top 2 fight; Norris/Mercedes mix; Schumacher & more

The Saturday in F1 French GP saw Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen in another league, leaving teammates and others long way behind.

It was all Red Bull vs Ferrari at the front on Saturday in French GP at Paul Ricard, with the two teams again fighting for pole. It was literally Max Verstappen vs Charles Leclerc for pole with Carlos Sainz having a penalty and Sergio Perez not looking menacing.

But both Leclerc and Verstappen did struggle in qualifying, with the Monegasque prevailing to secure pole after taking help of tow from Sainz which they never practiced before doing it in Q3. The Dutchman was fine with second but teammate Perez was elated with third.

Leclerc: “I was very happy. I mean, overall the weekend has been quite difficult for me. I struggled to find the right balance with the car, the right driving style, so it’s very, very warm, so whenever you get a small snap or whatever then the rest of the lap is compromised. So it was very, very tricky, but I was very happy with my last lap. And obviously I got the help from Carlos also, that helped us for that lap too. We didn’t practice before Q3 actually. So, we did quite a good job to between the first run of Q3 and the second run of Q3. We did a good step in the right direction. I think it’s around two tenths of what I remember in the car, compared to the lap of Q2 without the tow.

“So, it’s significant. It will have been a lot more tight with Max without the tow. Yeah, it was a nice help anyway. As for the race, I think it will be tricky, because yeah, the Red Bull guys seem to be very, very quick in the race simulations they’ve done yesterday. So we’ve worked a little bit on the car for the race. Hopefully, it will go better for us tomorrow. But tire management will be a thing. We were good in Austria, we struggled a bit more yesterday, but I think we did a significant step up in performance since yesterday so hopefully we can show that tomorrow in the race.”

Verstappen: “I didn’t think about that, what to expect from it in terms of lap times. I think overall, you know, with the conditions out there, it’s very difficult to really know what’s going to happen. I mean, it’s so hot out there. And also the tires to get them in the right window is very tough, already the whole weekend. But qualifying for myself was a bit of a struggle to get the right balance to be honest. Yeah, just not having that grip I want to have, especially in Q3, you know, when you really want to push it, but maybe it’s just related to the track layout, the surface, together with the heat, that it just doesn’ t really, whatever, suit the car, suit my suit my driving style, I don’t know.

“But I think overall, to be second I think it’s still pretty good. The race pace, it’s alright. But I mean, we have to be quick also tomorrow and it’s going to be probably even warmer than today. So it will be even harder on the tires. And to keep them alive is going to be key. I mean you can have good start pace but it’s also about keeping them alive.”

Perez: “I managed to improve a few tenths on my final lap. I think the whole weekend has been very difficult for me. I’ve been struggling a lot with the balance throughout the weekend. I was certainly making good progress through qualifying and I think my Q3 lap, there was a bit in it still, but not much more. So super pleased to be P3 and hopefully our race pace will be stronger for tomorrow and we can be in the fight for the victory. We’ve been playing around with the set-up quite a bit, you know, since the beginning of the weekend. It’s very, very hot and somehow I’ve been struggling a lot, you know, it has been probably my worst we can up to now in terms of preparation for qualifying. So it’s a decent result to pull it back.”

Sainz: “The new elements was the plan the whole way through the weekend. Unfortunately, the penalty comes at the stretch of the season when I’m feeling at the best with the car. I think you’ve seen all weekend, very fast in every session at every point, but obviously because of the penalty, the target was to get to Q3 and give the tow to Charles, which I think I did pretty well – I think it was pretty nailed – and I’m happy for the team. I know how to give a good tow, I mean, I know what I would need, because I know exactly where I would need… Charles to give me a tow, so I just gave him what I think was the best.

“I think this weekend I’m probably one of the fastest guys on track so we should be able to make it through the field. It will all depend on how the hard tire feels versus the medium, how difficult it is to follow and overtake with these front tyres, how difficult it is with the overheating following other cars. But I’m going to give it the best shot and I’m feeling confident with the car, so it’s a good weekend to try and do a good recovery.”

Behind the top 2, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton found himself in the fourth even though he admitted to not feeling that great in the car. Not just him but teammate George Russell felt the same where they thing Perez is their target rather than Leclerc and Verstappen.

Amid this, they will have some challenge from McLaren too after Lando Norris managed to put himself in between Hamilton and Russell. The updated McLaren seem to be working well, where teammate Daniel Ricciardo just missed out of a place in the Top 10.

While trying to battle with Mercedes, both Norris and Ricciardo will have Alpine too to fend off. Fernando Alonso made it into the Top 10 but noted that he didn’t feel 100%. Teammate Esteban Ocon was in Q2 but wasn’t too pleased as was the case all-weekend long.

Hamilton: “I’m really, really happy with where I got the car, considering I missed P1, and my last qualifying lap, it was a beautiful lap – it’s just miles off theirs [Verstappen and Leclerc’s]. They are in a different league; we just have to accept we’re not in the same league in terms of performance of the car, but still, I can get a good start and hopefully I can battle with Perez maybe. I’m still going to be challenging and fighting for a podium if I can.

Norris: “Before qualifying, we were discussing whether we should even talk about Q3, because it was very far away from what we thought we could achieve. I’m happy; I mean my lap in Q3 felt like a really good lap, the type of lap that you feel like you should be on pole with! In other categories if you do this lap, I feel like I’d be very happy with that, and if I’m not on pole then I’d be surprised but I was still like one-and-a-bit seconds away. But apart from that, the team have done a good job and I feel like I’ve done a good job extracting everything, so we are in the best position we could be for tomorrow. Like I said, we weren’t expecting Q3 today, so to be P5 today is a good step, and I’m hoping a similar scenario happens tomorrow, where we are thinking we might have a tough race but hopefully it’s just a really easy one. But I’m expecting a good race and a good battle with Fernando [Alonso, starting seventh] and maybe not the Mercedes, but I’ll try.”

Alonso: “It has been a challenging weekend so far but the seventh is a strong position for us to start in tomorrow. We weren’t totally happy in practice with the car balance and so we’ve been working hard all weekend to improve that. Yesterday the long runs seemed quite strong for us, so let’s see whether we can make some gains tomorrow. Tire management is going to be a big factor as they are overheating and graining, so it’ll be a real challenge in the heat. The pit lane time loss is also one of the highest of the championship, so a one-stop strategy will be ideal tomorrow, but whether that is possible we’ll have to wait and see. The atmosphere has been great, and we’ve really felt the love from the home fans.”

The Top 10 also featured AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda who was eighth, while teammate Pierre Gasly was knocked out in Q1 and left disappointed after not feeling best with the car since FP3. He recognized it was a different car on Saturday to Friday.

Another team to be in a similar position was Haas where Kevin Magnussen made it into the Top 10, but Mick Schumacher was knocked out in Q1. The plan was for the Dane to provide slipstream, but he was left with no choice but have fun and made it into Q3.

The German was disappointed by the stewards who deleted his fast lap in Q1 which eventually cost him a place in Q2. For Williams, despite the good performance in FP3, both Alexander Albon and Nicholas Latifi did struggle a bit in qualifying.

The Canadian couldn’t make it in Q2, while the Thai made it in but a spin cost him time and tyres. At the same time, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas was pleased with 11th while Zhou Guanyu not after getting knocked out in Q1 which was a similar story for Aston Martin.

Gasly: “Yesterday, we were really comfortably in the top 10 and since this morning already, it was a lot more difficult. I don’t fully understand why yet, but obviously extremely disappointed to miss out on Q2 for, I think, one or two-hundredths. To be fair, between yesterday and today, it’s just been completely different, so I don’t really fully understand where it stands. Yesterday was very positive. but [for FP3], it felt like a different car, and then again in qualifying it wasn’t great. Ultimately it was close, but it wasn’t as competitive as yesterday. We need more time and we’ll just need time to analyze everything.”

Schumacher: “It’s a rule, it’s there for everybody and unfortunately I exceeded it, but it’s definitely something that we should talk about. Conditions are quite tough out there, it’s warm, but on the other hand that might bring about opportunities as people might make mistakes. It’s just a matter of being clean and looking after the tires as much as possible. I think we have the potential to go forwards in the race and that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Albon: “I think I got a lot out of the car today and was happy with it – the wind did pick up and I struggled a bit with this. I think we’ve been slightly fortunate throughout the weekend so far with the low wind, but it picked up in qualifying and was getting stronger and just went the wrong way for us. The team are doing a good job and have come up with a really different package, so we really are fighting towards Q2 which is exactly where we want to be. Starting P13 puts us in a good place for tomorrow so let’s see what we can do from there.”

Here’s how F1 French GP qualifying panned out

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