-shirt ‘Why Always Me?’ should be part of his merchandise range.

And finally the Ugly: as always those poor Williams drivers thinking they are in F1 when their car is north of four seconds slower than the prime time on the day. They are in another league altogether, with Robert Kubica his traditional half a second down on rookie George Russell in the sister car.

Another Ugly were Racing Point, with Lance Stroll again unable to dig deep when times are hard he struggles to match teammate Sergio Perez who wrestled the pink thing to 14th on the timesheets, finding a second that his younger teammate simply did not have in him on the day.

Saturday Figures

55.2°C. The track surface was scorching on Saturday, as the track rubbered in and for some reason played to the strategy of bolting on the yellow band mediums for Q2 which all but Gasly did.

1.7 seconds. The difference in Hamilton’s pole-winning time in 2018 and his version of the same thing this year.

86. The number of times Lewis has started on pole

Strategy Predictions