F1 French GP, Saturday: Top 2 teams in front, close mid-pack, crashes & more
It was a thrilling qualifying eventually with Top 2 teams leading the charge.
The Saturday in F1 French GP saw an enthralling battle at the top of the standings along with the midfield pack with some crashes involved.
It already looked close between Red Bull and Mercedes on Friday and it was the same on Saturday, with Max Verstappen just edging out Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to pole, with Sergio Perez right behind the Top 3, to make it a tight pack.
For Verstappen, it was finding confidence after a low-key FP1, which he did after some changes. "I think from Friday, FP2, we made a good step forward and basically that continued on Saturday," said the Dutchman. "Of course the conditions in FP3 were initially a little bit different but then again it showed in qualifying that we had good pace.
"Very pleased with that. This has traditionally not been an amazing track for us so to put it on pole of course we are super happy about that," summed up Verstappen, who added that they were expecting a bit of performance gain at Paul Ricard from last time, but such step up was a pleasant surprise, as teammate Sergio Perez thought front-row was possible.
Perez noted about a mistake on his Q3 lap, which cost him some time. "It wasn’t an ideal qualifying as I think locking out the front row was possible but unfortunately I made a mistake on my final Q3 run which cost me quite a bit of lap time," he said. "We were going in the right direction and I was feeling comfortable with the car but I just ran wide over the kerbs at Turn 12 and the lap was gone.
"My starts have been good so the plan is to get a couple of positions off the line and manage the race from there to try and bring home a 1-2 for the Team. I think the race will come down to tyre management so hopefully we can outperform them in that area," summed up Perez, as the Mercedes F1 duo elaborated on their qualifying.
Having had a tough run so far in the F1 weekend, Hamilton eked out a lap when it mattered to end up second. The Brit said they did some last-minutes changes before qualifying and went with whatever they had. But from Q1 itself, he said, he felt much better than practice and was able to stack in good lap times.
"I didn’t really know what to expect this weekend," said Hamilton. "I was looking stronger and naturally we have. We’ve been up in the top five, top four all weekend – but it hasn’t felt great – but it obviously must feel worse further back. We knew that the Red Bulls, of course it seems they’re just strong everywhere.
"Street circuits, doesn’t seem to matter where they go, they’re very strong and we’ve got some areas we just need to improve. Obviously, I heard that we’re losing out mostly on the straights, so we’ll try to figure-out what that is but yeah, as I said, it’s great that we are second and third.
"It puts us in the middle of the Red Bulls, it gives us a chance to really apply pressure – but it’s just as close as ever before. Maybe they seem to have eked a little bit further forwards than we were perhaps in Barcelona," summed up Hamilton, as he then went on to clarify the 'myth' around the chassis change.
"I think I heard Paul was saying something about the chassis," said Hamilton. "I think he said there was a press release… I don’t know. And then just creating the question about whether our chassis were the same etc and as you can see, I managed to do a great job with the same car, so it’s no different.
"It’s just that we, in general, are struggling with getting everything from the tyres and getting the car in the right window and it’s proving tricky. It’s not a ‘put the car on the track and it works everywhere’. It’s a great challenge, we’re all enjoying the challenge and we will continue to keep our heads down," summed up Hamilton.
For Bottas, meanwhile, having had a better practice, it was a bit downer to lose out to Hamilton in the end, but he was happy to have gotten back on track after terrible Baku weekend. "It’s obviously a lot better than Baku so far, and yeah, so it’s been a strong weekend, just in Q3, the last lap, I felt was good, so keen to see why I missed a bit of time against Lewis."
Behind the Top 2 teams, it was a mixed pack, where Ferrari's Carlos Sainz got the better of the mid-pack battle to be fifth. It was a might effort from the Spaniard, especially with his F1 teammate Charles Leclerc struggling with the front tyres and balance. "I didn’t do a good job of driving around the balance limitation of my car, which was on the front for me," said the Monegasque.
"I struggled massively driving around our balance limitations which was quite a bit of understeer and I just didn’t drive well. I will work to understand how I can adapt my driving style and manage this better in the race, although I think that we will feel it less in the F1 race," summed up Leclerc, as Sainz added that it felt a complete run until qualifying for him, especially after letting his team down in the last few races.
It won't be easy for the Ferrari drivers, having to fight with AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly and also the McLaren duo. The Frenchman, meanwhile, admitted to be struggling all weekend and so was happy to have a Top 6 result. "It’s been quite a difficult weekend up to this point, I haven’t felt that comfortable in the car and we’ve struggled a bit with the changing conditions," he said. "We’d made lots of set-up changes to the car across the weekend and it all came together for Qualifying."
His teammate Yuki Tsunoda admitted to his mistake of trying to be a bit greedy and taking a bit more Turn 1 kerb, which resulted in a spin. He tried to re-start and get away, but it just wasn't possible in the end. On the side of McLaren, it was a 50-50 situation, where they were satisfied with double Top 10, but they reckoned, they were short by few tenths.
Fighting a straight battle with Ferrari, they were behind them and been so for some races, especially on one-lap pace. While Lando Norris made it into Q3, there was a small scare in Q2, when he was asked to get back into the pits, as they did not have enough fuel in, due to wrong measurement - which they took care of eventually.
Just around them, Alpine had one car of Fernando Alonso inside the Top 10, which was what the French F1 outfit expected, despite some strong laps in practice. Teammate Esteban Ocon missed out in 11th, as both eye points in the race, where they think they will have to defend hard with some quick cars around them.
For Aston Martin, it was heartbreak on Lance Stroll side, where he ended up being unlucky with double red flag period and a lap deletion. Eventually, he couldn't set a lap time and will start from the back of the field, while F1 teammate Sebastian Vettel felt he had some pace to get into Q3, but lost it on his final run of Q2.
Considering that everyone is starting on the medium tyres in the Top 10, he reckons, it will be hard to have a different strategy. For the likes of Alfa Romeo and Williams, it was a case of a missed chance, especially with the red flag, where one each made it into Q2.
Looking at the half lap times, everyone was improving when the red flag disrupted their run. Kimi Raikkonen felt the hardest as he was behind both the Williams, who were separated by just the 0.002s. It was a Leclerc-like moment for Mick Schumacher, where he made it into Q2 for the first time after crashing out.
"I pushed too hard going into the corner and that kicked out the rear," said Schumacher. "The car is very wind affected – I don’t know if that would have triggered some extra oversteer. Nonetheless, we’ve managed to get into our first Q2 session of the year, so things brighten up and hopefully we can get more of those days in the future.
"There is damage to the car, how great we don’t know yet. If everything is okay we’ll start from there and obviously it is on paper, and that’s what matters to me. If something happens, I’ve got 53 laps to catch up. I’m optimistic that we see the light at the end of the tunnel. The team is getting more motivated every day, I am more motivated every day and those results prove that our hard work is growing," summed up Schumacher, as he awaits to know if the gearbox will be needed to be changed or not.