Lewis Hamilton will start 300th F1 race from fourth as Charles Leclerc takes pole

Lewis Hamilton will start his 300th Formula 1 race from fourth on the grid after Charles Leclerc secured pole position at the French Grand Prix.

Leclerc breathed new life into his championship bid with a comprehensive win at the final round in Austria a fortnight ago.

And the Monegasque will be in a prime position to secure another much-needed win in his title fight against Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

World champion Verstappen qualified second – three tenths behind – with Sergio Perez third in the other Red Bull.

McLaren brought more upgrades to France than at any other stage of the season, and Lando Norris split the Mercedes drivers to qualify fifth, one place ahead of George Russell.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team had high hopes for Round 12 of the campaign here in the scorching heat of the south of France.

New ground, coupled with the smooth asphalt of Circuit Paul Ricard, has even led some within Mercedes to believe that Hamilton could end his and the team’s barren run by claiming his 104th triumph in his historic race. .

But the Silver Arrows lost further ground to Ferrari and Red Bull with Hamilton nine tenths behind. Russell was 1.2 seconds slower than Leclerc.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who was joined by Dieter Zetsche – the former chairman of Mercedes parent company Daimler – in the back of the team’s garage, cut a largely inconsolable figure.

Wolff has overseen Mercedes’ record run of eight consecutive constructors’ championships – but as the sport nears its traditional summer break, the once-conquering team are nowhere near unlocking the speed to rival Ferrari and Red Bull .

Leclerc heads into Sunday’s race 38 points behind Verstappen, and with Carlos Sainz already due to start last for changing the engine that caught fire so spectacularly in Austria, Ferrari used the Spaniard as a tug. to fire Leclerc. It worked to tremendous effect with Leclerc roaring in the front row.

After taking his 16th career pole and seventh of the season, Leclerc said: “It was a great lap. I struggled all weekend to get a lap but I managed to do it.

“I also had the help of Carlos and it was amazing teamwork because without him it would have been a lot tighter, so big thanks to him and hopefully he can fight.

“The car feels good but let’s see how it goes tomorrow.”

Verstappen was fastest in final practice but couldn’t match Leclerc’s speed in qualifying.

“Third down is clearly not qualifying, but overall we lacked general grip,” he said.

“It was trickier than I expected, but overall we have a decent race car. We will be quick on the straights, so hopefully we can use it tomorrow.