After Friday’s successes, there was more good news for Lewis Hamilton as he took the 75th pole of his career. It wasn’t such a great day for McLaren though but a memorable one for a driver who may well be racing for Ferrari sooner rather than later.
Rain seriously affected the final practice session and it was Mercede’s Valtteri Bottas who posted the fastest time. The bad weather began just minutes into the session and it resulted in just 15 drivers being able to set a time with only a quartet of teams sending their cars out during the showers.
All of which led to a rather unusual top three with Carlos Sainz in second in his Renault and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc third. Fernando Alonso was fourth with Championship leader Sebastian Vettel in fifth and the other McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne fifth. Lewis Hamilton was 12th fastest with a time that was seven seconds behind his team-mate as he didn’t take any risks on the slippery track. Not the most fascinating of practice sessions with most of the talk being whether the poor weather would still be around when it was time for qualifying.
Thankfully the rain stayed away for the qualifying session but the red flag didn’t in a dramatic top ten shoot-out. It was Lewis Hamilton who took pole position and it was a Mercedes 1-2.
Hamilton finished 0.118 seconds ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas for the 75th pole of his career. At one stage it was Bottas in front but again Hamilton produced it when most needed and claimed pole.
Third place went to Sebastian Vettel with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in fourth position on the grid. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was in fifth with the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen filling sixth position. Raikkonen could have finished higher but for another mistake which is becoming a common occurrence this season and doubts continue over whether he will be driving for Ferrari next season.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz was seventh but the big surprise was that 20-year-old Charles LeClerc took eighth place in his Sauber. He’s down in 14th place in the drivers’ championship with only ten points this season but more could be on their way this weekend and he could well be racing for Ferrari next season if he carries on like this. The top ten on the grid were completed by the two Haas drivers with Magnussen ahead of Grosjean.
The latter of those two drivers had the most eventful time in the top ten shoot-out as Grosjean crashed at the Beausset double-right hander. That led to the red flag coming out while his car was removed from the track.
After last week’s heroics it was a disappointing time for Fernando Alonso who could only manage 16th place, two ahead of his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, the worst performance by the team this season. Alonso said that what happened wasn’t a surprise but “it is very disappointing.”
Speaking after qualifying, Sebastian Vettel admitted Ferrari were a couple of tenths slower than Mercedes but still thinks his team has a “good chance” of winning Sunday’s French Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton wasn’t as delighted as you’d think he would be and said that: “Q3 has not been spectacular. Q1 and Q2 were good, but Q3 was so-so.”
There’s the possibility of some rain on Sunday so we might get a race that’s a bit more thrilling than recent efforts. Hamilton on pole has the chance to regain the championship lead but it looks like being a fascinating race on a track several drivers have had problems with this weekend whether it’s raining or not. I’ll be back next weekend with a look at whether Daniel Ricciardo might move to McLaren, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sport