Red Bull rescued a dramatic victory for Max Verstappen with a powerful undercut and a bold second stop after his first-lap error put Lewis Hamilton in the ascendancy at the French Grand Prix.

A third consecutive win for Red Bull – two for Verstappen and one for Sergio Perez – boosted their leads in both the drivers' and constructors' championships.

Verstappen looked to be in trouble when he let Hamilton through at Turn 2, but his team's strategy turned the race on its head, extending his advantage to 12 points in the standings.

The championship leader – starting from pole – kept his nose in front at Turn 1 but then ran wide, exiting the track to give up position to Hamilton, who looked at ease at the front of the race.

Pit strategy proved pivotal, though, as Mercedes called in Valtteri Bottas – running in third – before team-mate Hamilton.

Red Bull followed as Verstappen boxed, causing Mercedes to react again, calling for "Hammer time" from their lead driver before bringing him in for a 2.1-second stop, the fastest of the three.

However, a flying out lap from Verstappen meant Hamilton could not quite get out ahead of his rival, instead settling in behind the Dutchman for a lengthy battle alongside Bottas.

Verstappen worked hard to keep Hamilton out of DRS range and gradually built a gap to the fading Silver Arrows that encouraged Red Bull to gamble with another stop and a switch to medium tyres.

Perez, who pitted after the other three, let Verstappen through to quickly take chunks out of the Mercedes lead, with Hamilton warned of a "painful" finish.

Bottas failed to hold Verstappen up, opening a gap for the rapid Red Bull and fuming at his team for delaying a second stop, with Perez soon following his team-mate through.

Red Bull cut it fine, but Verstappen eased past Hamilton on the penultimate lap after only a short tussle to land a significant blow in a thrilling title race.

Lewis Hamilton is confident Mercedes are in a good position to challenge Max Verstappen on Sunday despite Red Bull's latest strong showing at the French Grand Prix.

Verstappen leads the Formula One drivers' championship while Red Bull sit top of the constructors' standings.

Even when Verstappen crashed out of a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix last time out, team-mate Sergio Perez delivered maximum points in his first win for the team.

It was the first time in the Hybrid Era there had been two different Red Bull drivers triumphant in consecutive races.

The Austrian outfit are set for another strong outing in France after Verstappen secured pole position and Perez qualified fourth fastest, aiming to extend his streak of four consecutive top-five finishes.

In his post-qualifying media duties, Verstappen described himself as "quite confident" heading into the race.

"I knew it was going to be better than the last time we were here but this good I didn't expect, so that's promising for us," he said.

"We just have to keep on going, keep on pushing to try to make it better."

However, Hamilton starts from second and Mercedes colleague Valtteri Bottas is third, giving the Silver Arrows a chance even against a car with no obvious flaws.

"Of course, it seems [Red Bull] are just strong everywhere," Hamilton said. "Street circuits, it doesn't seem to matter where they go, they're very strong and we've got some areas we just need to improve.

"Obviously today I heard that we're losing out mostly on the straights, so we'll try to figure-out what that is.

"But it's great that we are second and third. It puts us in the middle of the Red Bulls, it gives us a chance to really apply pressure tomorrow – but it's just as close as ever before.

"Maybe they seem to have eked a little bit further forwards than we were perhaps in Barcelona."

Hamilton is two wins shy of an unprecedented 100 in Formula One, but will have the more modest aim of correcting a worrying run of form on Sunday.

He was seventh in Monaco and 15th in Baku and has not missed out on the podium in three straight races in the Hybrid Era.

Max Verstappen feels his pole position for the French Grand Prix underlines the progress Red Bull are making as they take the Formula One title fight to Mercedes.

Mercedes are hoping to bounce back at Circuit Paul Ricard after chastening outings at the street circuits of Monaco and Baku.

But while they are close to Red Bull at the more traditional track in Le Castellet, they could not prevent Verstappen from claiming pole on Saturday with an advantage of 0.258 seconds to Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas can also apply some pressure to Verstappen after the Finn came third, just ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who won a thriller in Baku last time out. 

Mercedes were dominant in the two French Grand Prix editions held since the race returned to the F1 calendar as Hamilton won from pole in 2018 and 2019.

But they will have to triumph from behind this time if they are to make it a hat-trick.

"So far it has been a really positive weekend on a track where it has been normally a bit difficult for us," Verstappen said after claiming his first pole since the opening race in Bahrain.

"FP2 was a bit of a turnaround for us - of course to get pole position was even better and really nice. There is some great promise from our side and I hope we can keep it up.

"No points were scored but for us it is a great day and we have to finish it off on Sunday and try to get the 25 points that we lost in Baku.

"I am confident [with our race car] actually, the car felt good in FP2 so I am looking forward to it."

The lost points in Baku referred to Verstappen suffering a heartbreaking tyre failure as he closed in on victory, though his pain would be eased slightly as Perez ensured a Red Bull triumph while Hamilton did not pick up any points.

It has been another difficult few days for Hamilton, who was pleased to end up on the front row for a race where weather could be a factor.

"A really, really hard weekend - mentally and just trying to get the car into a happy place," said the seven-time world champion, who trails Verstappen by four points.

"You wouldn't believe how many changes I have made over the time since FP1, going round and round kind of chasing the tail and then ending up coming back to something similar to where we started. 

"Congratulations to Max, they are incredibly quick, they've got a new engine this week and they are quick in the straights - a lot of time for them there.

"We have a race on our hands and we are loving the battle - we are going to keep pushing, fighting and giving it everything.

"Obviously in second you have at least a fighting chance down to turn one, plus there will be some interesting strategy and maybe some rain so a chance to see who is the rain master!"

Bottas is under pressure at Mercedes after a miserable start to the season but was satisfied with a solid weekend so far, having been competitive throughout practice.

"It has been a strong weekend, for sure a lot better than a couple of weeks ago, so at least we have seen the pace has been there," he said. "The last run in Q3 felt good for me.

"We have seen it is going to be close with Red Bull as it was in qualifying. Can't be too happy being third because it has been a strong weekend otherwise, but I think Red Bull were faster."

Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher crashed as two red flags in Q1 led to Lance Stroll being eliminated without setting a time.

Esteban Ocon, at his home race after signing a new deal with Alpine, was among the eliminated drivers in Q2, as was Sebastian Vettel, who took an impressive second place in Azerbaijan.

There was a big gap between the two leading teams and the rest in Q3, with Carlos Sainz ultimately taking fifth ahead of home favourite Pierre Gasly and the pole-sitter from the last two races, Charles Leclerc.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:29.990
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.258s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.386s
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.455s
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.850s
6. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.878s
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.997s
8. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.262s
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.350s
10. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.392s

Lewis Hamilton finds himself under significant pressure in the Formula One title race, so will be relieved to see the French Grand Prix next up in his schedule.

Mercedes have had two miserable races in Monaco and Baku, so they enter the seventh event of the 2021 season trailing Red Bull by 26 points in the constructors' championship.

Hamilton, meanwhile, is four points behind Max Verstappen – who was cruelly denied victory in Baku last time out – in the drivers' standings.

The Briton is hoping to avoid missing the podium in three straight races for what would be the first time in the Hybrid Era, having finished seventh in Monaco and outside of the points in Azerbaijan.

He and Toto Wolff are optimistic that a return to Circuit Paul Ricard, which the team boss described as "a more traditional circuit", will help them turn their campaign around.

Hamilton triumphed there in 2018 and 2019, the first races in France after a nine-year absence from the F1 calendar. On both occasions Mercedes were dominant.

Michael Schumacher holds the record with eight wins at the French Grand Prix, a race where this year Hamilton hopes to reboot his attempt to move above the German by claiming an eighth world title.

Veteran Fernando Alonso was the last driver to win for a French team in this grand prix, doing it for Renault (now Alpine) 16 years ago in the 2005 season when he claimed his first championship.

After Verstappen triumphed around the streets of Monaco and Sergio Perez claimed a blockbuster success in Baku, Red Bull now face a pivotal test of their title aspirations.

If they emerge from three races in as many weeks in France and Austria (which hosts two) still in front, it will be an impressive and significant statement to Mercedes.

LAST TIME OUT

Remarkable late drama at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw Perez grab victory after Verstappen crashed out and title rival Hamilton incredibly finished 15th.

Verstappen looked to be coasting to a second consecutive win and seventh straight podium – both career firsts, only to see a rear tyre blow out and end his race with five laps to go.

A red flag followed Verstappen's crash, meaning a standing start with Perez ahead of Hamilton on the front row of the grid for an incredible two-lap sprint finish following the delay.

In another twist, Hamilton – who had stressed on team radio the importance of staying cautious and having the long game in mind after Verstappen's retirement - looked to have seized an unlikely victory when he moved up the inside, only to make a mistake with his brake settings that saw him career off the circuit.

As well as Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly were the beneficiaries with impressive podium finishes for Aston Martin and AlphaTauri respectively.

Charles Leclerc, who had claimed pole for the second straight race, had to settle for fourth, while Valtteri Bottas was 12th as his desperately disappointing campaign continued.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN FRANCE

All eyes are on how Mercedes respond as they find themselves in a position they are not used to, as Red Bull relish their recent run and look to press home their advantage.

Hamilton missed a chance to reclaim the lead from Verstappen in Azerbaijan, but will like his chances to do so as he gets another opportunity at Le Castellet.

Bottas' woes this season have not all been his fault – he was unfortunate in Monaco – but he sits sixth in the standings and needs an immediate turnaround to save his Mercedes future.

Home hope Gasly comes into the race on form, with five straight points finishes and a podium in Baku, while another French driver – Esteban Ocon – is on a high having just signed a new deal with Alpine.

After watching Leclerc impress to claim back-to-back poles for a resurgent Ferrari, Carlos Sainz will race for the 125th time looking to end a run that has seen him appear in the most grands prix without winning or taking pole of any active driver. He has scored points in both his previous France races, while Leclerc made the podium in 2019.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Record in sight – Mercedes will again attempt to equal Ferrari as the team to have recorded the most one-twos in F1 qualifying ever (80). 

A first for Red Bull – Christian Horner's team come to this grand prix after winning two races in a row with a different driver for the first time in the Hybrid Era.

Perez pace – The Mexican is enjoying his best career streak of top-five finishes, having had four in a row including his Azerbaijan win.  

History made - Gasly was the first French driver to score a point in a French GP in this century when he came 10th in 2019, the first since the Jean Alesi finished fifth in 1997 at Magny-Cours. 

Poor conversion - Leclerc has recorded only two wins out of the nine pole positions in his F1 career (22.2%). If the Monegasque is on pole without claiming victory in this race, only Rene Arnoux (11.1%) and David Coulthard (16.7%) will have a lower ratio of victories from pole of drivers to have at least 10.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 105
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 101
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 69
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 66
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 52

Constructors

1. Red Bull – 174
2. Mercedes – 148
3. Ferrari – 94
4. McLaren – 92
5. AlphaTauri – 39

Lewis Hamilton apologised to the Mercedes team after a "humbling experience" left the Formula One world champion outside the points at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton overcame difficulties in practice to clinch second on the grid in a red flag-laden qualifying session on Saturday, yet he finished 15th in Sunday's race.

Max Verstappen, Hamilton's championship rival, crashed with three laps remaining, and a red flag resulted in a standing start.

Hamilton, who had swiftly caught pole holder Charles Leclerc but had been delayed by Pierre Gasly in the pits, resumed the race behind Sergio Perez.

Yet the seven-time world champion, with his brakes smoking, careered off the track moments after the restart, enabling Perez to cruise to victory.

"Today was a humbling experience," Hamilton tweeted, having initially apologised to the team from his car.

"We worked so hard to put ourselves back in the top 10 today after a rocky week here in Baku. We gave it our all today and a small error caused the brakes to switch off.

"Sorry to the team, we'll come back stronger for the next race."

Mercedes' official team account echoed Hamilton's sentiment.

"This is hard to take. We worked so hard this weekend to put ourselves into the fight after a really difficult start on Friday – only to leave with nothing," the team's tweet read.

"[We] need a big reaction next time out in France."

Sunday's drama means Red Bull hold a 26-point lead in the constructors' championship, with Verstappen (105) four points ahead of Hamilton in the drivers' standings.

Christian Horner described the "rollercoaster" of Red Bull's Azerbaijan Grand Prix success as Sergio Perez revealed he almost followed team-mate Max Verstappen out of the race.

Red Bull claimed consecutive wins for just the second time in the Hybrid Era, but it was Perez rather than Verstappen who led them to glory.

Verstappen was in complete control and set to head a Red Bull one-two when his left-rear tyre blew out in the closing stages. The same issue had ruled out Lance Stroll of Aston Martin.

That left the door open for title rival Lewis Hamilton to profit, but an error from the defending champion from the restart allowed Perez to race clear.

Red Bull boss Horner told Sky Sports: "I think I've aged about 20 years.

"We were staring down the barrel of our first one-two since 2016. Everything in control, we'd just checked in with Max, all okay, and then boom.

"The tyre went, and we don't know why. It looked like the wear was in good shape, so whether it's debris or something has happened.

"You can see it's a big place to have an accident. Thankfully, he's okay."

He added: "We were feeling at that point like the world had dropped from under us."

Worse might have been to come for Red Bull as Perez finished the race but then immediately broke down, receiving frantic messages over the radio as he celebrated his first victory for the team.

The Mexican, who has five consecutive top-five finishes for the first time in his career, said: "I'm so, so happy for today. Normally, Baku is pretty crazy.

"First of all, I have to say for Max I'm sorry. He did a tremendous race and really deserved the win, and it would have been incredible to get that one-two for the team.

"But at the end, it is a fantastic day for us. We were close to retiring the car but, luckily, we were able to finish the race. It was quite difficult all the way in the end."

Horner lauded Perez, whose victory moved Red Bull 26 points clear in the constructors' championship on a day Mercedes failed to score.

"He's a wily driver, a canny racer. He races really, really well," Horner said.

"We went from the despair of 'We've lost Max, we're going to lose the championship lead, Lewis could pass him at the restart and win the race'.

"It just shows the rollercoaster you go through in this sport.

"Suddenly it not being quite so bad, we've actually maintained the same lead in the drivers' championship leaving here and extended the constructors'."

Red Bull dedicated the victory to Mansour Ojjeh, the McLaren shareholder who passed away ahead of the race.

"He had the biggest heart and always carried the biggest smile," ex-McLaren man Hamilton posted on Twitter. "I am so grateful to have known such a man."

Remarkable late drama at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix saw Sergio Perez handed victory after Max Verstappen crashed out and title rival Lewis Hamilton incredibly finished outside the points.

Verstappen looked to be coasting to a second consecutive Formula One win and seventh straight podium – both career firsts.

The Red Bull driver, four points ahead of Hamilton in the standings prior to the race, was well in the clear after earlier benefitting from a slow Hamilton pit stop.

But Verstappen's left-rear tyre blew out and ended his race, prompting the furious Dutchman to kick his car in anger.

Lance Stroll had encountered the same issue with the hard Pirelli tyres, swerving out of control when he had been fourth, albeit without pitting.

A red flag – requested by a concerned Red Bull team – followed Verstappen's crash with just three laps remaining, meaning a standing start with Perez ahead of Hamilton on the front row of the grid following the delay.

In another twist, Hamilton and his smoking brakes careered off the circuit from the restart and Perez raced away to lift Red Bull spirits.

With Hamilton way back in 15th, it meant a positive end to the day for Verstappen's team, even if the season leader will continue to rue his misfortune.

Both Verstappen and Perez jumped ahead of Hamilton when he was delayed in the pit lane by Pierre Gasly, having quickly caught pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.

Stroll's mishap threw a spanner in the works, yet Verstappen pulled ahead clear from the restart following the safety car, with Perez again getting the better of Hamilton.

Sebastian Vettel's climb to fourth and attempt to reel in old foe Hamilton looked the most likely source of intrigue in the closing stages, only for Verstappen's blow to bring the race to a standstill.

Hamilton admitted his error when his restart sensationally failed, though, and Perez hung on, his car breaking down moments after crossing the line before Vettel – who achieved a first Aston Martin podium.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen would like to see team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner don boxing gloves to settle their differences.

Hamilton and Verstappen are engaged in a title tussle in Formula One but have so far maintained pleasantries off the track in front of the media.

The same cannot be said for Mercedes chief Wolff and Red Bull counterpart Horner.

When Horner this week suggested his opposite number "keep [his] mouth shut" as the Silver Arrows struggled in practice at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Wolff fired back that the Red Bull boss was "a bit of a windbag who wants to be on camera".

For Hamilton, who qualified in second, and Verstappen, in third, the row was the source of some amusement in Baku on Saturday.

"We should get them in a ring," Hamilton offered.

Verstappen added: "Yeah, but I think the weight division is a bit of a problem. In the height, the reach...

"I mean I'm all for a ring anyway, even in Formula One – instead of penalties!"

Pressed for further comment, Verstappen said: "It's Formula One. There are a lot of stakes involved so everyone wants to win, everyone is competitive.

"I guess it's just a natural thing and it's good for people to read, right? A bit of fire behind it."

Hamilton said: "Naturally, they're the two top leaders of the teams and they've both contributed hugely to the success of both teams.

"[They are] great leaders and of course they're head to head because we are head to head in this tight battle. We generally just like to do our talking on the track, so we're just keeping our heads down."

Hamilton did just that in qualifying, although he had not anticipated such a competitive display.

The defending champion was seventh in FP1, 11th in FP2 and "still pretty much a disaster" in third in FP3.

However, Hamilton was only denied a 101st career pole by Charles Leclerc, who again profited from a late red flag – this time caused by an incident involving team-mate Carlos Sainz, having himself crashed last time out.

"Honestly, it's one of the greatest feelings for us, for the difficult experience we've gone through and being out of the top 10 all weekend and really struggling to understand and extract performance from our car," Hamilton said.

"It feels fantastic. Congratulations to Charles, who did a fantastic job given the difficult circumstances out there.

"Yeah, it's just a bit overwhelming, really happy to be up here, grateful to have got the lap in, and it puts us in for a much different race than we anticipated after yesterday."

Verstappen was less impressed by how qualifying panned out, bemoaning "all this s*** all the time happening" when the session was cut short.

With Red Bull concurrently leading both the drivers' championship and the constructors' championship for the first time since 2013, Verstappen is looking for the first back-to-back wins of his career.

Not since the Hybrid Era began in 2014 have his team had two victories in a row.

Meanwhile, Lando Norris, a distant third in the standings, will start from P9 due to a three-place grid penalty.

Norris, who has earned points at a career-best 10 consecutive races, qualified in sixth but was deemed to have continued on the track under one of the session's record-equalling four red flags.

Rafael Nadal set another French Open record and hit one more grand slam milestone with victory on Saturday, while world number one Novak Djokovic also progressed at Roland Garros.

Nadal, a 13-time French Open champion, reached the last 16 of the tournament for a record 16th time by beating Cameron Norrie 6-3 6-3 6-3.

It marks the 50th time Nadal has made it through to the fourth round of a grand slam in his outstanding career. Djokovic is second on the all-time list with 54 appearances in the last 16 of a major – behind only Roger Federer - after he saw off Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-4 6-1 in just 92 minutes.

While Nadal is set for a repeat of last year's quarter-final against Jannik Sinner, top seed Djokovic will be taking on another promising youngster in the form of Lorenzo Musetti.

DJOKOVIC THRILLED WITH HAMILTON COMPARISON

Djokovic is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros in 2021, with last year's beaten finalist – who is well on course to meet up with his old foe Nadal in the last four this time around – looking every bit worthy of his status as top seed.

His dominant display against Berankis drew comparisons, from one commentator at least, to Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

"It's like the dominance of Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team. Berankis is a great driver, he maximises everything under the hood. But Novak Djokovic is driving a completely different race car," said former French Open champion Jim Courier.

"Berankis can't do the same things. On the same track, he can't race the same. Novak can drive how he wants."

It was a comparison which delighted Djokovic.

"Well, I'm honoured to be compared to Lewis. I respect Lewis and everything he does in his career, but also, off the track with his activism," said the 34-year-old, who is hunting a 19th major win. "Something that truly inspires me and a lot of athletes.

"I don't want to talk about my driving next to Lewis' name. Honestly, it's embarrassing to speak about my driving, and in the same sentence with Hamilton! But the analogy and the comparison of my game with an F1 car, it's definitely something that pleases me."

NADAL ENJOYING ROLAND GARROS BACKING

Given his sensational achievements in Paris down the years, it is no surprise that Nadal feels right at home whenever he returns to Roland Garros.

There were, of course, no fans allowed into the stands last year, but a limited number of spectators, including his family, are on hand to cheer him on once more this time.

"It is true that for the last year and a half it has been difficult for every player, although I didn't play so much," Nadal said.

"Those who have been travelling week after week without the chance to have family and a full team with them is very tough. They have been challenging conditions.

"For me it is very important to have the team and family behind me, because of them I am what I am today. I'm happy to have crowds, that is so important for us."

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Though the era of dominance enjoyed by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic is only just starting to show signs of slowing down – albeit they still monopolise the grand slams – round four is going to throw up two fascinating contests.

Sinner came up against Nadal in the 2020 quarter-finals, and the Italian will be looking to cause an almighty upset this time around after overcoming Mikael Ymer.

Joining Sinner in the last 16 is his compatriot and fellow teenager Musetti, who has the small task of taking on the world's best player following a hard-fought victory over Marco Cecchinato.

It is the first time two teenagers have reached the fourth round at Roland Garros since Djokovic and Gael Monfils did so in 2006.

Charles Leclerc joked "it was quite a s*** lap" after he clinched pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen.

In a qualifying session littered with crashes on Saturday, it was Ferrari's Leclerc who came out on top, recording a time of one minute and 41.218 seconds.

The frantic session on the streets of Baku saw four red flags raised, equalling the record for the most in qualifying, which was set ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2016.

Indeed, it was the fourth red flag which all but sealed Leclerc's pole, his second in a row after he started at the front of the grid in Monaco last time out – he is the first driver to take back-to-back poles this season.

World champion Hamilton struggled in practice, but was second when Yuki Tsunoda's crash into the barriers ended qualifying and came in a tenth of a second quicker than Verstappen, who had crashed out in the final practice session.

Leclerc was not best pleased with his efforts, but had no qualms about securing pole.

"It was quite a s*** lap I thought!" Leclerc, who set his fastest time with the help of a slipstream from Hamilton, joked to Sky Sports.

"There were like two or three corners where I did mistakes, but of course I had the big tow from Lewis in the last sector which helped me a little bit.

"But overall I think we would have been there or thereabouts for pole without the slipstream, so it's a good day. I did not expect to be as competitive as we were today. I was improving again [before] the red flag but it's like this, another pole, and I'm happy anyway."

Meanwhile, Hamilton was left to reflect on what he labelled a "monumental" result for Mercedes, with the team having struggled throughout the week – indeed, Valtteri Bottas will start in 10th on Sunday.

"We definitely weren't expecting that and this is such a monumental result for us because we've been struggling like you couldn't believe all weekend. You can see it," Hamilton said.

"We kept our composure. We've continued to have difficult discussions in the background and challenging one another, and just never taking no for an answer. We've moved around, made so many changes, over these two days. Just chasing our tail and it's been so difficult.

"It has been the biggest challenge in a long time. It has been a bit of a disaster."

Verstappen won in Monaco, with Red Bull aiming for consecutive race victories for the first time since 2014, but the young Dutchman could not hide his frustration with how the session panned out.

"It was just a stupid qualifying to be honest, but it is what it is," he said. "It's a street circuit so these things can happen, our car is strong so hopefully tomorrow we can score good points."

Pierre Gasly was in fine form during practice and took the momentum into qualifying, clinching fourth on the grid, while Carlos Sainz completed an impressive showing from Ferrari by coming in fifth.

The day ultimately belonged to Leclerc, who will be hoping for better luck than he had in Monaco, when a mechanical issue meant he could not build on his pole position and had to drop out of the race.

 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:41.218
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.232s
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.345s
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.347s
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.358s
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.529s
7. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.699s
8. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +0.993s
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.109s
10. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +1.441s

Lewis Hamilton is not confident Mercedes will quickly bounce back from a difficult day at the Monaco Grand Prix where he lost the lead in the drivers' standings.

The defending Formula One champion had a 14-point advantage over second-placed Max Verstappen heading into Sunday's race.

But Hamilton, who had to settle for seventh in qualifying, was never in contention as Verstappen triumphed to move four points clear.

The Briton might still have limited the damage, but Mercedes endured a particularly tough time in the pit lane.

Sebastian Vettel stole ahead of Hamilton and Pierre Gasly when the three pitted, pushing the Silver Arrows superstar down the field, while team-mate Valtteri Bottas had to retire from second when mechanics failed to remove his front-right wheel.

"We do all our discussions in the background. We'll work together and try to come out of this stronger," Hamilton told Sky Sports.

"We underperformed as a team all weekend, from the get-go. We'll just put our focus onto the next race, and congratulations to Max and his team. They did a great job."

Although Hamilton is keen to look ahead to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he does not expect the trip to Baku to see Mercedes' fortunes change significantly for the better.

"I would be guessing, but it's another street circuit, another one that's really cold, a very smooth circuit," he said.

"It's another one that we could easily struggle at again – similar to here. We're just going to have to try to work and see how we can minimise that loss."

This is the first time in Verstappen's career he has led the championship, but he agrees Mercedes are better suited to "normal tracks" and so is not getting carried away.

"If it [his name] is there at the end of the season, that would be great," Verstappen told a news conference. "There's still a long way to go.

"Of course it's great to bounce back after the last two races, where of course the gap got bigger. We still have to work hard because we know Mercedes, on normal tracks, are still the ones to beat."

Verstappen had never previously had a podium at Monaco – "I've always been quick around Monaco, I've just shunted a few too many times," he argued – but says this improved display is not reason to be overly optimistic in Baku.

"Baku is a completely different circuit," he said, adding: "You can't really compare with each other, but normally we should be competitive."

Max Verstappen went top of the Formula One drivers' standings for the first time in his career but admits he faces a huge fight to stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The Red Bull star earned a maiden Monaco Grand Prix victory as Hamilton trailed in seventh, with the Mercedes team as a whole enduring a desperate day.

Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire from the race while running second when the pit crew were unable to remove a tyre, with Verstappen and fourth-placed Sergio Perez nudging Red Bull above Mercedes at the summit of the constructors' standings.

Neither Verstappen nor his team would be presumptuous enough to suggest this changing of the guard at the top of each championship is anything but potentially fleeting though, given the margins are so tight and this was just the fifth stop-off in a 23-race season.

"It's so special around here to win and to be for the first time on the podium here," Verstappen said. "It's an amazing race and you really have to keep your focus, but it's really cool.

"You never know what's going to happen, but it was all about looking after your tyres and finding a good stop gap of course. The others went earlier so that made it a bit easier for me, but it was pretty much in control.

"Of course you always want to win this grand prix. I remember when I was very little watching this grand prix and to be standing here of course I'm very proud.

"But I'm also thinking ahead. It's still a very long season, but this is a great way to continue."

Hamilton has won the last four championships and six of the last seven, while Mercedes are chasing an eighth consecutive team title.

They will have many better Sundays in the coming months, and a team statement on Twitter summed up their dismay at the Monaco outcome.

The statement said: "Tough one to swallow. This has been one of our hardest days as a team in a very long time. We have to accept it, own the failure, learn from it and move on from here."

Carlos Sainz finished second, with Verstappen keeping the Spaniard at a safe distance.

It was close to a nine-second gap at the finish, as Sainz delivered for a Ferrari side who had to stomach the pre-race blow of withdrawing pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.

Monaco native Leclerc majorly damaged his car with a heavy crash in qualifying, and despite subsequent assurances that he would be on the grid, Ferrari changed their minds just minutes before the race began, citing a problem with the left driveshaft.

As Leclerc licked his wounds, Sainz delivered a sterling drive for his first Ferrari podium finish. Even then, it felt bittersweet.

"It is a good result," said the 26-year-old Spaniard. "If you had told me before coming to Monaco that I would finish second, I would definitely have taken that.

"It's just the whole circumstances of the weekend, having Charles on pole, me missing out in qualifying yesterday on a good lap, it just maybe doesn't taste as good as it should.

"But if I reflect back in the week I will be very happy and proud of the weekend. And I think Ferrari as a team need to be proud about the team and the step they've done this year.

"When you see the other car not starting from pole, all of a sudden the responsibility relies on you, trying to salvage the weekend. I felt the team deserved at least a podium this weekend."

Third place went to Lando Norris, whose McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, a former winner in Monaco, could only finish in a lowly 12th place.

"I didn't think I'd be here," Norris said, at his post-race interview. "It's always a dream to be on a podium here.

"It's extra special, I didn't think it was going to happen. It's special here, so I'll cherish it."

Max Verstappen roared to victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and jumped above reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton at the top of the drivers' standings.

The Red Bull driver benefited from the shock withdrawal of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc ahead of the race, producing an immaculate drive to stay out of trouble and finish ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

McLaren's Lando Norris completed the podium, securing his second third place of the season, with Sergio Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly all coming home ahead of Hamilton, who trailed in a distant seventh.

The outcome saw Verstappen, thanks to his first Monaco triumph, move four points in front of Hamilton after five rounds of the 23-race championship. He leads the championship for the first time in his career, a further sign that Hamilton could face a major battle to cling to his crown as he chases a record-breaking eighth title.

Just 20 minutes before the race began, Ferrari dropped the bombshell that Leclerc had been ruled out due to a driveshaft problem.

It was a crushing blow for the Monegasque driver, whose pole was secured in dramatic fashion on Saturday when he crashed his Ferrari in the final minute of qualifying, denying his rivals a clear track and the chance to set a faster time. Leclerc feared gearbox trouble but was initially given the all-clear to race, until he was pulled from the line-up.

What it meant was that Verstappen, second on the grid, had the chance to gain the early ascendancy on the tight circuit where he had never previously achieved a podium finish, and he demonstrated his prowess as a front-runner.

Valtteri Bottas was sitting second when the Finn pitted on the 31st lap, and he joined Leclerc in the bad-luck club when Mercedes were unable to remove his front-right wheel. After a desperate minute of waiting, Bottas climbed out of his car, his race over.

Sebastian Vettel managed to get ahead of Pierre Gasly and Hamilton when the three pitted, the Aston Martin going almost wheel to wheel with Gasly's Alpha Tauri as he completed a stunning overcut.

That moment imperilled Hamilton's leadership of the championship, putting him down in seventh place, as Mercedes suffered a miserable couple of minutes. 

It proved the last major twist of the race, with Hamilton securing a bonus point for a late fastest lap. Small consolation on a dismal day for Mercedes, as Verstappen and Perez's performance also saw Red Bull go ahead of the Silver Arrows in the constructors' standings.

Charles Leclerc's chances of starting his home grand prix in pole position appeared to have received a boost on Saturday, with Ferrari finding no gearbox damage in initial checks.

Leclerc took pole for the Monaco Grand Prix in dramatic circumstances earlier in the day when he crashed while top of the timesheets.

The crash forced qualifying to be halted early. Leclerc flicked off one barrier and went hurtling into another just as his rivals – including second-placed Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas in third – seemed ready to mount a challenge in the closing moments of the session.

Leclerc admitted he was worried the impact and the damage to his car may mean its gearbox required replacing, which would see him given a grid penalty.

However, tests conducted by Ferrari found no "serious damage" to the gearbox, though further checks will be carried out on Sunday to ensure it is useable.

This update came after the post-qualifying news conference, in which Leclerc said: "I have mixed feelings a little bit, because with the crash I don’t know where I’m starting tomorrow yet. It depends on the damage on the car."

It was the first time Leclerc had made it to Q3 on his home circuit.

"Well, it didn't feel great to go Q3, as at least we were expecting to go through to Q3," he said.

"It would have been a big disappointment if I was not going into Q3, 2019 was a hard one to take as we definitely had the potential to be up there but we couldn't finalise it after the mistake we have done in Q1. Hopefully we will end up this weekend on a high, which never happened at home."

Meanwhile, two weeks after securing a 100th pole position of his Formula One career, championship leader Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh on the grid.

"[The car] didn't feel too bad on Thursday, and then we made some changes and it felt pretty terrible today, so of course we go back to the drawing board," Hamilton said.

"I think from my point I just had such a lack of grip out there, which then leads you to overdrive and start trying to get more from it to no end – it doesn't improve.

"Today was a question of tyres, the tyres were just not working. I was sliding around. I've not spoken to the engineers just yet. Valtteri did a better job at the end of the day."

Hamilton's poor run means that title challenger Verstappen is well placed to take advantage.

"It's always important to score a lot of points, but of course you need to be ahead of your main rivals as much as you can," said the Red Bull driver.

"So today was good – but of course we need to finish that off tomorrow."

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