Lewis Hamilton on pole in France, Sebastian Vettel only seventh

Mercedes locks out the front row as Hamilton sets new track record

LE CASTELLET, France — Lewis Hamilton seized pole position for the French Grand Prix in track record time as Mercedes, chasing their 10th successive win, swept the front row of the grid in dominant fashion on Saturday.

The Formula One world championship leader was 0.286 seconds quicker than team mate Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc qualified third with team mate Sebastian Vettel a distant seventh on a distinctly off day for the German.

The pole, in a time of one minute 28.319 seconds, was a record-extending 86th of Hamilton's career and his third of the season.

"I'm happy that I got the potential out of the car, the team did a fantastic job," said five-times world champion Hamilton, last year's winner from pole at Le Castellet's Paul Ricard circuit.

"We've just been chipping away at improving the set-up of the car," added the Briton, who is 29 points clear of Bottas after seven races — all won by the pair. Hamilton also triumphed in the last two of 2018.

Bottas was fastest in the second phase of qualifying but could not match Hamilton's sizzling pace when it mattered in the final shoot-out.

"The wind changed direction and there was a couple of corners my line didn't work and I had to work it out but Lewis had a better lap," said the Finn.

Mercedes have looked to be in a class of their own all weekend, with Hamilton or Bottas fastest in every practice session with Leclerc, rather than Vettel, consistently the best of the rest.

Vettel struggled, backing out of his first hot lap and then failing to string together all the sectors smoothly on his second attempt.

"I don't know what happened, I lost so much momentum there was no point to finish that lap," said the German, who starts behind the Renault-powered McLarens of British rookie Lando Norris (fifth) and Spaniard Carlos Sainz (sixth).

"Some laps it felt good and others it didn't. I didn't get the best out of the car but it was difficult for me, but some laps I didn't have he grip I had before."

Vettel's time of 1:29.799 was eighth tenths of a second slower than Leclerc's best.

Leclerc, who starts with Red Bull's Max Verstappen alongside, asked the team over the radio to get Vettel to speed up but the Monegasque said his lap had not been compromised.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo starts eighth for Renault and Red Bull's Pierre Gasly lines up ninth for his home race with Italian Antonio Giovinazzi 10th for Alfa Romeo. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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