Race Weekend Central

Charles Leclerc Gets Teammate Tow, Takes Pole for French Grand Prix

On Saturday (July 23) at Circuit Paul Ricard, Charles Leclerc got one step closer to lifting the big gorilla in tomorrow’s French Grand Prix, qualifying his Ferrari on pole position with a little assistance from his teammate Carlos Sainz. Max Verstappen will start alongside Leclerc on the front row. 

With Sainz due to start from the back of the grid after changing power unit components that were on fire in Austria, Scuderia Ferrari completely sacrificed the Spaniard’s lap to give Leclerc a slipstream down Paul Ricard’s long back straight.

“It’s a great lap. I struggled all weekend to put a lap together,” Leclerc told Sky Sports after claiming the 16th pole position of his career and seventh of the season. He continued, “I had the help of Carlos, it was amazing teamwork.”

 

Verstappen chose instead to focus on Sunday, saying “[Qualifying] was a bit more tricky than we would have hoped… overall we have a decent racecar. We are quick on the straights, we can use that.”

See also
Slipstream Saturday: Is The French Grand Prix Ferrariʻs to Lose?

Qualifying one set the stage for the session: Red Bull’s new low-drag rear wing made Verstappen a monster down the Mistral straight, while the higher-downforce Ferrari made Leclerc stronger in the twisty parts of sectors one and three. At the end of Q1, it was Leclerc ahead of Verstappen by just a tenth of a second

With Europe at the mercy of a record-setting heatwave, all drivers had to take their out laps as slowly as possible so as not to damage the Pirelli tires. Tire management was even a concern over a single lap: pushing too hard in the first sector could give drivers less grip in sector three. 

The only yellow flag in the session came in the closing seconds, as William’s Alex Albon spun in the Mistral chicane. Slowing for the yellows affected the final flying laps of Lewis Hamilton among others, although both Albon and Hamilton advanced into Q2.

Daniel Ricciardo and Mick Schumacher had their fastest times deleted for track-limit infringements. While Ricciardo’s second-best lap was good enough to advance, the young German dropped from 11th to 19th in the session, eliminating him from qualifying. 

Eliminated in Q1 were Nicolas Latifi, Schumacher, Zhou Guanyu, Lance Stroll, and home driver Pierre Gasly.

Most of the frontrunners did their fast laps on used tires with the exception of Sainz, who put in an incredible lap in the middle of the session, jumping to P1 by nearly a second over Verstappen. 

In the end, nobody could catch Sainz, with Riccardo, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel and Albon failing to advance. 

In qualifying three there was immediate gamesmanship from Ferrari. Sainz, who will start from the back of the grid after an engine fire in Austria, sacrificed his own lap to give Leclerc a perfect tow along the second half of the Mistral straight. Regardless, Verstappen without a slipstream was just eight-thousandths slower. 

On his second flying lap, Leclerc pulled out another three and a half tenths, which was ultimately too much for even Verstappen’s straight-line advantage to overcome.

Hamilton in fourth put in a strong lap to start ‘best of the rest,’ still a shocking eight tenths off of pole on a weekend when Mercedes have looked on the back foot. 

Lenovo French Grand Prix Qualifying Results

  1. Charles Leclerc – Ferrari
  2. Max Verstappen – Red Bull
  3. Sergio Perez – Red Bull
  4. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
  5. Lando Norris – McLaren/Mercedes
  6. George Russell – Mercedes
  7. Fernando Alonso – Alpine/Renault
  8. Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri/Red Bull
  9. Carlos Sainz – Ferrari (To Rear: Engine Penalty)
  10. Kevin Magnussen – Haas/Ferrari (To Rear: Engine Penalty)
  11. Daniel Riccardo – McLaren/Mercedes
  12. Esteban Ocon – Alpine/Renault
  13. Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo/Ferrari
  14. Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin/Mercedes
  15. Alexander Albon – Williams/Mercedes
  16. Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri/Red Bull
  17. Lance Stroll – Aston Martin/Mercedes
  18. Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo/Ferrari
  19. Mick Schumacher – Haas/Ferrari
  20. Nicolas Latifi – Williams/Mercedes

The Lenovo French Grand Prix airs Sunday, July 24 at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN.

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