LE CASTELLET, France — Lewis Hamilton secured a record-extending 75th pole position at the French Grand Prix on Saturday, ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Formula One points leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari will start from third, followed by Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Defending champion Hamilton trails Vettel by one point at the top of the standings heading into Sunday's race at the Paul Ricard Circuit.
Hamilton, who also topped both practice sessions on Friday, and teammate Bottas benefited from an engine upgrade that Mercedes had failed to roll out in the last round when Hamilton lost the lead to Vettel in Canada.
Hamilton downplayed the upgrade, saying "that is not the entire reason we are in the front row."
But Bottas credited the upgrade with the gains on the track.
"I think we definitely needed it," Bottas said. "It is going to be close all season. It would have definitely helped us in Montreal."
The final moments of qualifying became a duel between the Mercedes drivers, with Bottas going top just before Hamilton crossed the line for a leading time of 1 minute, 30.029 seconds.
It was the third pole of the season for the 33-year-old Hamilton.
"I was confident I could improve for the final attempt," Vettel said about his last flying lap that came up short. "I pushed hard and probably pushed too much and was playing catch up. I think we can be happy with third for tomorrow. I think we have a good car."
Heavy rain kept cars mostly in their garages during Saturday's final practice. The track had mostly dried out in time for qualifying, but a light drizzle returned midway through the hour-long session. Bottas posted the top time of the washed-out third practice session.
The biggest loser from qualifying was Romain Grosjean, who lost control and put the nose of his Haas into the barrier after having made the cut for the 10 fastest drivers. He told his team he was unharmed over the radio.
Fernando Alonso, winner of the 24 Hour Le Mans classic endurance race last week, failed to get out of the first qualifying section, which culls the slowest five drivers, along with McLaren partner Stoffel Vandoorne and both Williams cars.
Brendon Hartley will start the race from last place after Toro Rosso had to change his Honda engine on Friday. That earned him a grid penalty because the team had already used its allowance of engine parts.
Vettel has won three races this season. Hamilton and Ricciardo, who is fourth in the standings behind Bottas, have won two each.
The return of the French GP after a decade-long absence is the first part of an unprecedented tripleheader of three races on consecutive weekends with the Austria and British events coming in quick succession.
The last time Le Castellet held an F1 race was in 1990 when French great Alain Prost won for Ferrari.