Charles Leclerc took his first back-to-back pole position since 2019 to give Ferrari a shock front-row start at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Mercedes, who struggled all throughout the FP sessions, were surprising front-row starters with Lewis Hamilton starting P2. Max Verstappen started P3 and made his disappointment known in the post-race interviews as he believed he had the pace to go even quicker had the session not been stopped.
The last few races in Baku have always seen some drama, but the drama seemed to be present there on Saturday instead of Sunday this time around, with the qualifying session seeing a total of 4 red flags! AlphaTauri had a smashing run with Gasly starting a brilliant P4 and his teammate Tsunoda having his best qualifying session of the season to go P8. The final qualifying session had an abrupt end when AlphaTauri’s young Japanese driver crashed into the barriers at Turn 3, a crash that caught out Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who in turn locked up and had his front-wing clipped off. He will have to wait to see whether there has been prominent damage to his gearbox or not. A change of gearboxes would lead to a grid penalty for the Spaniard.
Qualifying 1 – (Eliminated – Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin, Giovinazzi, Stroll) – The session started off with a long queue in the pit, with all cars waiting to get their tyres warmed up and also make use of the track position while trying to get a tow from the cars ahead. Turn 15, which has troubled the drivers all throughout the FP sessions, was where Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll locked up his front right before colliding with the barriers bringing out the first red flag of the session. The red flag, though, gave the Williams crew a few more minutes to work on George Russell’s car, who faced a power issue in FP3. As the session resumed, Max Verstappen went at the top of the timing charts, clocking a 1m 41.760s.
Also Read – Worst crashes in motorsport history
Within minutes, the red flag was waved again as Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi crashed on the exit of the infamous Turn 15. Giovinazzi locked his left front before crashing into the Turn 15 barriers. The end of the session saw Hamilton go top, with Williams making a remarkable recovery to have George Russell squeeze through to Q2.
Qualifying 2 – (Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Russell)- Sebastian Vettel led the cars for the second qualifying session. This was an extremely close session, with Verstappen leading with a 1m 41.625s and Sainz at P5 behind by just 0.034s!
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo locked up going into Turn 3 and crashed to bring out the session’s third red flag. With a minute and twenty-nine seconds left on the clock, the Australian’s crash effectively ended the session, leaving Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel an agonising 0.029s off the Q3 cut-off.
Qualifying 3 – Leclerc grabs a shock pole! – Mercedes led the way in the top ten shootout with Valtteri Bottas heading off first in a bid to give his teammate a tow. Ferrari, who followed the Mercedes, got the benefit of the tow with Charles Leclerc doing an impressive 1m 41.218s to take provisional pole. Carlos Sainz couldn’t dispatch his team-mate from pole and was a further three-tenths down before Red Bull’s Max Verstappen spilt the Ferraris. Mercedes, who struggled all throughout Friday, surprised everyone when Hamilton went P2, albeit with the help of a massive tow from teammate Bottas. The AlphaTauris, who although were expected to have a strong weekend, outperformed expectations when Pierre Gasly brought out arguably his finest qualifying lap of the season to go a brilliant fourth, just 0.002s off his former teammate Verstappen.
In the dying seconds of Q3, just as the drivers were out for the final flying laps, Yuki Tsunoda, who had had a fantastic race up until then, mirrored Ricciardo from the end of Q2 and crashed into Turn 3. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, on a hot lap himself, couldn’t back out in time as he locked up and slid off into the barriers, damaging his front wing. He will hope the damage is limited to his front wing itself and doesn’t need a gearbox change which would give him a grid penalty. Tsunoda’s crash ended the session, leaving Ferrari’s Leclerc taking his first consecutive pole since 2019.
The Final Line Up –
(*Subject to change, depending on gearbox damage)