Max Verstappen pips Lewis Hamilton for French Grand Prix pole
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LE CASTELLET – Max Verstappen claimed pole on Saturday for the French Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes alongside the Red Bull driver on the front row to lay the foundations for another gripping instalment of this season's delicately-poised title battle.
Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes starts on the second row with Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by just four points in the Formula One word championship ahead of the seventh race of the season at the Circuit Paul Ricard on Sunday.
Hamilton won from pole the last two races staged at Le Castellet in 2018 and 2019, but Verstappen had approached qualifying as the man to beat after dominating the final two practice sessions.
Verstappen, claiming his first pole since the season-opener in Bahrain, is anxious to translate pole into a win after a shredded tyre robbed him of almost certain victory in Baku last time out.
"So far it's been a really positive weekend, on a track that is normally difficult for us. To get pole position was really nice.
"Great day for us but we have to finish it off tomorrow and get 25 points - which we lost in Baku. Great promise from our side."
After struggling to keep tabs with his Red Bull rival in practice Hamilton was relieved to narrow the gap between them to 0.258s.
"We'll keep pushing, keep fighting and giving it everything. Their long-run pace is a tenth or two quicker than us, but the car's in a much different place now," said the seven-time world champion.
"We're going to fight for a chance into Turn One and there could be some interesting strategy tomorrow, and I think there could be some rain tomorrow, so a chance to see a rain master," he added.
Carlos Sainz for Ferrari posted the fifth quickest time in qualifying to seal a third row spot with Pierre Gasly's Alpha Tauri joining him.
Then came Sainz's teamate Charles Leclerc and McLaren's Lando Norris with Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) completing the top 10.