Ferrari teamwork helped Charles Leclerc take pole position for the French Grand Prix, as Carlos Sainz towed his team-mate to the fastest qualifying lap.
Leclerc and Max Verstappen were once again closely linked at Circuit Paul Ricard, where Red Bull had a speed advantage on the Mistral straight, but Ferrari had better cornering pace.
A track temperature of 56C added to the challenge on Saturday afternoon, with careful control needed to prevent the tires from overheating before the end of their flying lap.
Ferrari dominated all three qualifying segments, first with Leclerc then Sainz in Q2.
The Spaniard has engine penalties which will send him to the back of the grid for the Grand Prix. He sacrificed his times in Q3 so Leclerc could slip him into his fast laps, helping to make up for Ferrari’s top speed deficit.
Both Red Bull cars remained focused on their own time; Verstappen will start second and Sergio Perez third, opening up the possibility for some Red Bull teamwork to help Verstappen in tomorrow’s race.
Perez will start alongside Lewis Hamilton who at times seemed to struggle to keep pace in qualifying – as will teammate George Russell, who starts sixth behind Lando Norris.
Mick Schumacher was one of the first victims of the session, starting in Q1 after taking a lap time off for cutting Turn 3.
Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo were among those eliminated in Q1 and Q2 respectively.
Here is the qualification as it went.
Leclerc started with a lap of 1min 31.727s, which Red Bull couldn’t beat, despite being 9km/h faster in the speed trap.
Perez was 0.627s off the pace, while Verstappen was closer – 0.164s behind, having complained that Perez had blocked him, as the Mexican completed his slowing lap.
Mercedes arrived at the Paul Ricard hoping his upgrades would bring him closer to the front, but both drivers were more than 1.3 seconds off Leclerc’s time, apparently struggling to keep their tires cool.
The Silver Arrows’ initial warm-up laps were slower than most, taking around 2:30, compared to 2:20 for many others.
Sainz was one of the last to complete a flying lap, knowing he would start from the back of the grid. His effort of 1min 32.297sec was enough for third place, ahead of Perez and Norris.
That’s how he stayed on top: Leclerc was sent for a second run, but wondered if it was worth it and returned to the pits without setting another time.
Everyone else except Sainz and Norris went out for a second run. In the drop zone were Zhou Guanyu, Mick Schumacher, Nicholas Latifi, Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen – who had yet to set times and had to start from the back of the grid with engine penalties.
Zhou quickly missed his chance to advance to Q2 with a wild slide out of Turn 6 and Alex Albon, who was 13th, put himself in danger with a spin at Turn 8.
However, Mick Schumacher, Vettel and Magnussen all went faster and escaped the drop zone. That pushed Albon into the last five, with Stroll and Gasly setting the exact same lap time of 1min 33.439sec.
But it wasn’t settled yet. Schumacher had cut the inside of Turn 3 a bit too far and had his lap time suppressed, giving Albon a reprieve and eliminating the 19th-ranked German.
Few others improved in the wake of Albon’s spin that held up Hamilton, among others. He stopped in the pits without doing a flying lap.
Red Bull set the pace at the start of EP2, thanks to Verstappen’s 1min 31.990sec lap and Perez 0.13sec behind.
But Carlos Sainz revealed it as a pedestrian when he came out minutes later to set an explosive time of 1min 31.081sec, almost 1sec quicker than Verstappen.
His companion at the back of the grid was also progressing: Magnussen separated the McLarens to take sixth place at the start with a lap of 1min 33.111sec.
Mercedes, however, had a lot to do. Hamilton was ninth after the opening runs and George Russell was in danger of being knocked out in 12th.
Vettel, Esteban Ocon, Albon and Tsunoda also had to avoid elimination on their final runs.
Sainz and Verstappen stayed in the pits, but Leclerc came out for one last run and closed in on his teammate with a 1min 31.216sec effort.
There was a quick reshuffle at the bottom, as the final laps came around. George Russell escaped, but in the flurry of improving times Lewis Hamilton was pushed into 11th and the elimination zone, forcing him to count his last lap.
He did, which pushed Daniel Ricciardo into the drop zone, missing Tsunoda by 0.086 seconds who did just enough. Ocon, Bottas, Vettel and Albion joined the McLaren driver in exiting at this stage.
With Sainz in Q3, Ferrari could use him as a sacrifice car and did so immediately, deploying him to launch Leclerc into the Mistral straight and into provisional pole position.
It was just 0.008s, however: Verstappen was hiding close behind in second despite no help from his team-mate, followed by Perez 0.4s further.
Red Bull was not tempted to follow Ferrari’s lead for the second rounds and sent Perez well ahead of Verstappen.
Another tow saw Leclerc improve by 0.337sec with a 1min 30.872sec and immediately thanked his teammate for his help.
Verstappen barely improved on his final time and finished 0.304s behind his championship rival – still second ahead of Perez.
Hamilton clocked less than a second behind Leclerc to take fourth, ahead of Norris who shared the Mercedes.
2022 French Grand Prix qualifying results
|1||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||1min 30.872sec|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1min 31.176sec|
|3||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||1min 31.335sec|
|4||Lewis Hamilton||mercedes||1min 31.765sec|
|5||Lando Norris||McLaren||1min 32.032sec|
|6||george russell||mercedes||1min 32.131sec|
|seven||Fernando Alonso||Alpine||1min 32.552sec|
|8||Yuki Tsunoda||Alpha Tauri||1min 32.780sec|
|9||carlos sainz||Ferrari||*No time|
|ten||Kevin Magnussen||Haas||*No time|
|11||Daniel Ricardo||McLaren||1min 32.922sec|
|12||Esteban Ocon||Alpine||1min 33.048sec|
|13||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||1min 33.052sec|
|14||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||1min 33.276sec|
|15||Alex Albon||williams||1min 33.307sec|
|16||Pierre Gasly||Alpha Tauri||1min 33.439sec|
|17||Spear Stroll||Aston Martin||1min 33.439sec|
|18||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||1min 33.674sec|
|19||Mick Schumacher||Haas||1min 33.701sec|
|20||Nicholas Latifi||williams||1min 33.794sec|
*Engine related grid penalties combined means the car will start from the back of the grid