Lewis Hamilton roared to pole position for the French Grand Prix – and then accused rivals Ferrari of taking their eye off the championship fight.
Hamilton is on course to extend his 29-point title lead after seeing off the challenge from team-mate Valtteri Bottas as the all-conquering Mercedes team locked out the front row.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc finished a distant third at the Circuit Paul Ricard, while Sebastian Vettel’s troubled fortnight suffered another setback. He will start a lowly seventh on Sunday.
Ferrari arrived in the south of France building a case against Vettel’s five-second penalty which lost him the Canadian Grand Prix.
But their 35-minute presentation to Formula One’s governing body was dismissed on Friday afternoon – the stewards saying no significant new evidence had been brought to the table.
Ferrari submitted a seven-part argument to challenge the original verdict, including a video analysis by Sky Sports’ pundit Karun Chandhok, the former grand prix driver who made 11 appearances.
“If it was me I would want my team concentrating on the race,” said Hamilton, fresh from performing another one-lap masterclass.
“Ferrari were spending a lot of time focusing on something else. Me and my team were focused on trying to improve the car.
“When I arrived at the track on Friday morning, and I heard it was Karun Chandhok’s video I was pretty relaxed after that.”
Hamilton has won five of the seven rounds staged this season, and will be expected to add to that tally on Sunday after claiming the 86th pole of his life – now 18 more than any other driver.
Bottas had appeared to hold a slight edge over his team-mate this weekend, but Hamilton pieced together two fine efforts to finish 0.286 seconds clear.
“I definitely don’t feel untouchable,” added Hamilton, 34. “I do feel strong, and I am starting the race weekends on the right foot.
“I am constantly being pushed by Valtteri. I still have my work cut out, I still have to perform and deliver so my work ethic is the same, and the stress is the same, too. I usually get better when the season goes on, and I am more comfortable with the car. I don’t expect that to stop.”
It is 300 days since Vettel last won a race, and his underwhelming campaign hit a new low in qualifying.
The four-time world champion, already 62 points behind Hamilton in the standings, lost control of his Ferrari through the chicane and had to abort his opening flying lap.
Then, he failed to hook up a second time to challenge the leaders, crossing the line an eye-watering 1.4 sec adrift of Hamilton, and behind both McLaren cars.
British teenager Lando Norris finished an impressive fifth, the best qualifying result of his young career.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Vettel. “I lost so much momentum that there was no point to finish that first lap.
“In the end I didn’t get the best out of the car, which is not satisfying.”