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Lewis Hamilton relieved but puzzled with French GP pole position

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French Grand Prix 1976

After several days of heat-wave conditions, heavy thunderstorms are forecast to continue on Sunday when the first French Grand Prix for a decade, and first at Le Castellet's "Paul Ricard" circuit in 28 years, is scheduled to start.

Hamilton edged Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to take top spot for the 75th time in his career, but cut a subdued figure, admitting he was slightly frustrated at missing time.

The final moments of qualifying became a duel between the Mercedes drivers, with Bottas going top just before Hamilton crossed the line with the leading time for his third pole of the season.

Daniel Ricciardo was second for Red Bull, three quarters of a second behind the Mercedes, with his team-mate Max Verstappen third.

"It feels great to be back in France, we've got a great response from the crowd here", Hamilton said after the session.

"This place is attractive, it's really stunning down here", Hamilton said of a circuit that last hosted a grand prix in 1990 and represents a new challenge for a man who has won everywhere else on the calendar. "Really excited to be back for the first grand prix at Paul Ricard in a long, long time".

Ricciardo was quick to point to Hamilton s new engine as a factor even before its introduction was confirmed by Mercedes. Quite how the Dutch 20-year-old deals with a new track remains to be seen as Red Bull try to get the most out of their Renault engine before switching to Honda from next year.

"I did push everything in the last attempt but pushed too much", said Vettel.

The session was immediately red-flagged and Ericsson, 27, emerged unscathed from his charred Sauber. His Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne was 18th.

There was more gloom at McLaren, with last weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours victor and double world champion Fernando Alonso managing only the 16th best time.

"Our performance has usually been so-so on Saturdays, with our average position in qualifying so far this year being 13th", said Alonso.

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