Charles Leclerc took pole position for the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard after team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr set him up with a slipstream in the final sector.
Leclerc benefitted from Sainz waiting for him on the exit of the Mistral chicane and towing him through Signes to set pole postion with a 1’30.872, three tenths of a second ahead of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Sainz will start tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid, alongside Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, which also reached the final phase of qualifying.
Track conditions were virtually identical to the three practice sessions leading up to qualifying as the first phase got underway at Paul Ricard.
Charles Leclerc was one of the first drivers to set a time in the session and unsurprisingly it was the fastest – indeed, his 1’31.727 was the quickest time of the weekend so far. Sergio Perez’s first effort was a full six tenths slower than the Ferrari’s, but Max Verstappen got closer in the other Red Bull. He moved into second place on his first timed lap, just over a tenth of a second slower than Leclerc but comfortably quicker than his team mate.
Leclerc attempted a second push lap on his soft tyres but could not improve on his initial time, and told his team he didn’t understand why they had attempted it. Team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr moved third with his first effort, just over half a second behind his team mate at the top of the times.
With five minutes remaining, the track fell virtually silent. The four drivers at risk of elimination were Zhou Guanyu, Mick Schumacher, Nicholas Latifi and Sebastian Vettel, with Kevin Magnussen choosing only to make a single run at the end of the session in the knowledge he would start from the back of the grid whatever happened.
As time ticked down to just under four minutes remaining, the drivers all took to the track for their final efforts. Already in trouble, a mistake by Zhou exiting turn six ruined his lap and guaranteed his elimination.
Alexander Albon also had a spin at the chicane, putting him in danger of being eliminated. The yellow flags caught out Pierre Gasly, who was forced to back off and could not improve on his personal best time. That left the AlphaTauri vulnerable and when Mick Schumacher improved, it appeared to seal Gasly’s elimination.
However, Schumacher’s time was deleted when the stewards noticed he had cut the inside of turn three, dropping the Haas back down to 19th. Vettel improved into 12th to go safe, pushing Gasly into…