Leclerc survives Baku qualifying to take pole

Charles Leclerc achieved his second successive shock Formula 1 pole position as Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying ended in similarly bizarre circumstances to Monaco with a late Q3 red flag.

The Scuderia Ferrari driver led the way after the first runs in Q3, but Yuki Tsunoda crashing at Turn 3 with just a few seconds of the session remaining – and Carlos Sainz also hitting the barriers just behind the AlphaTauri – secured Leclerc’s pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

The session had already been heavily disrupted and delayed by three other red flags, caused by Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi crashing in Q1 and Daniel Ricciardo doing likewise in Q2.

Leclerc’s time of one minute, 41.218 seconds initial lap in Q3 came as he led the pack around, but crucially picked up a significant tow when he caught up with Hamilton – completing a second warm-up lap running behind teammate Valtteri Bottas – in the closing stages of the track.

This boosted Leclerc to a 0.232 seconds advantage over Hamilton when the Mercedes drivers did complete the first of what should have been two runs in Q3, with Bottas ending up down the order as he had towed Hamilton.

Red Bull, the favourite for pole position, ended up with Verstappen in third as he could not match Leclerc on the opening Q3 runs despite being towed by teammate Sergio Perez.

Pierre Gasly took an excellent fourth as the AlphaTauri drivers completed their first Q3 laps in the middle part of the segment when the rest of the top ten were in the pits preparing for the final goes that were ultimately aborted.

Tsunoda towed Gasly around – the rookie’s lap ending up being good enough for P8, with Bottas shuffled down to P10.

Along with the rest, he never got the chance to improve as Tsunoda – who had stayed out for a second go following a cool-down lap where the AlphaTauri drivers became mixed in with the rest of the pack, now preparing for their final runs – crashed at Turn 3 – the 90-degree left at the end of the back straight early in the first sector.

He braked too late and locked his left-front, which sent him nose-first into the barriers, with Sainz “losing the focus” as he followed Tsunoda’s lock-up and crashed, the Ferrari’s rear swinging around and its front wing being knocked off against the wall on the inside of the Turn 3 run-off area.

Behind the polesitter, Hamilton, Verstappen and Gasly came Sainz, Lando Norris and Perez, while Fernando Alonso was sandwiched between Tsunoda and Bottas in P9.

Norris faces a post-qualifying investigation for a possible red flag procedure infraction during Q1.

Q2 ended 90 seconds early after Ricciardo locked up his front left and slide straight into the wall on the outside of Turn 3.

The McLaren’s right front was knocked off in the impact and the middle segment was not restarted, which meant several drivers – including Ricciardo – were eliminated based on their initial run times.

Sebastian Vettel was vocally livid to miss a Q3 spot by 0.029 seconds as he ended up P11, ahead of Esteban Ocon, who had clipped the wall with his right rear exiting the same corner as where Ricciardo, who qualified P13, would later crash.

Kimi Raikkonen was P14 ahead of George Russell, who maintained his 100 percent progression from Q1-Q2 for Williams in 2021.

This came after he missed the opening minutes of Q1 as his team worked to switch him back to a previously used engine as the new one he had been running in FP3 suffered a water pump leak and had to be removed.

In Q1, the incidents involving Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi meant the opening segment lasted over 40 minutes.

Both drivers hit the wall at the fast Turn 15 left – the turn heading downhill at the end of the second sector where Leclerc and Verstappen crashed in FP2 and FP3 respectively – with Stroll’s occurring first just three minutes into Q1.

The Aston Martin driver struck the wall nearly square-on with his right front after sliding to the incident with understeer.

The impact snapped the suspension and he pulled over to the inside of the track’s final real corner, with the red flags brought out when only Leclerc had completed a timed lap, as he had been running at the end of pack.

After a 12-minute delay, the session restarted, with the Mercedes pair switched from mediums to the softs that the rest of the field were running, but proceedings only lasted a further five minutes before Giovinazzi hit the wall.

The Alfa Romeo driver locked his left-front and went further into the barriers than Stroll, with Giovinazzi stopping immediately with the right-side of his car heavily damaged.

The red flags returned with the Mercedes drivers among those still yet to set a time, although Hamilton eventually took his used softs to the fastest time in the opening segment.

When Q1 eventually finished, Nicholas Latifi and the Haas duo were eliminated, with Mick Schumacher leading Nikita Mazepin, who had to take to the escape road at Turn 4 on his final flying lap – where he was running just in front of Hamilton.

So a dramatic qualifying session with four red flags. In the end, Charles Leclerc survived the chaos to take the fastest lap and pole position in Baku.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.218
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.450
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:41.563
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:41.565
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:41.576
6 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.747
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:41.917
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:42.211
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:42.327
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:42.659
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:42.224
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:42.273
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.558
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:42.587
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:42.758
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:43.128
17 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:44.158
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:44.238
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes No time
20 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari No time

5 thoughts to “Leclerc survives Baku qualifying to take pole”

  1. Qualifying review as reported by

    Charles Leclerc delivered some impressive pace and benefitted from a tow from Lewis Hamilton to take a sensational pole position for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in what was a thrilling qualifying session that saw five crashes and four red flags.

    It comes just a couple of weeks after he took pole in his home race in Monaco, only to be forced to retire before the race had even started with a mechanical issue caused by his crash in qualifying – with reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton bouncing back from a poor Friday to join the Ferrari on the front row in Baku.

    Hamilton made the decision to switch to a low downforce rear wing ahead of qualifying, having struggled to find any performance on a single lap in the preceding practice sessions, and it paid off as he starts second for the third consecutive race in Baku.

    Max Verstappen was furious with third, despite it being his best start in Baku, the Dutchman frustrated by the number of stoppages for crashes as it meant he was unable to maximise the pace of his Red Bull, which for much of the weekend has looked like the class of the field.

    Pierre Gasly made it four constructors in the top four, the AlphaTauri driver choosing to do just one run in the final segment of qualifying and utilising a largely clear track – and a small tow from team mate Yuki Tsunoda to equal his best ever grid position.

    There was drama in the closing stages as Tsunoda crashed at Turn 3, forcing everyone to abort their second runs and bringing an early end to session, with the Japanese driver ending up a career-best eighth on the grid.

    Carlos Sainz was following Tsunoda on the road and locked up heavily, losing the car and sliding down the escape road, damaging his front wing as well as the right rear of his Ferrari, which could mean there’s a chance his gearbox is damaged.

    McLaren’s Lando Norris went sixth, having seen his team mate Daniel Ricciardo crash out in Q2, with Sergio Perez – who had points during qualifying looked like he had the pace to take pole – a disappointing seventh.

    Fernando Alonso outqualified his Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon for the first time this season with eighth, with Bottas – who opted to keep the higher downforce configuration of rear wing – bottom of the top 10 pile.

    The session saw four red flags in total – following crashes for Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovinazzi, Ricciardo and Tsunoda – which ties the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix for the most red flags in a session.

    Q1 – Hamilton quickest, as Stroll and Giovinazzi crash out

    Charles Leclerc was the first driver to get a time on the board – and for a while, he was the only one courtesy of a red flag caused by Lance Stroll, who got it all wrong at Turn 15, locking up and hitting the wall hard.

    The impact crippled the front right suspension, the Canadian banging the steering wheel in frustration as he coasted to a halt at the side of the track, his session over.

    The pause in the action played into the hands of Williams, who had crucial extra time to complete an engine change for George Russell, after the Briton suffered a water pump leak in final practice, and get him out on track.

    Red Bull wasted little time heading out when the session resumed, with Verstappen going quickest, ahead of team mate Sergio Perez – who lost three tenths to the Dutchman in the middle sector.

    The Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc filed in third and fourth – but several cars were forced to abort laps again when Antonio Giovinazzi crashed in the same place as Stroll, in a near carbon copy incident, bringing out another red flag with nine minutes to go.

    On the restart, Hamilton moved to the top of the timesheets – on what was his second run on the same set of soft tyres – demoting Verstappen to second. At the other end of the field, Nicholas Latifi was kicked out, along with the Haas pairing of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin,.

    Stroll ended bottom of the pile, in what is his second successive Q1 exit in Baku and second Q1 elimination of the season, one place behind Giovinazzi who was looking quick having been seventh fastest in FP2 and reached Q3 in Baku in 2019.

    Meanwhile, the stewards said they would investigate a potential infringement by Lando Norris during a red flag after the end of qualifying.

    Knocked out: Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin, Stroll, Giovinazzi

    Q2 – Ricciardo crashes as Red Bull rise to the top

    Perez, who was furious that Aston Martin released Vettel into his path as they all rushed to get out of their respective garages at the start of the session, set the early pace, with Hamilton slotting into second, just 0.004 adrift.

    But Verstappen snuck ahead with his second timed lap on the same set of softs, the Dutchman going just 0.04s clear. Charles Leclerc popped into fourth, with the top four cars separated by just 0.034s.

    Esteban Ocon, Tsunoda, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell found themselves in the drop zone after the first runs. But Tsunoda pumped in a cracking lap next time around to slot into fourth, just 0.029s off the pace. Incredibly, the whole field was split by just 1.1s.

    As the field headed out for their second runs, Daniel Ricciardo locked up at Turn 3, sliding into the wall on exit to damage the front right corner and bring out the red flag. That forced everyone else to abort their laps – and with just 90 seconds on the clock, the race director chose not to restart the session as there wouldn’t be enough time to set another lap.

    That meant Vettel was the best-placed driver to get knocked out, the German missing out by just three hundredths of a second, with Ocon, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Russell – who maintained his record of reaching Q2 in every session this year – joining him in an early bath,.

    Knocked out: Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Russell

    Q3 – Leclerc makes the most of a tow before another red flag

    Leclerc picked up a tow from Hamilton to vault to the top of the timesheets after the first runs, three tenths ahead of Verstappen with the two Mercedes opting to do an extra warm-up lap before going for their first real timed lap.

    Such a strategy worked well for Hamilton, who went second quickest just over a tenth behind Leclerc, with Bottas not gaining so much and going eighth – slowest of all with the two AlphaTauris opting to wait to the final four minutes to do their first runs.

    Gasly set the fastest first sector of all, following up with two solid sectors that was good enough to go fourth, with Tsunoda – making the first Q3 appearance of his career – slotting into eighth.

    As the session headed for its crescendo, Tsunoda ended up in the wall at Turn 3, with Sainz locking up and spinning off down the adjacent escape road, twice kissing the wall. That forced the race director to bring out the red flag, and with so little time left, the session was halted early.

    Bottas ended up slowest of all, for what is his lowest start since the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when he started last due to a power unit change. He can take hope from the fact Ricciardo won from that position in 2017, in what is often a chaotic race.

  2. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was feeling happy with P2 after some difficult practice sessions. The defending world champion says second on the Baku grid is a “monumental result”. provides the story.

    Lewis Hamilton labelled his front row start for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as a “monumental result”, after what he said had been a “disaster” of a Formula 1 weekend.

    The world champion had headed into qualifying firmly on the back foot, with his Mercedes team struggling to extract any pace from its car around the streets of Baku.

    But a switch to a lower-downforce spec rear wing, and extra warm-up laps to better prepare tyres, allowed Hamilton to pull off a surprise as he grabbed second on the grid behind pole position man Charles Leclerc.

    Reflecting on the outcome, as he even outpaced pre-event favourite Max Verstappen, Hamilton could not hide his delight.

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

    “You can see it, but we kept our composure, continued to have difficult discussions in the background, kept challenging one another and just never taking no for an answer.

    “We’ve moved around and made so many changes over these two days, which is chasing your tail. It’s been so difficult, but I think the work overnight and then typically between the sessions was amazing.

    “I’m really proud of everyone for keeping positive. And to be to be up there and so close to these guys is a great result.”

    Hamilton said that getting to the bottom of the tyre warm up issues, especially after facing similar difficulties in Monaco, was a huge headache.

    “It’s just crazy trying to get these tyres working and trying to find the envelope for this car,” he said. “It is the biggest challenge I think we’ve had in a long time, to understand where the car is.

    “She has not been happy all weekend. It’s been a bit of a disaster, so for us to be up here, and even Valtteri [Bottas] getting into the top ten, that’s a massive leap and that’s really down to great, great teamwork.”

    While Mercedes has struggled with single-lap pace in Baku, its long runs on Friday did appear more competitive, which should bode well for the race.

    Hamilton said he hoped the pattern from Friday was repeated on Sunday, but he was aware that there was no guarantee.

    “Our race pace was a lot better than single lap pace,” he said. “We were miles off in a single lap and a lot closer in race pace. We don’t understand why, but I like to think, hopefully, we are in that same position, so we can take that fight to these guys [Red Bull and Ferrari] tomorrow.”

  3. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was left feeling frustrated in missing out on pole position in a messy qualifying session. has the full details.

    Red Bull’s Max Verstappen rued a “stupid” Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying session, as a late red flag meant the Formula 1 championship leader was unable to improve his third-fastest time.

    Both Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez showed great pace throughout the practice sessions at the Baku circuit, and underlined their credentials to potentially claim pole position as the pair made it to the top of the Q2 timing sheets.

    After Verstappen’s first lap in the final part of qualifying was good enough for third, the Dutch driver sought to overcome both Charles Leclerc and a resurgent Lewis Hamilton ahead of him.

    But any bids to improve on laptimes in the final part of the session were curtailed by the fourth red flag of qualifying caused by Yuki Tsunoda and Carlos Sainz; Tsunoda crashed at Turn 3 and Sainz followed him into the wall having “lost focus” after spotting the errant AlphaTauri going off.

    “[It was] just a stupid qualifying, to be honest,” Verstappen said. “But anyway it is what it is, still P3.

    “We had a good car, good recovery from FP3, of course, I think everything was working out fine.

    “But all this shit is all the time happening – I think, in Q3, then it’s just unfortunate, but is a street circuit so these things can to happen.

    “And like I said, our car is strong so I just hope tomorrow in the race, we can look after our tyres and score good points.”

    Verstappen was keen to assert that there was still “a lot to play for” in Sunday’s race, with the Baku circuit a frequent venue for anarchic F1 races, but also hoped for a clean race.

    “We are still up there,” he added.

    “Of course we would like to start a bit further ahead but there is still a lot to play for.

    “As you can see in qualifying, a lot of things are happening – so maybe in the race, these things can happen again. Let’s hope for just a bit of a clean start and we’ll see from there.”

    When asked if he was looking forward to continuing his close-quarters battles with title rival Hamilton on-track, Verstappen was positive – and also suggested that Leclerc’s presence in the mix should add to the spectacle.

    “Yeah, of course, three different cars as well – it’s always good to have that,” he said.

    Verstappen has never finished on the podium in Baku – his highest finish being fourth place in the 2019 grand prix at the circuit.

  4. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc didn’t expect Baku Formula 1 pole after “shit lap” but following a red flag, his first Q3 run was good enough for P1. has the news story.

    Charles Leclerc says his surprise pole at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the result of “quite a shit lap” as the Ferrari Formula 1 driver benefitted from a late red flag in a chaotic session.

    Leclerc led the first barrage of flying laps in the Q3 pole shootout on the Baku Street Circuit in what had already been a disjointed session with several stoppages.

    A last-minute red flag, caused by AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda’s Turn 3 smash, prevented drivers from completing a second flying lap, meaning the order of the first set of laps also proved to be the final result.

    The red flag notably hindered pole favourite Max Verstappen, who had to settle for third on the grid behind Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. But it greatly aided Leclerc, who took a second consecutive pole this season, both helped by a red flag.

    Afterwards, Leclerc admitted his pole lap was far from perfect but was surprised Ferrari could maintain its performance level from Monaco on a track less suited to its SF21 car.

    “It was quite a shit lap, I thought,” Leclerc bluntly admitted. “There were two or three corners where I made mistakes, but then of course I had the big tow from Lewis in the last sector, which helped me a little bit.

    “But overall I think we would have been thereabouts for pole anyway without the slipstream, so it’s a good day. I did not expect to be as competitive as we were today. I think I was improving again with the red flag, but I’m happy anyway and hopefully it’s all good for Carlos, I haven’t seen the crash.

    “Definitely it feels very good, on the other hand it is with a red flag again so I wish we had it on a normal track, but in the end a pole is a pole.”

    Two weeks ago Leclerc caused the late red flag himself and an undiagnosed driveshaft issue, the result of his Swimming Pool shunt, would ultimately prevent him from starting the Monaco Grand Prix.

    On Sunday, Leclerc will get to start from pole after all, but Baku’s long straights will make his quest to take a first win since the 2019 Italian Grand Prix a lot harder than it would have been in Monaco.

    “The car felt okay but I believe Mercedes and Red Bull have something more than we have in the race especially, we’ve seen that in FP2,” Leclerc explained. “So, it’s going to be very difficult because here is not like Monaco, they can overtake, so I’ll try to do the best job possible.

    “Hopefully we can keep the first place, but it’s not going to be an easy one.”

  5. Lando Norris has been handed a three-place grid drop for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as the McLaren Formula 1 driver was adjudged to have contravened red flag regulations.

    Norris, who qualified sixth, was placed under investigation during the opening qualifying session having been due to complete a timed lap, before Antonio Giovinazzi brought out the session red flag of the session.

    As the red flags were flown just as Norris was within touching distance of the pitlane entry, the British driver was given the call to come in, but felt it was too late to comply at the time.

    Norris then had to circulate one more time around the Baku circuit before eventually coming in to pit under the red flag, which courted the attention of the FIA stewards.

    The FIA considered Norris’ and McLaren’s testimony that the driver was unable to enter the pits at the time, but elected to hand him a three-place penalty, along with three penalty points on his license.

    “The Stewards heard from the driver of Car 4 (Lando Norris) and team representatives and reviewed video and timing evidence,” read the FIA’s statement.

    “NOR was just on the long start-finish-straight when red flags were displayed. Consequently, red lights were flashing on a panel on the left guardrail and on the car’s dashboard.

    “During the hearing the driver admitted that he lifted the throttle, braked and was committed to and able to enter the pitlane. At that moment he was not sure what to do and asked his team over the radio.

    “Although the team ordered him immediately to enter the pits, it was too late and NOR crossed the finish line one more time. The Stewards assume that if a red flag is not respected during qualifying, a drop of 5 grid positions is appropriate.

    “However, if you consider that the driver only had a very short time to react due to his position on the track, a drop of 3 grid positions is sufficient as an exception.”

    This means that Norris will start Sunday’s race from ninth place, elevating Sergio Perez to sixth, Yuki Tsunoda to seventh and Fernando Alonso to eighth.

    The addition of three penalty points to Norris’ licence means that he has now accrued eight points within a 12-month period – with 12 points resulting in a one-race ban.


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