Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Paul Ricard, 2021

Verstappen beats Hamilton to claim first pole position since Bahrain

2021 French Grand Prix qualifying

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Max Verstappen will start from pole for the first time since the season-opening race in Bahrain after beating championship rival Lewis Hamilton by over two tenths of a second in France.

Verstappen secured his second pole of the season at the Paul Ricard by improving on his final lap of the day to become the only driver to break the 1’30 barrier.

Hamilton will line up alongside his rival on the front row of the grid, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez.


Conditions were cool and cloudy as qualifying for the French Grand Prix get underway. But before any drivers were able to complete their first timed laps of the afternoon, the red flags were brought out after Yuki Tsunoda spun in the middle of turn one and slowly backed his AlphaTauri into the barriers.

While the impact was light and the damage minimal, Tsunoda was unable to get his car into gear and was forced out of the session without setting a lap for the second time of his young F1 career.

When the session eventually restarted, Verstappen and Red Bull set the early benchmark, six tenths of a second ahead of the two Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton.

Hamilton improved to within a quarter of a second of Verstappen on his second attempt, before being informed that the time loss to his championship rival was “mostly straight line speed”.

In the closing minutes, Lance Stroll was in danger of being eliminated after having his one and only flying lap deleted for exceeding track limits. The Aston Martin driver then abandoned his first lap on his final run, leaving him with just one lap available to secure himself a place in Q2.

However, Stroll’s effort was scuppered when Mick Schumacher spun his Haas exiting turn six and skidded into the barrier, breaking his front-left suspension.

The session was stopped with no time remaining to restart the session – dooming Stroll to a 19th place start.

In an ironic twist, Schumacher’s accident secured his progression into Q2 for the first time in the season in 14th place – albeit he would take no further part in the session.

George Russell maintained his perfect run of Q2 appearances for Williams in 15th, beating team mate Nicholas Latifi by just 0.002 seconds.

Also eliminated were Kimi Raikkonen in 17th, with Nikita Mazepin the slowest of drivers who successfully set a legitimate laptime in 18th place.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’33.062
17Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’33.354
18Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’33.554
19Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesNo time
20Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-HondaNo time

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With tyre choice for the race a crucial factor heading into the second session of qualifying, it was no surprise to see all the front runners venture out on the medium tyres as Q2 began.

After the first runs, Red Bull were comfortably quickest with Sergio Perez sitting atop the times ahead of Verstappen and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz Jnr, with the Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton only able to manage the fifth and seventh fastest times, respectively.

Hamilton immediately opted for a second run on the medium tyres, improving to break the 1’31 barrier for the first time and go quickest of all.

With time counting down, Charles Leclerc was under threat of a surprising early elimination from the session, but was able to improve when it mattered most to get through in ninth place.

Lando Norris was told to abandon his final attempt for McLaren, while team mate Daniel Ricciardo was sent back out on soft tyres to try and secure his passage into Q3, and successfully managed to qualify for the final shootout in tenth place.

That left Esteban Ocon as the surprise first driver to be eliminated from the session, unable to do better than 11th. Sebastian Vettel also found himself out of qualifying in 12th place to compounding a frustrating qualifying for Aston Martin after showing promise earlier in the day.

Antonio Giovinazzi was the next driver to be eliminated in 13th, ahead of Russell’s Williams. After having crashed out at the end of Q3, Mick Schumacher will provisionally line up 15th as he was unable to set a time in the session.

Drivers eliminated in Q2
Q2 times

11Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’31.736
12Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’31.767
13Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’31.813
14George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’32.065
15Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari

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The final shoot-out for pole position for the French Grand Prix looked to be another head-to-head between Red Bull and Mercedes.

Pierre Gasly was the first driver to set a lap time, but he had his time deleted for exceeding track limits on the exit of turn six.

The two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez occupied the top two places after their first attempts ahead of Bottas’s Mercedes, until Hamilton split the Red Bull pair by going second, three tenths slower than Verstappen’s best.

In the dying moments of qualifying, Gasly improved to go ahead of Bottas, as Sainz moved up to a provisional third place.

Verstappen’s second effort was even more superior than his first, just sneaking under the 1’30 mark to go seven tenths clear of Hamilton.

Bottas improved on his final effort to jump to second place, with Perez moving to third fastest. That meant only Hamilton could challenge Verstappen for pole and while he lowered his quickest time, it was still not enough to usurp the championship leader, with Verstappen taking his second pole of the season.

Hamilton will start second ahead of team mate Bottas with Perez starting fourth in the second Red Bull. Carlos Sainz Jnr will line up fifth, ahead of Gasly and Leclerc.

Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten.

Top ten in Q3

1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’29.990
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’30.248
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’30.376
4Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’30.445
5Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’30.840
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’30.868
7Charles LeclercFerrari1’30.987
8Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’31.252
9Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’31.340
10Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’31.382

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2021 French Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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48 comments on “Verstappen beats Hamilton to claim first pole position since Bahrain”

  1. Gasly strong.

    Just thinking, Max outperforms Perez by almost 0.5 s . Similar margins to Albon and Gasly.
    Does that mean Max would have put the Tauri on front row today ? 😁

    1. @trib4udi, I doubt. The gap is 0.455, but slightly irrelevant because Perez qualified 4th, unlike Gasly and Albon for the most part.

    2. Gasly is a beast this year. Maybe Marko should have let him “change the car.” It might be even faster.

      1. Hard to tell if that’s Gasly being unbelievable or if their car is just very good though

        1. 🤣🤣🤣 like Hamilton’s mercedes you mean?

    3. I think it makes sense verstappen would’ve been 2nd with the alpha, but indeed, it’s hard to tell if gasly is performing so close to verstappen in an equal car or if the car is pretty good, especially given what tsunoda is doing…

      As for red bull taking back gasly, I say hell no, gasly is imo a fisichella, frentzen etc., drivers who can drive pretty well a midfield car but when they get their chance on a title contender they fail badly, perez is doing fine, nowhere near albon or gasly, everything considered, in fact keeping in mind perez’s weakness is qualifying, 4th place is pretty good, hamilton and bottas are both good qualifiers.

      1. Exactly, Perez weakness is Qualy, but he is one of the best racers on Sundays. And theres he outstands among previus redbulls second seaters.

  2. Great lap by both Max and Lewis with wingmen Bottas and Perez playing their roles nicely.

    Ferrari pace is very good……Alonso coming back into form, McLaren going backwards?

    Another struggling performance from Danny Ric (seriously how much longer will this continue?)

    1. Ric wasn’t too bad today. Only just over a tenth off of Norris. He’s definitely improving as he gets used to the car and Norris has show he’s a quick driver so it’s not like he’s being beaten by someone useless.

      1. True, seems to be the car lacking atm.

        1. Sure the car is lacking a little when compared to those up front, but the margin between Lando and Daniel is just a case of Daniel getting used to the car, He is continually improving and getting closer. It seems to take longer now as they have less laps in which to adjust compared to previous seasons.

  3. Fantastic qualifying. I noticed more understeer on Hamilton than on Verstappen throughout the lap. Red Bull have taken off wing while Mercedes are running more downforce. At this track, I would like to have Verstappen’s setup of low downforce to protect from DRS attacks, but how much will that cost them for tyre wear? We shall see…

    1. Redbull might be thinking that running in front will give them better tyre wear so a little less downforce can be a good trade-off. Max will be quite impossible to overtake in sector 2 and 3 I think. So maybe this was calculated.

    2. Once RBR fall behind it’s over, they are pretty fast around corners, but there it’s impossible to overtake

    3. I think the Merc has the race pace, especially in Lewis’ hands. He’s a real tyre whisperer these days and the Red bull is clearly harder on its tyres – both Mercedes were faster on the second lap, even on the softs. Longer warm up means less punishment.
      We’ll see if they can take the fight to them tomorrow.

    4. Perez sewms to be running less wing than max

  4. Ok, at least we got a nice Quali out of the French GP. I hope it means we get a nice on track fight for the win. But if the alleged race pace deficit to the Mercs means it’ll be a game of just follow, undercut and drive away then I wouldn’t be too surprised…

    1. baasbas yep, either Hamilton has the race pace, and it’s tactics, or Verstappen does, and nothing much happen s at the front. But, at least it might be close enough for many laps of the two teams not being able to afford a mistake. And behind that it is close and will probably be quite interesting with shifts in race pace between Ferrari/McLaren/AT, and then Alonso.

    2. Ok, ate my words. That was great stuff. I’d rate on track action higher than strategic battles but still… it’s Paul Ricard. So that was way beyond my expectations

  5. Looks good for the race. Whatever setup changes were made to Hamilton’s car just before qualifying certainly improved his performance. The question is whether they might compromise what otherwise looked fairly good race pace (guessing they won’t). Gasly excellent again. Sainz beating Leclerc was a surprise standout. Did Leclerc have some kind of issue or is Sainz starting to click at Ferari?

    1. Hearing him complain right after Quali tells us he didn’t get the car in the window he wants it to be, to be comfortable. Sainz did a better job at that this round. Might be a one off, but it is for sure a nice story line to follow for the rest of the races

      1. Yes, hope it’s not a one off either, I don’t think so, but I expect Leclerc to respond. That can only be good for Ferrari. Also I’m impressed by how well Sainz works with different teams and team mates, seems to have a really good attitude all round.

        1. Same. Leclerc is probably the toughest driver mentally out there. If he did it against Vettel, he is more than capable of doing it against Sainz.

  6. So did Checo start on soft or not?

    1. No, he put them on for the second run but didn’t improve on his time. So he’ll start on the mediums as well.

      1. Thanks

  7. Mercedes are clearly quicker on the race tire one lap and possibly on race pace so this will be interesting. I think RBR’s play will be to have Perez do a sacrifice undercut to try to to get Mercedes off the yellow tires earlier.

  8. Pérez will be pleased to start 4th despite a big deficit to Verstappen. The big gap to the midfield definitely helped him out here.

    Good to see Sainz come back from a rather disappointing Baku outing to outqualify Leclerc here. Not that Leclerc did badly; Ferrari seem to be edging ahead of McLaren, which is nice.

    1. If rbr was a few tenths down on Mercedes like in times past he would be in gasly/Albion land—-leading the midfield. Surprising since he was so quick in q2. But verstappen and Hamilton stepped up and it seems he could not find that new level.

      1. I expect Verstappen and Hamilton to do a run on 95% in Q2, fast enough to go to Q3, but preserving the tyre a bit for the race.

  9. The main broadcast was pretty bad today.
    Only focusing on red bull/Mercedes even though other cars were on hotlaps more than half a lap ahed

    1. Yes, especially for Q1 and 2 where it’s really not about them.

      Also frustrating to join onboard to follow the driving style, only immediately to switch to useless close-up exterior shots which say very little.

  10. RB16B looks a more efficient package than W12 right now and Merc are entering Red Bull’s
    domain. Red Bull are the masters of developing a car through an F1 season, a discipline Merc haven’t had to touch. Merc are literally chasing on and off the track, with their pit crew also exposed by the fact that their car no longer is the better part of 1s per lap faster than the field. PER’s recent improvements are also moving him squarely into the lead Merc’s pit window.

    Compounding their issues, Merc seem not to have done enough work on tyre warmup without DAS and I reckon RB16B, SF21, MCL35M and even AT02 are all better than W12 on this score.

    Red Bull were confident enough to opt for a lower downforce package and were even faster than Merc on the straights. Will this hurt them in race trim, where Merc already have a slight tyre management advantage. I predict a fairly comfy VER win, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I hope BOT has a clean race for once.

    Advantage Red Bull and VER and I fully expect bookies to now shorten odds of their complete dethronement of Merc to less than the current “evens”.

    1. So can we stop clowning Toto for saying Mercedes are behind? I think the corollary of Mercedes warm up issues is that they will be fast end of stints. It will come down to good timing and good pit work to harvest that advantage.

      1. Not yet given Perez’ position

      2. Well, wolff is still a clown for saying earlier that they were behind, IF red bull finally can beat them on race pace here then yes, we can say it, so far red bull performance wise was imo the better car this year, but that’s only because we had both street tracks already, and france should’ve brought mercedes ahead again according to my expectations.

    2. @andrewwj is it that it was “a more efficient package” or, according to Grosjean, Liberty Media got what they wanted when they lobbied for the changes to the floor, which was to make sure that the changes were going to slow Mercedes down?

  11. Wow.
    ‘The broadcast was bad’
    ‘Perez will be pleased’
    ‘The Red Bull looks a more efficient package’
    When Hamilton, once in while, isnt’t on pole no one here seems to care about who is on pole. So sad

    1. RocketTankski
      19th June 2021, 21:20

      Indeed, but noone even knows who this Max Verstrappen fellow is. A young driver from Blue Bulls Fizzy Pop Racing or something. If he can beat Ser Perez and that Ghastly chappie then maybe Lord Helmut will give him a chance to prove himself.

  12. Amazing final effort by Verstappen to stay on pole! Hamilton, Sainz & Gasly did an amazing job too.
    Bottas will be disappointed to loose to Hamilton, after being faster than him in every practice session. Perez did O.K., but should’ve been ahead of at least one Mercedes.

    The pace of the McLaren is a bit of a disappointment here. Longer straights and fast corners usually suit their car better, but they never had the pace this weekend (for top spot in the midfield battle). Let’s see what they can do in the race.

    Good performances also by Alonso, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Russell.

  13. TV coverage was so bad that I gave up after Q1 and just watched the live timing with driver tracker so I could understand what was happening.
    Watching half a car drive past a blur of colour on an unknown corner so the advertisers get there monies worth isn’t what I call sporting entertainment.

    1. Spot on

    2. @f1-plossl Yes quite frustrating. I still don’t understand why FOM can’t coordinate the TV production more.

  14. So there are a few comments from drivers about potential rain tomorrow. That would be interesting…

  15. So red bull, merc, merc, red bull, judging by the gaps I would tend to say performance between the cars was equal, but maybe red bull was a little faster because 2,5 tenths between verstappen and hamilton are a bit many, hamilton seemed to have done also a good lap, and perez is normally not good in qualifying, so that could explain why he qualified 4th with the slightly better car.

  16. Manufacturer average performance over one Lap on average (Quali) per race:
    Red Bull————6.0——-2.5——3.5——5.0——–5.5—–5.0—–2.5
    Alpha Romeo—–13.0——16.5—–13.5—–15.5—–12.0—–17.0—–15.0
    Aston Martin——14.0——11.5—–13.5—–12.0—–10.5—–15.0—–15.5
    Merc and RB dead even for this round:

    Manufacturer average performance over one Lap on average (Quali) overall:
    Red Bull————–6.0
    Aston Martin——–18.4
    Alpha Romeo——-20.5
    Merc still leading the way overall as the fastest over one lap:
    Yes I know there are all sorts of anomalies that have a bearing on this, but still a reasonable measure.

  17. Relieved it was not too close at the front so Perez managed 4th even half a second behind. At least now it will be a straight fight. I guess it will come down to tyre wear and strategy, especially as modern day F1 is to use safety car or red flag as much as possible where leads will be annuled.

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