Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Paul Ricard, 2018

Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two as Leclerc stars

2018 French Grand Prix qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton needed a flying late effort to beat team mate Valtteri Bottas to pole position at Paul Ricard.

The pair pushed Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari down to third place and will start at a strategic advantage having opted for the harder super-soft tyres in Q2.

Charles Leclerc impressed by qualifying his Sauber an excellent eighth. But it was a poor session for McLaren as neither car made the cut for Q2.


McLaren’s poor start to 2018 hit a new low in the first round of qualifying for the French Grand Prix as for the first time this year both drivers failed to progress beyond Q1.

A strong performance by the Sauber drivers was partly their undoing. Marcus Ericsson, notwithstanding his limited practice running due to a crash yesterday, reached Q2 for the first time this year, joining his team mate.

That pushed Fernando Alonso onto the cusp of the drop zone. Sergio Perez’s final lap delivered the coup de grace, consigning Alonso to elimination along with Stoffel Vandoorne.

Only the struggling Williams pair looked no kind of threat to the McLarens. Lance Stroll ended up at the bottom of the times after running wide at the exit of turn two and being launched into the air briefly by the aggressive kerbs.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1’32.976
17 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1’33.025
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1’33.162
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1’33.636
20 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1’33.729


The rain which had been forecast to fall at the end of Q1 arrived on time, and Q2 began in steady, light drizzle. But it wasn’t enough to force drivers onto wet-weather rubber.

However while most teams opted for the ultra-soft tyres, Mercedes and Red Bull took the strategic option by fitting the super-softs. While Mercedes comfortably had the pace to get through on the harder rubber, it was a close-run thing for Red Bull. Ferrari stuck to the softer compound tyres which they will start on.

However the shock development of Q2 came from Charles Leclerc. The Sauber driver produced a peach of a lap, a huge eight-tenths quicker than team mate Marcus Ericsson, which lifted him into the top 10 as the minutes ticked down.

Nico Hulkenberg was the last driver who had a shot at beating him, but the Renault driver fell short by two hundredths of a second. Leclerc therefore joined the other Renault of Carlos Sainz Jnr and the Haas pair in reaching the top 10 shoot-out.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1’32.075
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’32.115
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1’32.454
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1’32.460
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1’32.820

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The Mercedes drivers headed the times after the first runs in Q3 but there wasn’t much to separate them: Hamilton was less than a tenth of a second behind Bottas. Vettel was a similar gap behind in his Ferrari but Kimi Raikkonen was almost half a second slower, a deficit which the Red Bull pair took advantage of.

An error by Romain Grosjean at turn three brought his participation in qualifying to an end. The Haas driver skidded off and hit a barrier nose-first. Unable to select reverse gear, he had to climb out of the cockpit while the session was red-flagged.

Q3 resumed with enough time for the remaining drivers to do another run. However Raikkonen’s final effort did not go well: He ran wide at turn three, and later complained he’d had a slow puncture.

Vettel’s final run was scruffy – he ran wide more than once and wasn’t able to close on the Mercedes. Bottas made Hamilton work for his pole position, though. His last effort put the number 77 Mercedes ahead, and it took a final flying effort from Hamilton, with a superbly quick sub-40 second final sector, to reclaim the top spot.

Max Verstappen took advantage of Raikkonen’s troubles to put his Red Bull fourth. Sainz led the midfielders and will be joined on row four by the impressive Leclerc, who capped an excellent session by out-qualifying both Haas drivers.

Top ten in Q3

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’30.029
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’30.147
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’30.400
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1’30.705
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1’30.895
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’31.057
7 Carlos Sainz Jnr Renault 1’32.126
8 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1’32.635
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’32.930
10 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari

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2018 French Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two as Leclerc stars”

  1. ColdFly (@)
    23rd June 2018, 16:24

    Shame on you Zak/Eric!

    Well done Leclerc & Hamilton.

  2. Michael Brown (@)
    23rd June 2018, 16:28

    For a track with seas of runoff, going off-track was actually a disadvantage. Which is the way it should be.

  3. Please get Leclerc into that Ferrari seat ahead of Raikkonen!

    1. i read an article saying ferrari are putting him in the seat next year…. they said ric was considered but will be too expensive

      he could really upset the vettel basket, hamilton 2007 style at this rate though

      1. @azzimus I’d say will, not could, if the move is confirmed. Bad news for Vettel, maybe, but Ferrari need to move away from their ‘one driver’ mentality, much better to have two drivers matched to push the team. Massa and Raikkonen sharing the wins in 2007 and 2008 against McLaren didn’t work out so badly.

        1. FlatSix (@)
          23rd June 2018, 18:30

          @david-br, @azzimus With all due respect for Leclerc, beating Ericcson and putting in these great performances is still a big step away from beating a four time world champion over a season…

          1. @flatsix As Ricciardo did just fine when he had the chance. But the point is that Leclerc would push Vettel much harder, whether or not that means actually beating him over the season.

          2. FlatSix (@)
            23rd June 2018, 21:47

            @david-br I don’t see that as a given. It’s very likely, but not guaranteed.

          3. @flatsix Can’t do any worse than Raikkonen, can he? I mean, a switch from Sauber to Ferrari would at the very least be a 2 second improvement in itself, probably more.

  4. Order restored! Merc half a second faster than closest rival and 2 seconds to mid teams, 3 seconds to McLaren!
    Roll on 2021.

    1. We don’t know how much of that advantage is down to the tyres. It was already expected that Mercedes will expose their muscles on Barcellona, Paul Ricard and Silverstone.

    2. BigJoe
      Come on, you appear to have short memories. Ferrari have had the best car for all races this season with except for Spain.

      1. And Australia/China/Monaco.

  5. Seeing both McLaren drivers so powerless is a punch in the stomach each race weekend. I didn’t even bother to watch the qualifications. I can still enjoy the race with other exciting battles but 2018 McLarens are so far back I can’t even describe my disappointment.

    1. We’ve been suffering for 6 years… when will it end?

  6. Pole number 75…

    Think about that for a bit.

    Amazing really like or loath him.

  7. And I figure when the whole hurra gets past Verstappen and realises the talent that is Leclerc?

    Well I am looking forward to it.

    1. Verstappen is in a completely different tier then Leclerc. The kid is doing good in a pretty descent powered Sauber against Ericcson of all people. Verstappen has much more raw talent and speed. It’s like their karting days when Leclerc always finished behind Verstappen. This will be the new Senna vs Prost.

    2. Well Leclerc has much to prove if he wants to be the next Verstappen. Especially since next year he will have to do it without his weight advantage.

      1. The next crash kid? No one wants to be that. ;-)

  8. Being less than 1.6 seconds behind Raikkonen was the absolute maximum

  9. Crashjean strikes again.

  10. Vettel fan 17 (@)
    23rd June 2018, 17:18

    How Leclerc does this is amazing

  11. Shame Hulkenberg couldn’t get any balance in the car, although only a tenth off his team mate despite that is pretty good imo.
    Merc restoring order, and really superb stuff from Leclerc.

    1. Yeah. A whooping 5 place difference due to the Haas drivers forgetting how to drive in Q3 though.

      The midfield is really competitive this year, a shame Williams lost their invitation to the party.

  12. Top 6 race will be very similar to Barcelona. Guess Ferrari hasn’t figured out the tires “Pirelli designed for Mercedes”.

  13. Probably no passes on track, but maybe a funny race with safety car help.

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