Three drivers widely considered to be three of the fastest men in Formula 1 lived up to their reputations in qualifying for the French Grand Prix.
Here is who we think were the big winners and losers on Saturday at Paul Ricard.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 23, 2022
With Leclerc essentially on his own against the two Red Bulls in the race due to Carlos Sainz’s grid penalty, the Ferrari driver desperately needed to start on pole – and thanks to a vintage Saturday performance, he will.
He had the measure of his championship rival Max Verstappen from start to finish in qualifying, going eight tenths of a second faster in Q2 and three tenths faster in Q3. At no point of the one-hour session did it look like he would not start in P1 on Sunday.
He now has as many career poles as the Dutchman and if he can convert this one into a win, will be in a much stronger position to draw level on titles too come the end of the year.
After a slow start to the season that made many feel he would end up playing second fiddle to George Russell all year, Hamilton is now firmly proving that will not be the case.
While Russell struggled in Q3, being beaten by Lando Norris‘ McLaren, the seven-time former World Champion got everything out of his Mercedes, going four tenths faster than his team-mate.
Given the younger of the two is widely considered to be one of the best qualifiers around, that is seriously impressive. Hamilton may not have as fast a car as he usually has in recent years, but the man himself is as quick as ever.
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) July 23, 2022
Hamilton was not the only Briton to impress on the other side of the Channel in qualifying, with Norris arguably the driver of the day.
After a strong Q1 in which he took P5, the McLaren driver struggled in Q2, only just finishing in the top 10, but came alive again when it mattered most, beating Russell to the final spot in the top five despite having a considerably slower car than him.
What’s more, his fastest lap was nearly a second quicker than team-mate Daniel Ricciardo’s. He continues to operate at a far higher level than the Australian and most other drivers on the grid for that matter. In terms of outright pace, he is solidifying himself as one of the very best.
With Kevin Magnussen taking a grid penalty and thus starting from the back of the grid, Haas needed Mick Schumacher to deliver in qualifying to give them a good chance of still scoring points on race day – but he could not do so.
He struggled in practice, being far slower than Magnussen in FP2 and FP3, and that remained the case in qualifying. While the Dane made it comfortably to Q3, the German could not make it out of Q1 after exceeding track limits on his final flying lap.
As a result, both drivers will start at the back of the field. They will take some encouragement from how quick Magnussen looked on Saturday but even so, it looks unlikely they will add any points to their tally.
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) July 23, 2022
By the lofty standards he set for himself with his excellent performances last year, Gasly has made a slightly disappointing start to the 2022 campaign and that remained the case on home turf.
While the other AlphaTauri driven by Yuki Tsunoda secured a P8 start, the Frenchman, usually so impressive on Saturdays, was knocked out in Q1 and now faces an uphill battle to score points in the race.
He headed into this season as the undisputed team leader at AlphaTauri, but that status is looking more and more precarious with his team-mate steadily closing the gap.
Few, if any, drivers have been dominated by their team-mate in qualifying as much as Ricciardo has, and that remained the case at Paul Ricard.
As has so often been the case since he joined McLaren last year, the Aussie has been comfortably slower than Lando Norris all weekend, finishing behind his team-mate in every practice session before qualifying in P11 while the Briton took P5.
He will at least start two places higher up due to grid penalties for drivers ahead of him, but that does not undo any of the damage that his qualifying performances are currently doing to his reputation among fans and, more importantly, his own team.
— Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN (@alfaromeoorlen) July 23, 2022
At some points this season, the Alfa Romeo has been at the very top of the midfield in terms of pace, but at Paul Ricard in qualifying it was closer to the backmarkers.
Zhou Guanyu did not get close to making it out of Q1 after a mistake on his final lap and while Valterri Bottas did progress to Q2 he could not go any further, finishing faster than only two drivers in that session, a Williams and an Aston Martin, and behind all of his championship rivals.
Alfa Romeo’s place in P6 in the standings looks safe for the time being with Haas having such a bad day, but the team do not look anywhere near fast enough to challenge Alpine and McLaren and climb any higher.