During qualifying for the 2021 French Grand Prix, Max Verstappen delivered an exceptional lap to hold off Lewis Hamilton in one of his most polished Q3 performances of the season.
Let’s crunch the numbers from the French Grand Prix qualifying session and figure out what was really going on at the Paul Ricard Circuit on Saturday.
Development Progress: Year on Year Battles (2021 v. Fastest Previous Qualifying Lap)
It was a superb fifth pole position for Max Verstappen and a convincing performance overall for Red Bull. Verstappen ended a quarter of a second ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who is the only other pole sitter of the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard since its return to the schedule in 2018.
The laps between Verstappen and Hamilton were so good in fact, Karun Chandhok broke them down in supreme detail, corner by corner. Toto Wolff was also seen afterwards having a good look at the laps between today’s two top drivers.
The progress chart above shows comparisons from each team’s fastest lap today compared to their respective fastest lap in previous years, which in today’s case resulted in comparison entirely against 2019. Williams Mercedes led the way in terms of development bettering their 2019 by 0.724s.
Notably missing from the leaders in development are McLaren Mercedes who customarily show admirable development. Furthermore, both McLaren’s find themselves behind both Ferrari’s as the Italian outfit continues to reverse their position to their British rivals in an epic championship battle between the two historic teams.
It’s Red Bull’s strongest development showing since Bahrain, and importantly reversing their development slip of the last two races. Meanwhile, Mercedes delivered their worst development comparison to their rivals, not only this year, but throughout the entire hybrid era posting the worst of all teams.
Putting Mercedes performance loss into perspective, they are essentially two seconds behind their best 2019 time, which translates into 67% off of the average development loss across all teams today.
While a narrative persists that Mercedes were not hurt by the well-documented regulation changes, the season has seen seven-race qualifications, and all seven show significant losses in ultimate lap time for Mercedes. Worse yet for Mercedes, there has been absolutely no improvement to date this season, if anything, the car is getting worse in qualifying trim in comparison to their rivals.
Ultimately, Red Bull trounced Mercedes with a 1.348 development delta gain. It’s a reflection of Red Bull’s hard work over the past two years. Verstappen is the most appropriate driver to deliver the goods for the team. Hamilton and Verstappen are the difference makers and between the two it’s advantage to Verstappen at the moment.
- – 1.541 | Giovinazzi DEF. Raikkonen
- -0.997 | Russell DEF. Latifi
- -0.612 | Schumacher DEF. Mazepin
- -0.455 | Verstappen DEF. Perez
- -0.396 | Alonso DEF. Ocon
- -0.147 | Sainz DEF. Leclerc
- -0.130 | Norris DEF. Ricciardo
- -0.128 | Hamilton DEF. Bottas
Top Seven Covered By Less Than A Second
Seven drivers across the four teams of Mercedes, Red Bull Honda, AlphaTauri Honda and Ferrari were covered by just under a second. McLaren missed the club by 0.262, and Alpine by only 0.350.
Sergio Perez was a little too far back from his Dutch teammate despite a successful outing qualifying fourth. Just when it seemed to all click for Perez, the winner of the previous GP in Baku, the Mexican found himself a devastating 0.455 behind Verstappen.
Pierre Gasly quietly managed to out qualify both Ferrari’s and both McLaren’s which is one of the most impressive performances of the session.
- Every drivers final segment of qualifying resulted in their fastest lap, with the obvious exception of Mick Schumacher.
- Carlos Sainz beat Charles Leclerc in every segment of qualifying, unfamiliar territory for Leclerc.
- Valtteri Bottas qualified behind his own car.
Qualifying Order – Teams Pace Battle
- +0.000 | Red Bull Honda
- +0.258 | Mercedes
- +0.850 | Ferrari
- +0.878 | AlphaTauri Honda
- +1.262 | McLaren Mercedes
- +1.350 | Alpine
- +1.777 | Aston Martin Mercedes
- +1.823 | Alfa Romeo Ferrari
- +2.075 | Williams Mercedes
- +2.952 | Haas Ferrari