Leclerc wins wild Baku pole fight

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Leclerc wins wild Baku pole fight

Formula 1

Leclerc wins wild Baku pole fight


Charles Leclerc has taken back-to-back pole positions after red flags brought a chaotic qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix to an early end.

Leclerc had taken provisional pole with his first flying lap — in no small part thanks to a substantial slipstream from Lewis Hamilton — to set up what should have been a tight conclusion with the second runs. But the shootout was halted with just a second remaining on the clock when Yuki Tsunoda smacked his AlphaTauri into the barrier at Turn 3, partially blocking the track. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, immediately behind him on the track, tried to take avoiding action but locked up, spinning himself into the wall in the run-off zone. Red flags were waved for the fourth time of the afternoon and the session was abandoned, handing Leclerc a second consecutive pole.

“It was quite a s••• lap!” Leclerc said. “I thought there were two or three corners where I did mistakes, but then of course I had a big tow from Lewis in the last sector which helped me quite a bit. But anyway I think we would’ve been thereabouts for pole.”

Hamilton was thrilled to qualify second and 0.232s behind after Mercedes’s difficult Friday, crediting the team with its work overnight for putting him in pole contention.

“We definitely weren’t expecting that,” he said. “This is such a monumental result for us because we’ve been struggling like you wouldn’t believe all weekend.

“We’ve made so many changed over these two days … it’s been so difficult, but really the work overnight and particularly between the sessions is really amazing of the team. To be up there so close to these guys is a great result.”

Verstappen was far less satisfied with third, 0.345s behind Leclerc, after starting the day as heavy pole favorite.

“Just a stupid qualifying, to be honest,” he said. “But anyway, it is what it is. I’m still P3. We have a good car.

“It’s just unfortunate. But it’s a street circuit, these things can happen. We’re still up there. Of course I would’ve liked to start a bit further ahead, but it’s still all to play for.”

The unique Baku circuit caught out a number of contenders. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

The fast but technical Baku circuit claimed five drivers throughout qualifying across four separate suspensions, with Q1 alone extended by 20 minutes after Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi wrote off their afternoons in separate crashes at Turn 15.

Daniel Ricciardo’s difficult start to life at McLaren continued with a crash at Turn 3 during Q2, and Tsunoda and Sanz completed the quadrella in Q3, ultimately deciding the top 10.

Pierre Gasly was a superb fourth after AlphaTauri sent him out for his first lap after most of the rest of the field set their first lap, earning him a quiet track.

Sainz will line up fifth — assuming his car escaped his crash without substantial damage — while McLaren’s Lando Norris took sixth on the grid but dropped to ninth following pending a stewards investigation into his failure to pit at his first opportunity during red flags in Q1.

Sergio Perez qualified seventh and 0.699s off pole, a disappointing return for the Mexican who said he had his best Friday for Red Bull Racing this weekend.

Tsunoda will start eighth if his car doesn’t require substantial repairs, with Fernando Alonso qualifying behind him in ninth and Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes 1.4s off the pace in 10th thanks to his only timed lap coming without a slipstream.

The fight to make it into the top-10 shootout was close but ultimately truncated when Daniel Ricciardo smashed his car into the wall at the outside of Turn 3. The McLaren driver hit the brakes too late to navigate the turn, and with his right-front corner broken, the session was abandoned with less than 90 seconds remaining — to the frustration of Sebastian Vettel. The German lost his opportunity for a final flying lap and missed out on progression by just 0.029s.

Esteban Ocon followed for Alpine ahead of Ricciardo in 12th and 13th, and Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell will line up 14th and 15th on the grid.

Nicholas Latifi qualified 16th ahead of Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

Stroll and Giovinazzi crashed out of qualifying without setting a lap time. Both drivers fell victim to the fast and downhill Turn 15 — the same bend that claimed Verstappen in third practice — by carrying in too much and wiping off their right-front wheels