Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc won qualifying for the French Grand Prix on Sunday (3 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for Formula 1 and on Sky). The runner-up in the championship set the fastest time on Saturday at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet. Second was Max Verstappen in the Red Bull, 0.3 seconds behind, followed by his stable mate Sergio Perez, who was 0.46 seconds off the best time. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth ahead of Lando Norris (5th) and George Russell (6th) in the second Mercedes.
Before the hunt for times began, it was already clear that Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz would have to start from the end of the field because Scuderia had changed the engine and other parts on his F1-75. For this, the Spaniard will be transferred as a punishment.
Verstappen with difficulties
During Friday’s two practice sessions, Ferrari already looked like a surefire contender for pole position. World champion Max Verstappen, on the other hand, struggled in his RB18, complained on the radio about his understeering company car and missed the right balance.
In the third practice session on Saturday afternoon, however, the Dutchman set the fastest time and underlined his ambitions for first place. In the crucial third qualifying phase, Charles Leclerc also benefited from the fact that his team-mate Carlos Sainz, for whom his penalty meant nothing anyway, gave him helpful slipstreams on the long Mistral straight.
praise from the competition
“It worked thanks to Carlos,” admitted Leclerc. “Without Carlos it would have been much closer. Hopefully he’ll be back at the front in the fight tomorrow.” The competition also had to acknowledge the perfect teamwork between the red teammates: “Ferrari made optimal use of the slipstream game,” said Red Bulls advisor Helmut Marko. “But the gap is not as drastic as it looks.”
“Our strength isn’t qualifying, we had a few problems. It was trickier than I had hoped,” admitted the defeated Max Verstappen, who has been waiting for a Grand Prix victory for more than a month: “We have a good racing car, we are fast on the straights, we can use that well tomorrow .”
Sebastian Vettel, who was only able to cover a few kilometers in Saturday’s training session due to a damaged underbody, made it into the second qualifying phase with a very good lap. In 14th place, the man from Heppenheim clearly missed out on taking part in the third and final phase, but was again faster than his teammate Lance Stroll. Because not only Carlos Sainz’s engine was changed, but also Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, Vettel moves up two places on the grid and starts twelfth.
For Mick Schumacher, who had shown himself to be in much better shape in the past few races, the grid race in Provence ended early. He placed his Haas-Ferrari in 19th place. His fastest lap would certainly have carried the German into the second phase. However, Schumacher left the track illegally in turn three, after which the time was annulled. “It’s a shame!” Schumacher commented on his mishap on Sky: “But then we just have to do more in the race and overtake more.”
After all: Schumacher also benefits from the penalties for Sainz and Magnussen and moves up to 17th place. The two French in the field, Esteban Ocon in the Alpine and Pierre Gasly in the Alpha Tauri, disappointed in front of their home crowd and started from tenth and 14th place after penalties.
It remains difficult to assess how strong Mercedes will be in race trim. The series winner of yore has been chasing behind this season so far. In theory, the Le Castellet slope now offers the perfect terrain for the silver arrows. Which prompted former world champion Damon Hill to predict a Mercedes one-two in the south of France.
“It’s all about tires, tires, tires”
Counting on a fast lap, the W13 cannot keep up with Ferrari and Red Bull. However, there is actually a lot to be said for Mercedes over the race distance of 300 kilometers, because the team provides the more reliable car, which is also particularly careful with the tyres. That could be crucial.
The Grand Prix on Sunday will be an endurance test for the drivers and their cars. With asphalt temperatures of around 60 degrees Celsius, it is important for the drivers to be economical with their tyres. The Paul Ricard circuit, with its medium-speed and high-speed corners, quickly wears down the Pirelli rubber.
The extreme temperatures in Provence will intensify this effect. “The tires get very hot very quickly,” summed up Max Verstappen. And his team boss Christian Horner left no doubt about what matters on Sunday: “It’s all about the tyres, tyres, tyres”.