Hamilton on pole in France with Vettel third

Image AFP  Gerard Julien

Image AFP Gerard Julien

Mercedes took control and Hamilton clocked the best time in Q1, which ended, as rain began to fall, with both McLarens and both Williams eliminated -- a sad contrast to the pomp of the once-great British teams, when the French race was last held at the Paul Ricard Circuit 28 years ago.

There was also drama on track, with Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson crashing his Sauber in the first session and clambering out with the auto on fire.

The session, run in hot conditions, with track temperatures hitting 48 degrees Celsius, and a gusty wind, was interrupted when Sergio Perez s Force India auto lost a wheel at speed through turns five and six.

The four-time champion led from the start of the race, capitalizing on a collision between his teammate Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel that ultimately saw his Ferrari rival finish fifth and concede a 14-point lead at the top of the standings after eight races. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) - 1.30,8956.

As the F1 Grand Prix Circus returns to France for the first time in a decade, it's Lewis Hamilton on pole after qualifying, alongside team mate Bottas. "But we won t really know its full potential until tomorrow when everyone gets to turn their engines up".

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Pole sitter: Lewis Hamilton celebrates pole position at the French Grand Prix. He was unhurt, but the session was red-flagged to a halt temporarily.

The Swede worryingly remained in the auto before marshals arrived with an extinguisher and he clambered out from underneath the halo head-protection system.

"My start was too good", Vettel told TV crews.

"The long-runs felt pretty OK, quite consistent", said Vettel. When I have days like today I look up and see the Union Jack above me it is honestly such a great feeling. "When I walked into the garage to put my helmet on I saw the screen and it was 6-0 at the time and when I went out to the track for three laps before the grid and going to the toilet I saw again it was 6-1 but jeez that is a mighty score".

Spain's double world champion Fernando Alonso, victor at the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota last weekend, was only 16th in the first session but improved to eighth in the second.

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