Valtteri Bottas has snatched pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from teammate Lewis Hamilton after pre-qualifying favorite Charles Leclerc crashed out in Q2.
Ferrari had looked comfortably fastest throughout practice, so much so that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff suggested pole was out of the question for his team, but with the Monegasque out of the running and Sebastian Vettel not on the pace, the door was left open for the Silver Arrows to lock out the front row.
Hamilton took provisional pole after the first runs, but congestion on the out-lap for the second runs made tire preparation difficult. He subsequently had a poor first sector, allowing Valtteri Bottas to seize momentum and pip his teammate to pole by just 0.059s.
“I’m really happy,” Bottas said. “It was a nice feeling getting [Ferrari] in the last lap — it was a nice lap.”
The Finn admitted that positioning on his out-lap, which earned him the benefit of a tow down the front straight, played a part in this success.
“It’s all about small margins. I did get a good tow in the last lap — but of course the corners I had to drive as well! It’s all about fine details and finding the sweet spot.”
Hamilton was cool in defeat, but the Briton reveled in beating Ferrari after the deficit looked so large after practice.
“Ferrari have looked incredibly quick,” he said. “It’s just a massively great result for us — we came here, we didn’t have an upgrade, so for us to lock out the front row due to circumstances, I’m really grateful for it.”
Vettel was visibly disappointed to be unable to take pole on such a promising weekend for Ferrari, but he dismissed the suggestion that he had under-delivered, insisting that Mercedes had simply been the faster car.
“I don’t know if they stole it; I think they were bit quicker than us today,” he said. “I’m happy that we got sort of the maximum out but not happy overall from the team point of view — we were expecting to have a better session with Charles and myself closer to the front.”
The loss of Leclerc from qualifying was keenly felt by Ferrari given he seemed likely from the outset to be the man to lead the team this weekend until his ugly crash at the bottom of the tricky castle section.
The 21-year-old locked up at the entry to Turn 8, but rather than bail into the run-off area, he committed to making the corner, but he understeered directly into the barriers and out of qualifying.
“I deserved what happened today,” he told British TV. “I am very, very sad for what happened, but I deserve it.
“I’ve been stupid. I’ve calmed down, but I still think I’ve been stupid. I will push to learn from this and come back stronger.
“I don’t want to say anything stupid, but I think … pole was possible today and I threw all the potential in the bin. I am very disappointed.”
Leclerc was classified sixth once the session resumed after repairs were made to the barriers, and he qualified 10th by virtue of progressing to Q3.
Leclerc was the second driver to crash at Turn 8 after Robert Kubica had a similar crash in Q1, the Pole breaking his suspension after hitting the inside barrier, sending his car careering into the opposite wall.
Max Verstappen qualified fourth despite sitting out the final runs in Q3, but he had more than enough pace in hand to stay ahead of Sergio Perez, Daniil Kvyat and Lando Norris.
Alfa Romeo got both cars into the top 10 for the first time this season, with Antonio Giovinazzi beating Kimi Raikkonen to eighth in the Italian’s first Q3 appearance.
Those who were eliminated in Q2 were separated by just 0.3 seconds, emphasizing the freneticism of the on-track action. Carlos Sainz qualified 11th, putting himself ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, meaning both Renault-powered McLarens qualified ahead of the works constructor’s cars. Alex Albon’s promising weekend form eventuated into only 13th place ahead of Kevin Magnussen in 14th.
Pierre Gasly didn’t set a time in Q2 given he carried a pit-lane-start penalty into qualifying for failing to attend the weighbridge during Friday practice.
Lance Stroll was knocked out in 16th, losing out to Ricciardo by a tenth of a second. It make it eight races in a row at which the Canadian has been knocked out of qualifying in Q1.
Romain Grosjean struggled in his Haas, setting the 17th-fastest time ahead of an unhappy Nico Hulkenberg for 18th.
Williams’ George Russell will start ahead of the crashed Kubica in 19th and 20th.