A late Q3 red flag brought the session to an end and denied others the chance to beat the Ferrari driver’s time
By Yuri Coghe
Charles Leclerc claimed his ninth career pole position in Saturday’s qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, his second pole in a row after claiming the honour in Monaco two weeks ago.
Just like in the streets of Monte Carlo, a late Q3 red flag brought the session to an end and denied other drivers the chance to beat Leclerc’s time of 1:42.218. This time it was an accident involving Yuki Tsunoda – and not one that included Leclerc himself – that triggered the red flag. Carlos Sainz Jr. also left the track and knocked out his front wing when deviating from the Japanese driver to prevent a bigger accident.
“It was quite a lap I thought,” said Leclerc after the session. “I did not expect to be as competitive as we are today, I thought I was improving before the red flag, but I’m happy anyway.”
Lewis Hamilton will align on Leclerc’s side on Sunday. The Briton’s advantage over championship rival Max Verstappen, who will start third, came as a surprise to the 7-time champion, who had been struggling to get pace out of the car in Baku up to that point.
“We definitely were not expecting that,” said Hamilton, who led Q1. “I’m really proud of everyone, it is a great, great start. This is a massive leap and it is down to a great team.”
Verstappen, who leads the championship after five races, was far from pleased with the final result. He was even less impressed with the four red flags that popped up during qualifying.
“It was just a stupid qualifying, to be honest, but it is what it is,” said Verstappen, who led a Red Bull 1-2 in Q2. “It’s a street circuit so these things can happen, our car is strong so hopefully tomorrow we can score good points.”
Pierre Gasly, in the AlphaTauri, equalled his career-high qualifying result and will start the race in fourth. Sainz Jr. followed in fifth. Tsunoda took the other AlphaTauri to Q3, his first pole qualifying appearance of the season, before crashing in turn 3. He will start seventh – one position ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Alpine.
Lando Norris qualified sixth but was awarded a three-place grid penalty for failing to comply with follow red flag procedures, dropping to ninth and moving Perez, Tsunoda and Alonso one position ahead.
Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas could only take their Red Bull and Mercedes to sixth and tenth, respectively.
The session was marked by four red flags as the streets of Baku kept proving to be a big challenge for the drivers. Lance Stroll triggered the first one early in Q1 when finding the wall at turn 15. The same wall put an end to Antonio Giovinazzi’s Saturday a few minutes later.
The Canadian will start the race 19th, one position ahead of the Italian. Nicholas Latifi, the other Canadian in the field, will start 16th. Mick Schumacher, in 17th, and Nikita Mazepin, in 18th, were the other drivers knocked out in Q1.
In Q2, turn 3 got the best out of Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session 13th. His crash brought out the third red flag and caused the second part of qualifying to end prematurely. That put an end to Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of featuring in Q3 as he had to abort his final fast lap attempt. The German driver will start the race 11th, one position ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.
George Russell, who will start 15th, had to wait in the garage at the beginning of Q1 as the Williams mechanics were still fixing his car, damaged from an FP3 crash. The 23-year-old Briton will start one position ahead of 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix starts at 8 AM Eastern Time, 5 AM Pacific Time on Sunday.
See the full Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying results
UPDATE: Norris dropped to ninth due to an aforementioned grid penalty that also saw Perez move to sixth, Tsunoda move to seventh and Alonso move to eighth.