French GP: Red Bull deliver Formula 1 statement with Max Verstappen pole, Mercedes 'lacking pace'
"If we can beat them here then really we can beat them anywhere," says Red Bull boss Christian Horner as title challengers take over Mercedes stronghold with Max Verstappen's superb pole at Paul Ricard; Toto Wolff says Mercedes "need to gain everywhere"
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 20/06/21 2:24pm
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle said Red Bull delivered a "significant statement" in the 2021 championship after Max Verstappen emphatically beat Mercedes to pole position at the French GP.
France's Paul Ricard track has been one of many Mercedes strongholds in recent years - with the seven-time world champions claiming every pole and race win since its return to the calendar in 2018 - but Verstappen outpaced Lewis Hamilton to take top spot in qualifying for the first time since the season-opener.
His final advantage was 0.2s, but it looked like being more than that before Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by four points in the title race, extracted all he could out of his W12 car at the end of Q3.
And Brundle said: "We are witnessing two wonderful racing drivers head to head. In this race, and in this championship.
"It's a significant statement that Red Bull have outpaced Mercedes today."
A statement not just because of Mercedes' form in France, but also their pace at similar tracks this season - particularly in Barcelona where Hamilton was clearly quicker than Verstappen.
Paul Ricard is a more traditional F1 circuit, with high-speed corners and long straights, where Mercedes were expected to flourish. But instead Red Bull, aided by a new Honda engine, proved to be fastest in Verstappen's hands.
"If we can beat them here then really we can beat them anywhere," admitted Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez finished third and fourth in the other Mercedes and Red Bull cars.
Mercedes 'lacking pace', 'need to gain everywhere'
While Red Bull comprehensively outscored a below-par Mercedes on the street tracks of Monaco and Baku, and have generally been competitive all season, the form book from earlier this season suggested the Silver Arrows would be the team to beat this weekend.
But the title challengers, and leaders, have moved ahead after setup changes on Friday night saw them flourish on the straights, while also keeping their advantage through the corners.
It has left Mercedes searching for answers.
"It's been a difficult weekend because we are just lacking pace," Mercedes' Toto Wolff told Sky F1. "That's the truth.
"It looked much worse than in the end where we ended up, but we just need to gain everywhere.
"There is not one part that we are not looking at in order to improve our game."
Sunday's race starts at 2pm on Sky Sports F1, with extensive build-up from 12.30pm.