Max Verstappen has stopped Mercedes’ spotless race at Paul Ricard since 2018, taking pole position more than a quarter of a second from Lewis Hamilton for the French Grand Prix – something the Dutchman admitted he didn’t hadn’t planned until the weekend.
After two difficult weekends for Mercedes in Monaco and Baku, many had predicted a resurgence of the Silver Arrows at Circuit Paul Ricard, where Hamilton has claimed every pole position and won since 2018.
READ MORE: Verstappen beats title rival Hamilton on pole in thrilling French GP qualifying
But although both teams led the field throughout qualifying, a final supreme Q3 lap for Verstappen saw him improve by 0.335s from his first effort in Q3, his time of 1m 29.990. giving him the pole of 0.258. s on Hamilton, Verstappen being the only driver to have passed Paul Ricard in less than 90 seconds this weekend.
“It’s not traditionally an amazing track for us, but to be able to take pole here, of course, we are very happy,” said Verstappen. “I knew it would be better than the last time we were here. But it’s good, I wasn’t expecting it, so of course it’s very promising for us and we just have to keep pushing, keep pushing to try to do better.
Our data from Friday’s testing showed Red Bull and Mercedes were almost neck and neck on race pace, with Verstapp adding that with teammate Sergio Perez starting P4 he was feeling good about his race prospects – and Eager to regain the 25 points he lost when a tire puncture cost him victory in Baku.
“[The long run pace] I felt good yesterday in FP2, ”said Verstappen. “But of course we have to wait and see what the weather will do in the morning, but I’m pretty confident.
WATCH: Schumacher crash ends early in Q1 at Paul Ricard – and costs Stroll a chance to progress
“Of course, no points were scored today,” he added. “But for us it’s a great day and of course we have to finish it tomorrow and try to get the 25 points we lost in Baku. But it’s a great promise from our side and I hope that we can continue. ”
Perez finished 0.455 seconds behind his teammate in P4, but four tenths behind the Ferrari of fifth-placed Carlos Sainz.
But despite this, the Baku winner couldn’t help but be disappointed with his own performance in qualifying as he said a technical issue in his first round of Q3 cost him lap time. .
“Unfortunately my first run was compromised a lot,” he said. “Out of [Turn] 9 I had a massive drop in engine speed, something happened there. I think I was on the curb and when the car landed I just lost a lot of time, so I lost a few tenths in the race down the straight, and it really hurts.
AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the French GP at Paul Ricard
“[But] I think there is a lot to play for tomorrow, there is a long race ahead of us, and I think we can definitely have a solid race and push the Mercs on the first lap. My starts were very good so hopefully I can get some positions and then manage our race from there.
Red Bull leads Mercedes by 26 points ahead of the French Grand Prix, with Verstappen just four points behind Hamilton.