Formula 1 Racing

Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen fill French Grand Prix front row

Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen fill French Grand Prix front row

Charles Leclerc drew level with Max Verstappen on 16 F1 pole positions by outpacing the World Champion in qualifying for the French Grand Prix.

Although Ferrari had been fastest in Friday practice, Verstappen had flexed his muscles with his Red Bull the class of the field in FP3.

But the Dutchman will have to settle for starting the race in second, just behind his main 2022 championship rival who cut Verstappen’s lead in the title race to 38 points when beating him to victory in Austria last time out.

Qualifying began with the back row of the grid already formed, Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen certain to be there barring any further unforeseen engine penalties. The complete list of extra power-unit components fitted to their cars had filtered through during FP3.

They were the last two drivers still in the pits as Leclerc set the initial fastest time ahead of Verstappen and Sergio Perez, with one school of thought suggesting Ferrari could try to get Sainz through to Q3 to give his team-mate an important tow along the straight.

Magnussen did a solitary run at the end but his time was still good enough for sixth and both he and Sainz advanced, which meant five other drivers would still be eliminated from Q1.

Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were unhappy about rivals getting in their way – in the Dutchman’s case finding his own team-mate on his line – as attention turned to who would exit. There were mistakes on their final attempts from Zhou Guanyu and Alex Albon, the latter spinning and bringing out yellow flags, but while the Alfa Romeo man’s error proved costly, the Williams driver got away with it.

Only just in Albon’s case though – he survived by the skin of his teeth as Mick Schumacher had a lap time deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 3. Schumacher joined Albon’s team-mate Nicholas Latifi, Zhou, Lance Stroll and, surprisingly at his home race, Pierre Gasly in the bottom five. Haas argued Schumacher’s case but were unsuccessful.

In Q2 it was Verstappen and Perez that set the early benchmark ahead of Leclerc and Lando Norris, who was enjoying a productive time in a McLaren that had more upgrades at Paul Ricard than any other car.

As in Q1, Sainz was doing his own thing on a different run sequence to everyone else and with the track largely to himself, set a stunning 1:31.081 – a…

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