Ferrari were in crushing form at Magny-Cours and annexed the front row of the grid with little difficulty, Kimi Raikkonen leading Felipe Massa.
It was Ferrari’s 200th pole position at a circuit where they’ve enjoyed great success in recent years.
Lewis Hamilton, in what is expected to be a lightly-fuelled McLaren, was unable to beat the Ferraris and will start 13th tomorrow following penalty for his crash in the Canadian Grand Prix.
The revised Scuderia Toro Rosso STR3s gave Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais a boost and the pair were both able to make it past Q3.
That was a blow for Honda, who found both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello unable to beat anyone but the Force Indias.
Williams were also in dire straits, Kazuki Nakajima being the fifth driver to be eliminated, taking 16th. Team mate Nico Rosberg progressed to the second part of qualifying in his place, which seemed to make little sense for the team as the German driver also has a ten-place penalty for the same misdemeanour.
BMW were the last team to send their drivers out on track and suffered a scare as Nick Heidfeld struggled to progress beyond 18th. A late flying lap on soft tyres secured him passage to Q2.
Drivers knocked out in part one:
16. Kazuki Nakajima 1’16.243
17. Jenson Button 1’16.306
18. Rubens Barrichello 1’16.330
19. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’16.971
20. Adrian Sutil 1’17.053
Rosberg only set a time good enough for 15th in the second part of qualifying, guaranteeing him a demotion to the back of the grid. That raised questions why the team bothered to send him out in the first part of qualifying at all, which might at least have helped his team mate.
The Toro Rossos also got no further and took 13th and 14th. But the speed of the Toyotas and Red Bulls caused more problems for BMW and it was Heidfeld who lost out again.
The German driver had had a special test at the Circuit de Catalunya last week to try and get on top of the problems he’s had warming his tyres up. But it seemed not to help and he found himself 12th.
Nelson Piquet Jnr leapt into the top ten with seconds to spare but a last-gasp lap from David Coulthard knocked him back out again.
Drivers knocked out in part two
11. Nelson Piquet 1’15.848
12. Nick Heidfeld 1’16.006
13. Sebastian Vettel 1’15.918
14. Sebastien Bourdais 1’16.045
15. Nico Rosberg 1’16.235
McLaren made it no secret that, with Hamilton facing a ten-place grid drop, they were going to run his car as light as they dared in a bid to snatch pole position from Ferrari.
But their plan went wrong on Hamilton’s first lap, when he ran wide at the Nurburgring chicane, posting a time that was only good enough for seventh.
He wasn’t the only driver to go off – Jarno Trulli had a spin halfway around the 180 corner.
Ferrari looked totally serene and Raikkonen and Massa both banged in 1’16.4 laps with little drama. Massa said he’d over-driven his second lap, losing pole by 0.041s.
Hamilton’s second effort got him up to third (despite another, smaller, mistake at the same corner) but he’ll lost that to Fernando Alonso. Heikki Kovalainen will start behind Alonso and Trulli. Kubica’s seventh will become sixth after Hamilton’s penalty but it’s still his worst starting position of the year.
The same goes for Hamilton, who faces a long afternoon’s work trying to climb through the field from 13th to minimise the damage to his championship hopes.
Top ten in part three:
1. Kimi Raikkonen 1’16.449
2. Felipe Massa 1’16.490
3. Lewis Hamilton 1’16.693
4. Fernando Alonso 1’16.840
5. Jarno Trulli 1’16.920
6. Heikki Kovalainen 1’16.944
7. Robert Kubica 1’17.037
8. Mark Webber 1’17.233
9. David Coulthard 1’17.426
10. Timo Glock 1’17.596
Expected starting grid after penalties:
1. Kimi Raikkonen
2. Felipe Massa
3. Fernando Alonso
4. Jarno Trulli
5. Heikki Kovalainen
6. Robert Kubica
7. Mark Webber
8. David Coulthard
9. Timo Glock
10. Nelson Piquet
11. Nick Heidfeld
12. Sebastian Vettel
13. Lewis Hamilton
14. Sebastien Bourdais
15. Kazuki Nakajima
16. Jenson Button
17. Rubens Barrichello
18. Giancarlo Fisichella
19. Adrian Sutil
20. Nico Rosberg