Hamilton takes pole at rain-hit French Grand Prix

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"It feels great to be back in France - it's a attractive place and we got a great response from the crowd".

The world champion avoided the chaos that unravelled behind him at the start, with Vettel locking up and sliding into Valtteri Bottas, spinning the Finn's Mercedes and puncturing his tyre while breaking his own front wing. "It's a lovely Sunday".

Having wrestled the championship lead back from rival and reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, Vettel is looking to build some momentum with the first ever triple header in Formula 1 history - France, Austria and the United Kingdom all being run on consecutive weekends - and remains confident of his chances on race day in Paul Ricard.

The gap between them would nearly two-tenths of a second in the Dutchman's favour as Verstappen took fourth with the Australian fifth.

Sunday's race will be the first French Grand Prix since Magny-Cours in 2008 and the first held at the southern Le Castellet circuit since 1990.

However while in Canada they had not employed their new, upgraded engine, in France they had the unit and it had proved to be formidable. In a title fight that is likely to be decided by tiny advantages in a fierce development battle, every successful step will be celebrated.

"It is going to be close all season".

It emerged on Thursday that McLaren have made a bold approach for Daniel Ricciardo, but it seems highly unlikely the Australian, who has won twice this year, will trade Red Bull for the desperately under-performing British team.

Hamilton started cleanly from pole position and led as the safety vehicle was deployed for four laps.

After a mistake at Turn 11 on his first lap, the Ferrari driver was fueled for two laps on his second run. He ended up over a second behind Hamilton's time.

That was one place ahead of Bottas, who was spun around by Vettel at Turn 1 on a chaotic opening lap. He was into the points in 10th, passing Nico Hulkenberg on lap 12 but was already 24 seconds back from Hamilton.

Lance Stroll was a late non-finisher after his front-left tyre gave up at the high-speed Turn 10 right-hander, having completed 47 laps following an early stop under the safety auto.

That prompted a safety auto, under which Hamilton led from Verstappen, who took to the run-off to avoid the Bottas-Vettel clash, and Renault's Carlos Sainz, who swept around the outside of Daniel Ricciardo at Turn 2 when the Red Bull ran deep into the first corner. Hamilton had not been troubled at the front of the race, he managed and maintained the gap to Verstappen to ensure a clinical finish.

Renault's Carlos Sainz Jr qualified in seventh, ahead of Sauber's Charles Leclerc.

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