Charles Leclerc will start the French Grand Prix from the front of the grid after the Ferrari driver powered to his seventh pole position of the season, thanks to a strong two from team-mate Carlos Sainz that forced championship leader Max Verstappen to settle for second place.
With Sainz set to drop to the back of the grid due to power unit penalties, Ferrari used the Spaniard to gain a tactical advantage in the final top-10 shootout of qualifying at the Circuit Paul Ricard. Sent out ahead of Leclerc Sainz slowed late in the lap to slingshot Leclerc through the final corners and the Monegasque driver sealed three tenths of a second ahead of Verstappen.
At the start of qualifying, Leclerc set the pace with a time of 1:31.727. Sergio Pérez slotted into P2 in the second Red Bull, six tenths of a second off that marker, but Verstappen swiftly dislodged his team-mate with a lap of 1:31.891 to sit 0.164s behind the Ferrari driver.
Sainz went out for his first flying lap with a little under seven minutes left and the Spaniard jumped to third place with a lap of 1:32.297 that left him a little over five hundredths ahead of Pérez. The order at the top of the timesheet then stayed static and attention turned to the lower half of the timesheet and the battle to avoid elimination.
Ahead of the final runs the drivers in the danger zone were 16th-placed Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo followed by Haas’ Mick Schumacher, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Magnussen who had not set a time.
When the final times were delivered, the first man out was AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. The home hero was ruled out of Q2 in 16th place just 0.016s off the 1:33.423 that kept Williams’ Alex Albon in the session. Behind Gasly, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was eliminated in P17 ahead of Zhou. It looked like Mick Schumacher had vaulted to safety when a lap of 1:33.114 put him 10th, but the German’s time was deleted for exceeding track limits in Turn 3 and he slid into the drop zone in P19 where he would eliminated ahead of Latifi.
In the first runs of Q2, Verstappen jumped to P1 with a lap of 1:31.990. Pérez slotted into second place 0.130s behind his team-mate, while Leclerc, on used soft tyres, took third, almost six tenths of a second off Verstappen’s benchmark.
Sainz was again one of the last drivers on track in the first phase of Q2 and armed with new tyres and his new power unit, the Spaniard powered to top spot with a lap of 1:31.081, some nine tenths ahead of Verstappen.
Both Sainz and Verstappen opted to stay in the pit lane for the final runs and that allowed Leclerc to steal P2 at the end of the segment when he posted a lap of 1:31.216 to hand Ferrari a Q2 one-two ahead of the championship leader and Pérez.
In the final runs Hamilton and Mercedes’ team-mate George Russell both jumped out of danger to claim fifth and seventh places either side of the Alpine of Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen, who will also start from the back of the grid due to power unit changes, ran again to claim eighth place ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda who made it into Q3 for the third time this season.
The Japanese driver progressed at the expense of Daniel Ricciardo who was eliminated by the slim margin of eight hundredths of a second. Behind the McLaren driver Alpine’s Esteban Ocon went out in P12 ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’ Alex Albon.
In the first run of Q3, Sainz went out on used soft tyres ahead of Leclerc, with the Monegasque driver seeking a tow from his team-mate. And benefiting from the slipstream, the Monegasque driver took provisional pole with a lap of 1:31.209. Verstappen, unaided by a tow, was almost equal to the task, however, and the Dutchman slotted into second place just 0.008s behind the Ferrari. Pérez, meanwhile, took third with his first-run time of 1:31.640 almost eight tenths of a second ahead of Russell and Hamilton.
And with Sainz facing his grid drop, Ferrari again used the Spaniard to two Leclerc around in the final runs. The Spanish slowed on the approach to the Signes curve and Leclerc powered through the final sector to lower the benchmark to 1:30.872.
Verstappen, meanwhile, lost time in the first sector of his lap but a superb second sector put him a tenth ahead of Leclerc’s first run time. He couldn’t compete with the Ferrari tow late in the lap, however, and he crossed the line in 1:31.176, three tenths off pole.
Pérez, meanwhile, made a significant gain of more than three tenths of a second in his final run to claim third place, more than four tenths clear of Hamilton. Norris put in a good lap for McLaren to take fifth place ahead of Russell, Alonso and Tsunoda. Sainz qualified in ninth place, but will drop back as will Magnussen who qualified tenth.
2022 FIA Formula 1 French Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:30.872
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:31.176 0.304
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:31.335 0.463
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.765 0.893
5 Lando Norris McLaren 1:32.032 1.160
6 George Russell Mercedes 1:32.131 1.259
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:32.552 1.680
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:32.780 1.908
9 Carlos Sainz Ferrari
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:32.922 2.050
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:33.048 2.176
13 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:33.052 2.180
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:33.276 2.404
15 Alex Albon Williams 1:33.307 2.435
16 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:33.439 2.567
17 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:33.439 2.567
18 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:33.674 2.802
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:33.701 2.829
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:33.794 2.922