Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc beat Max Verstappen to pole position in for Round 12 of the 2022 FIA Formula 1 championship, after help from team mate Carlos Sainz.
The Monegasque’s 16th career pole, seventh of 2022, came at the circuit just 109 miles from where he was born and was the only driver to get into the 1m 30s.
Leclerc, who took pole by more than three-tenths of a second said: “That was amazing team work (from Sainz), without him it would have been incredibly close.”
“Up until this afternoon my weekend had been quite complicated: I struggled with the balance and I knew that in these extremely hot conditions, every little mistake pays off because the tires overheat easily.
“Today, however, I felt that we were able to progress lap after lap until the last attempt in Q3 where Carlos gave me a good trail that allowed me to have a greater margin in securing pole position. It was a very good qualification due to a great team effort.
“Our rivals are extremely strong here and they seem to have an advantage in terms of race pace, but I am confident we can reverse the trend and be able to hold the lead tomorrow.”
After the first run, where Sainz had also towed Leclerc, the Ferrari driver had an edge of just 0.008s over Dutchman Verstappen.
Red Bull had looked incredibly fast in third practice, but Ferrari got their Q3 strategy right in qualifying at the Paul Ricard circuit, using Sainz to give Leclerc a slipstream in the middle sector to aid top speed.
Sainz’ unselfish display was possible due to the Spaniard being forced to start at the back after taking multiple fresh power unit components, exceeding the yearly allowance, after his fiery failure in Austria.
Verstappen will still fancy his chances of catching the Ferrari in Sunday’s grand prix, given the astonishing speed of the RB18 on the straights, although the Ferrari holds the aces in the final sector.
This might prove crucial, if Leclerc can preserve the tyres in that section, as the race could be heavily decided by strategy.
Mercedes had hoped to be closer to the pace this weekend but found themselves almost nine-tenths slower with Lewis Hamilton, and George Russell more than a second down on Leclerc’s time.
Track temperature was at 56°c as the light went green for the start of qualifying. On the first runs, Leclerc was the driver setting the pace, a tenth faster than Verstappen, but both the Dutchman and Perez set fastest middle sector times on their laps.
The middle sector, with the mistral straight, saw the Red Bull’s approaching 340kmh in the speed trap, however Perez found himself half a second slower than his team mate.
Mercedes, not struggling hugely, did find themselves behind Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas in the early stages of the session.
Heading into the final minutes of Q1, Kevin Magnussen had yet to come out onto the track, but the Dane will start from the back of the grid with engine penalties.
Those in need of a good lap to get through were Zhou Guanyu, Mick Schumacher, Nicholas Latifi and Sebastian Vettel, while Lance Stroll flirted with elimination in 15th.
There was little in the way of improvement but crucially, Mick Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel improved and escaped the elimination, but Schumacher’s joy was short-lived as his time was deleted for track limits.
This gave a reprive to Alex Albon who spun on his final lap as Magnussen set a lap for sixth fastest.
Pierre Gasly, who failed to improve, was knocked out in Q1 at his home event, along with: Stroll, Zhou, Schumacher and Latifi.
Mercedes made their first attempts on used tyres, but Lando Norris on fresh soft tyres went half a second quicker in the upgraded McLaren.
Leclerc, also on used tyres, edged the Briton by nearly two tenths but Perez then found his mojo and went fastest for a moment until Verstappen arrived and set a 1:31.9.
Mercedes found themselves eighth and 11th with Magnussen, Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo joining Norris ahead of Hamilton in the leading Silver Arrow.
Sainz waited for the 14 other drivers to set a time before going for his first lap of Q2, setting three purple sectors in his Ferrari as he went almost a second faster than the Red Bull’s.
To the fight for Q3 places and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was the first to lay a marker, going sixth, but Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda went quicker, getting themselves into Q3.
Russell popped his Mercedes into sixth, with team mate Hamilton went fifth, knocking Daniel Ricciardo out, as well as the second home driver Ocon. Bottas, Vettel and Albon joined them in being eliminated.
Leclerc went a tenth slower than Sainz as the Red Bull’s remained in the garage, ready for Q3.
Sainz’ nine-tenths advantage laid down the gauntlet to Red Bull, but Leclerc was able to get close in Q2, would Sainz go for the pole himself or aid Leclerc with a tow down the mistral straight?
Sainz did give the tow, after the chicane on the mistral straight, and went eight thousandths faster despite Verstappen being faster than the Moneagasque in sector two.
The Mercedes pair went fourth and fifth on used tyres, behind Perez who remained around half a second off the ultimate pace.
On went the final set of soft tyres, it was time to put it all on the line and Verstappen had managed to position himself behind Leclerc in the train on the track, although the Dutchman did fall back significantly on his out lap.
Leclerc went fastest of anyone in the first sector, as Verstappen failed to improve. Leclerc was two tenths up on his own time by the second split, as Verstappen again didn’t not improve.
Leclerc set a 1:30.872, which was good enough for pole position, Verstappen three tenths off.
Hamilton joined Perez on the second row, as Norris got in between the Silver Arrows for fifth ahead of Russell.
Alonso, Tsunoda, Sainz and Magnussen completed the top 10, but the Ferrari and Haas will start from the back row on Sunday, bumping everyone behind them up two positions.