Verstappen resisted late pressure from Sainz to win in Canada

Max Verstappen resisted the late pressure from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to win the Canadian Grand Prix following a late safety car disruption, with Lewis Hamilton taking a well deserved third.

The race had already been twice interrupted by virtual safety car periods, which put Verstappen and Sainz on different two-stop versus a likely one-stop strategy for the Ferrari ahead of the closing stages, before the safety car closed them up and set up a straight fight for the victory on the same hard compund, even though Carlos was on fresher rubber.

Behind, Fernando Alonso’s front row start became a seventh-place finish for Alpine behind Mercedes drivers Hamilton and George Russell, while Charles Leclerc’s recovery drive from the back of the grid finished with fifth position.

At the start, Alonso’s intention to attack Verstappen at the first corner never came close as the Red Bull driver made the perfect getaway and easily led into Turn 1.

Sainz followed Alonso through the opening corners while behind Hamilton’s left-front brushed Kevin Magnussen’s right-side front wing endplate when the Haas attacked to the Mercedes’ outside of Turn 3, which broke the part and left it hanging off.

As Verstappen consolidated his lead, which was 1.0 seconds at the end of lap 1 of 70, Sainz took until the end of lap three to pass Alonso – using DRS to get by on the approach to the final corners.

Verstappen eked out a few tenths per lap over Sainz during the initial laps, where the Ferrari driver struggled with graining tyres, but the Spaniard was starting to reverse this trend when the first stint was interrupted by the first VSC activation on lap nine.

Just after Magnussen had been ordered to pit to replace his front wing by the FIA, Sergio Perez pulled out of the mid-pack with what he suspected was an engine problem that meant he stopped in the runoff behind Turn 9 and the run down the hairpin late in the lap.

While one of its cars was being cleared away under the VSC, Red Bull immediately pulled Verstappen in to switch for hards to take advantage of the reduced time stop with racing neutralised, as Sainz and Alonso stayed out while Hamilton followed Verstappen in.

Sainz led for the next phase of the race after green flag racing resumed at the end of lap ten, with Verstappen then eating into what was a maximum 6.4 seconds advantage for the Ferrari over the former leader, who quickly caught and passed Alonso for second, getting by with an easy DRS move down the back straight

The status quo held until lap 20, when the VSC was activated again after Mick Schumacher, who had fallen back from his sixth-place starting spot on the opening lap, pulled off with a mechanical gremlin at the same spot as Perez had done earlier.

This time Sainz pitted to take the hards, rejoining just as the VSC ended at the start of lap 21 and slightly ahead of the already-stopped Hamilton, then leading him back up behind Alonso, who again stayed out despite the offer a cheap VSC service.

Like in the very early stages, Sainz used DRS to blast by Alonso on the run to the final corners on lap 22, which left him with a 9.4 seconds deficit to Verstappen, while Hamilton soon followed the Ferrari past Alonso to run a distant third behind the leaders.

Sainz used his fresher hards to slowly erode Verstappen’s lead over the next section of the race, but it was still holding firm at just above eight seconds with 30 laps completed and even as Verstappen reported his hards were beginning to lose grip.

But by the start of lap 40, Sainz had been taking ever bigger chunks from Verstappen’s meant the gap had shrunk to just over six seconds and so Red Bull opted to bring the leader in for a second time, again taking new hards on lap 43.

Verstappen was frustrated to come out just behind Hamilton, but shot past the Mercedes with DRS the next time down the back straight, with Hamilton then immediately pitting for a second time as well.

Sainz therefore enjoyed a 10.8 seconds lead with 25 laps remaining, but Verstappen quickly pushed to bring that down to 7.7 seconds at the end of lap 49.

But the race picture was then completely altered when Yuki Tsunoda crashed just after making his second stop and slid straight into the Turn 2 barriers at the pitlane exit.

Ferrari called Sainz in and he was able to take fresh hards and re-joined just behind Verstappen, which set up a 14-lap chase to the finish once the race resumed at the start of lap 56 after the AlphaTauri had been craned away.

Sainz could not put a move on Verstappen at the restart after the leader had waited until the final corners before shooting back to top speed, with the Red Bull pulling a 0.8 seconds gap on the first lap back to racing speed.

But Sainz pushed hard to stay in DRS range when the system was reactivated two laps after the restart and so was able to keep Verstappen under severe pressure.

Lap after lap the Ferrari used its DRS to close in on the long final and pit straights, but Verstappen was able to stay ahead thanks to his excellent traction out of the hairpin and final chicane.

Twice Sainz got to 0.3s back from Verstappen’s rear wing and twice moved towards the inside line for the final chicane in a bid to put his rival off, but Verstappen did not crack to the pressure.

Sainz locking up at the hairpin on the final lap meant Verstappen was able to scamper to a final winning margin of 0.9 seconds, with Hamilton completing the podium having been quickly dropped by the leaders after the safety car restart.

Russell was a gainer under the second VSC and was homing in on Hamilton before the leading Mercedes pitted after Verstappen blasted by, after which Russell was also given a second stop and so ran behind his teammate to the finish, with neither coming in under the safety car.

Leclerc’s race was one of frustration as he struggled with rear tyre grip while making his way up the order from P19 on the grid.

He made steady progress through the lower positions but was not making the progress he expected and was then frustrated for a long time behind Esteban Ocon during the middle phase of the race.

By this point, Alonso had finally stopped and was roaring back towards the Ferrari, which had started on the contra-strategy of hards for the start and had likewise not come in during the two VSC periods.

When Leclerc pitted on lap 41, a slow service meant he re-joined behind a gaggle of cars – Zhou Guanyu, Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo – that were trailing the then yet-to-stop Lance Stroll.

He took several laps to clear them, with Leclerc just clearing Stroll before Tsunoda’s crash and he was another driver not to come in during the resulting safety car.

That meant he trailed the Ocon and Alonso for the restart, the latter still behind his teammate due to what Alpine called a “straight line speed issue” following his pitstop.

Despite having older rubber (Ocon and Alonso did stop for the same mediums Leclerc was already running), Leclerc fought his way past the pair with two moves at the hairpin to rise to fifth – although his pass on Ocon came after he had got a move into the chicane wrong and had to let his rival by a short while beforehand.

Alonso suggested Alpine should let him by Ocon before the finish, but ended up coming home behind his teammate in seventh.

Valtteri Bottas was the second-highest one-stop finisher (behind Leclerc) in eighth, with Zhou taking ninth after a battling drive following his period stuck behind Stroll.

The Canadian claimed the final point after a late DRS pass on Ricciardo, who lost time with a long stop during the second VSC.

Lando Norris also lost a heap of time due to McLaren’s double-stack stop calamity, with the Briton then handed a five-second time addition for speeding in the pitlane.

Norris eventually took P15 ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Magnussen, who ended up as the last finisher.

So congratulations to Max Verstappen in winning the race and extending his championship lead. Carlos Sainz put up with a brave fight against the defending champion, but the Red Bull car was faster than the Ferrari. As for Lewis Hamilton, this was a solid result following so many difficult weekends. The next race is Hamilton’s home race in Silverstone so expect massive fan support from the British fans.

Canadian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:36:21.757
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.993
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 7.006
4 George Russell Mercedes 12.313
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 15.168
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine 23.890
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine 24.945
8 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 25.247
9 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 26.952
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 38.222
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 43.047
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 44.245
13 Alex Albon Williams 44.893
14 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 45.183
15 Lando Norris McLaren 52.145
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams 59.978
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 68.180
– Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri DNF
– Mick Schumacher Haas DNF
– Sergio Perez Red Bull DNF

Verstappen takes Canadian pole with Alonso in P2

Max Verstappen was in a different league in qualifying, quickest in all three segments, taking a fine pole position for Red Bull at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Yet, the star performer was Fernando Alonso, who will qualified his Alpine on the front row and will start ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

Rain falling throughout the day in Montreal meant qualifying took place in similar wet conditions to FP3 earlier, which Alonso was fastest.

The Alpine driver beat Sainz to take second position with the final timed lap of Q3, where all the drivers were fuelled to run for the whole session to take advantage of the track drying and the tyres being worked into the optimum working range.

Verstappen was untouchable out from, leading from the off in Q3 and he worked the pole benchmark down to a one minute, 21.299 seconds.

Sainz had looked like he could run Verstappen close after setting the quickest first sector on his final lap, but while he stayed in contention despite losing a fraction in the middle sector, a big slide exiting the final corner meant he dropped enough time for Alonso to get in ahead of his fellow countryman a few moments later.

Lewis Hamilton took fourth for Mercedes, which split its strategy late in Q3 by fitting softs to George Russell’s car, a decision that backfired when George spun at the opening corners on his first lap on the slicks.

Russell dropped from the leading positions to eighth by the end of Q3, with Haas duo Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher leading in pushing the Briton down by taking fifth and sixth.

Then came Esteban Ocon, while Daniel Ricciardo and Zhou Guanyu rounded out the top ten.

Zhou is one of several drivers to face a post-session investigation for their driving during a slew of off-track moments throughout qualifying or trying to find space in the traffic during the earlier segments.

Q2 began with the drivers split over staying on the full wets used throughout Q1 or switching to the intermediates, with Alonso using that compound the lead the way early on in that segment, just before Sergio Perez caused a red flag going off into the barriers at the Turns 3/4 chicane.

The Red Bull driver was also on the inters, but locked his right front and after snatching the other front brake he slid across the grass and quickly went head on into the barriers.

Although his car did not appear to be massively damaged, Perez took a long time to engage reverse and when he did he was unable to move backwards as his nose was buried in the barriers so was instructed to switch off his engine, with the barriers then needing to be rearranged once his car had been craned away minus its front wing.

When the session restarted after a 12-minute delay, all the remaining drivers headed back on the inters, with a dry line beginning to appear.

Leclerc did not bother to join them as by getting through to Q2 he secured starting ahead of Yuki Tsunoda at the back of the grid thanks to their engine-change grid penalties, but Lando Norris also did not appear at the start of the remaining nine minutes of Q2.

Norris reported an engine issue pre-red flag that confined him to the McLaren garage until there were just two minutes to go as the team tried to find and rectify the issue and, although he did get out for one lap, he was soon ordered to pit again after touring several seconds off the pace.

By not setting a time after the red flag, Norris’ banker lap from the start of Q2 left him P14 and behind Perez’s best time from before his off, with Leclerc not taking any part in the middle segment and so being knocked out in P15 ahead of his pre-race grid drop.

With three cars in trouble or not on track, only two drivers were at risk of elimination and when Hamilton leapt up the order with his final lap, the pressure was on Alex Albon, Valtteri Bottas and Ocon.

The first two named set personal bests with Bottas ahead, but Ocon’s improvement with the last lap in Q2, which Verstappen topped, knocked out the Finn.

As in Q3 and Q2, all the drivers generally ran throughout the opening segment as the times improved by around six seconds as they blew the water away from the racing line, other than big puddles of standing water at the apexes of the first two corners and the exit of the hairpin late in the lap, with Verstappen ending up on top.

Pierre Gasly was eliminated in P16, with AlphaTauri reporting that he was suffering from a brake problem on this left front wheel, which possibly contributed to his off late in Q1 across the Turns 9/10 chicane.

Gasly only briefly went off track but by not staying to the left of the bollard in the runoff ahead of the short straight down to the hairpin, he did not follow the race directors’ instructions and so will face a post-session investigation.

Sebastian Vettel was frustrated to be eliminated in P17 after being third in the similarly wet FP3 session earlier on Saturday afternoon, with Lance Stroll’s P18 compounding a miserable qualifying for Aston Martin.

The other home hero, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi, was knocked out in P19, finishing ahead of Tsunoda, who pitted several minutes ahead of the end of Q1 knowing he would start on the back row in any case.

So congratulations to Max Verstappen with this fine pole position. Brilliant to see Fernando Alonso to take P2 and that’s a front row for the Alpine driver. As for Lewis Hamilton, P4 is a solid qualifying effort despite a tricky Mercedes car to drive. Bring on the race!

Canadian Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:21.299
2 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:21.944
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:22.096
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.891
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:22.960
6 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:23.356
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:23.529
8 George Russell Mercedes 1:23.557
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:23.749
10 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:24.030
11 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:26.788
12 Alex Albon Williams 1:26.858
13 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:33.127
14 Lando Norris McLaren No time
15 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:34.492
16 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:34.512
17 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:35.532
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:35.660
19 Charles Leclerc Ferrari No time
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:36.575

Verstappen victorious in Baku as double retirement hits Ferrari

Max Verstappen took a commanding Red Bull 1-2 finish to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as rival Ferrari suffered a nightmare with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz was forced to retire with technical issues.

The defending champion extended his championship standings lead from nine to 34 points over Leclerc – who had started from his sixth pole position of the season – as he scored his fourth victory in five races over teammate Sergio Perez by 20.8 seconds.

Verstappen’s twenty-fifth Formula 1 triumph arrived after passing early leader Perez for the provisional lead, with Leclerc out-of-sync due to pitting in response to a virtual safety car before his engine blew shockingly.

With Sainz also eliminated as part of an extreme attrition rate for Ferrari-powered cars, the way was paved for Verstappen to win as George Russell completed the podium.

Most of the grid assembled with brand-new medium compound C4 tyres, apart from Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen (on used tyres) plus Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and the back row of Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher who were all shod on the C3 hard rubber.

Perez was encouraged over radio to get his “elbows out into Turn 1” and duly delivered by taking the lead on the first corner.

Leclerc’s initially getaway was sound enough but wheelspin in the second phase allowed Perez to draw alongside at Verstappen was boxed in after the best launch of the lot.

The Ferrari driver then considerably locked-up his front-left into the opening 90-degree left-hander to run well wide of the apex and ensure Perez took the lead of the race.

Verstappen was able to have a look up the inside of Leclerc but thought better of it as Sainz tried to get in on the act before dropping adrift of the leading three cars.

Perez completed the first lap with 1.3 seconds in hand over Leclerc to immediately escape the DRS zone and extended that by half a second over the next two laps to secure first place.

With Leclerc sliding around, Verstappen was able to stick within 0.7 seconds of his title rival.

Leclerc endured a wiggle out of Turn 16, the last defined corner, to allow Verstappen to close even further with DRS before a yellow flag then virtual safety car interrupted play.

The Ferrari attack was down to one car when Carlos Sainz ran down the Turn 4 escape road with a possible power unit failure while 5 seconds behind Verstappen and 5 seconds ahead of Russell.

Ferrari rolled the dice to gain a theoretically cheaper pitstop by calling Leclerc in for a set of hard tyres on lap ten but despite no obvious error, the Scuderia took 5.4 seconds to service Leclerc.

Red Bull did not cover the strategy, giving Perez a lead of 2 seconds over Verstappen as Leclerc resumed 11 seconds behind the pair – but from lap 13 began setting the fastest laps of the race.

Verstappen was able to eat into Perez’s advantage before, who dropped 2 seconds on one lap, was told “no fighting” to allow his DRS-assisted teammate to take the lead on lap 15 into Turn 1.

At the end of the following tour, Perez pitted for softs but like front-row rival Leclerc, was hampered by a massively slow 5.7 seconds stop led by a problem with the front-right wheel.

Red Bull called Verstappen in for his jump to hards only two laps later, and he too endured a sub-par 3.5 seconds service to rejoin in the lead with a 13 seconds deficit to Leclerc – managing overheating rear tyres – as Perez nicked fastest lap from the Ferrari while running 4 seconds behind Verstappen.

But too hot tyres were the least of Leclerc’s troubles soon after as at the end of lap 20, his engine blew up through the final and he coasted into the pitlane to end Ferrari’s disaster.

After the MGU-H turbo failure in Spain, it marked the second engine-based retirement for Leclerc in three races to add to the lost Ferrari 1-2 – from strategy mistakes – in Monaco.

That left Verstappen in the lead by 5.2 seconds over Perez as fifth-starting Russell moved into podium contention ahead of Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen would negotiate target lap times with his engineer as they tried to find a balance between preserving the car but not allowing the tyres to cool too much.

Then the virtual safety car made its second appearance to account for P16 Kevin Magnussen, who had been climbed up to P11 to battle with Ocon for points.

But then the Ferrari engine in the back of the Haas also blew, to go along with Ferrari customer Alfa Romeo having to stop Zhou Guanyu eight laps previously.

Magnussen parked up on the approach to Turn 15 and waved to the marshals to help recover the Haas VF-22, which started to roll down the hill to the apex.

Red Bull reacted by pitting Verstappen for a second time to take on a set of hard tyres to the flag, finally nailing a 2.7 seconds stop, before Perez made his stop for hards on the same lap 34.

But a rear-left delay meant more time was lost in the pitlane thanks to a 4.4 seconds stop, to give Verstappen a lead of ten seconds when the four-minute VSC interluded was over.

Although it was Perez that would walk away with the fastest lap of the evening, Verstappen’s second half race pace stretched gap to north of twenty seconds at the flag.

Russell strapped in for a lonely race but profited from the Ferrari nightmare to seal a podium despite a troubled weekend for the porpoising and draggy Mercedes W13.

Despite back pain, Lewis Hamilton climbed to fourth thanks to a spirited drive with notable overtakes on the one-stopping trio of Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly.

Gasly did manage his hard tyres for the long-haul, sealing fifth as a racy Sebastian Vettel recovered strongly from an early error to climb to sixth position.

Despite starting on a used set of mediums, Vettel had been fighting with Hamilton for seventh before pitting for hards to then chase after Ocon.

The Aston Martin passed the Alpine for ninth place on lap 13 before locking up at Turn 3 to abort the corner and spin in the escape road, narrowly missing Tsunoda when resuming in P12.

Fernando Alonso was another strong climber, sealing seventh for Alpine as Ricciardo just managed to keep eighth over Lando Norris by just three tenths, the McLaren pair having each had to make their case for track position in the opening and final phase of the race as they ran on split strategies.

Ocon’s long opening stint on the hards returned the final point as Valtteri Bottas in P11 marked the highest finish for a Ferrari-powered car.

Alex Albon climbed to P12 ahead of Tsunoda, who had to pit for some tape to his rear wing after his DRS flap split in half. Schumacher crossed the line in P14.

Latifi’s afternoon was spoiled before it had really begun for the Williams driver was handed a ten second stop-go penalty when a team mechanic rolled his car back, illegally touching the car.

He was then handed a further five second penalty for failing to comply with blue flags.

Stroll joined Magnussen, Zhou and the Ferraris in the list of retirements.

So a bad race for the Scuderia with both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc suffering technical issues. Rival Red Bull scored maximum points with this 1-2 finish at Baku and Max Verstappen extends his points lead.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:34:05.941
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 20.823
3 George Russell Mercedes 45.995
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +71.679s
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +77.299s
6 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +84.099s
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine +88.596s
8 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +92.207s
9 Lando Norris McLaren +92.556s
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine +108.184s
11 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +1 lap
12 Alex Albon Williams +1 lap
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1 lap
14 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
15 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1 lap
16 Lance Stroll Aston Martin DNF
– Kevin Magnussen Haas DNF
– Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo DNF
– Charles Leclerc Ferrari DNF
– Carlos Sainz Ferrari DNF

Leclerc scores pole position for Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc achieved his fifteenth career pole position with an incredible lap around the streets of Baku. This is his sixth pole in eight races this season, showcasing his confidence and speed in qualifying driving that beautiful F1-75 race car.

After trading fastest times in each sessions at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Sergio Perez just missed out on scoring P1 but getting a front row start is a good position considering the RB18 is very fast in a straight-line. His Red Bull teammate and championship leader Max Verstappen is right behind with P3.

It was an exciting qualifying session and the Ferrari driver had been adrift of teammate Carlos Sainz in the early part of Q3, but Charles stepped up with a mighty final flying lap turned in a rapid first two sectors.

A weekend-best time of one minute, 41.359 seconds at Baku, a circuit thought to favour Red Bull, gave Leclerc a substantial 0.282 seconds cushion over Sergio Perez as points leader Max Verstappen snared third.

Sainz, meanwhile, backed off on his last attempt to settle in fourth but was still some nine tenths quicker than the next car, George Russell in the Mercedes W13.

Former championship leader Leclerc, who has not won a race since the third round in Australia, was 0.05 seconds adrift of Sainz after the first batch of quick laps in the final shootout for pole.

But he still retained second as Perez brushed the inside wall when entering Turn 5, having already oversteered on the exit of Turn 1, to nick third ahead of Verstappen.

The Ferraris were doing the damage in the first two sectors although the RB18s were faster by 0.2 seconds on the long sprint to the line.

Sainz was first to go for a final flying lap but was slow through the Turn 5-6 chicane and messy on the exit of Turn 7 to back out of his effort.

That threw the attention on Leclerc, who set the fastest first and second sectors of the day to have a massive half-second cushion ahead of the flat-chat run to the line.

Perez was able to use the grunt of the rebadged Honda power unit to close a little after setting two personal best sectors but failed to match the rapid Ferrari driver across the line by nigh on 0.3 seconds.

This came after Checo was late out for his final lap when the engine struggled to fire, which teammate Verstappen questioned – seemingly having been left without a tow.

The trend of Verstappen falling fractionally behind his Monaco-winning stablemate continued as the defending champion ran to a one minute, 41.706 seconds, missing Perez by 0.06 seconds.

Sainz held in fourth ahead of Russell, while Pierre Gasly ran to sixth as part of an impressive double Q3 appearance for AlphaTauri.

Lewis Hamilton, who struggled with his brake pedal, porpoising and was noted by the stewards for driving too slowly in Q2, mustered seventh ahead of Yuki Tsunoda. The Mercedes driver’s incident will be investigated after the session.

A fraught session for Aston Martin ended with Sebastian Vettel snaring ninth, the four-time champion recovering after nosing into the barriers in Q2 after a Turn 15 lock up and being fortunate not to damage the car.

Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, completed the top ten although caught the attention of Alex Albon earlier on, when he was accused by the Williams driver of deliberately causing a yellow flag.

Lando Norris was the first driver to miss out on Q3, having missed the cut off by 0.022 seconds in the 15-minute Q2 session – his cause not helped by a late error – that Perez had topped by 0.009 seconds over Leclerc.

Lando’s first effort was stymied by tyres that were not cool enough before being notably held up by Hamilton at the exit of Turn 12.

His final attempt to make it into the top ten was undone when he ran straight on at Turn 15, tethering him to P11 as Daniel Ricciardo was another 0.18 seconds in arrears in P12.

Esteban Ocon was P13 ahead of the Alfa Romeos. Zhou Guanyu has impressed by running fifth fastest on five-lap old tyres at the mid-point of Q1 but he and stablemate Valtteri Bottas were shuffled down to P14 and P15.

It was an evening of struggles for Bottas. He had run off at Turn 3 in the first part of qualifying and then had to abort his next flying lap to leave him adrift of Zhou initially.

Lance Stroll brought out the red flags following a second crash in quick succession in Q1, to pause a session that Verstappen would top with a one minute, 42.722 seconds to lead Perez by a tenth.

The Aston Martin driver was languishing down in P19, as teammate Vettel was running high in fifth position, but brought out a quick yellow flag when he hit the barrier at Turn 7.

Stroll locked the front-left and nosed into the Tecpro although punched reverse and was given the all-clear on damage to go again immediately for a flying lap to move into Q2.

But with two minutes and 30 seconds of Q1 to the 18-minute Q1 to play, he understeered through Turn 2 and whacked into the outside wall to rip off his front wing and crumple his right wheel.

The session was paused for ten minutes to add to the delayed start, while the cars most at risk of eliminated queued at the end of the pitlane in a bid to find clear track position.

That teed up a mini-race as all but the Ferraris, Red Bulls and Ocon waited to go out – with Alex Albon, Valtteri Bottas, Nicholas Latifi and Mick Schumacher in the drop zone alongside Stroll.

Schumacher was told to “push like hell” and Norris was handed the instruction: “elbows out, let’s overtake these cars”.

But when the Haas lunged on the McLaren into Turn 16 of the out-lap, both drivers had their lines for the 1.35-mile flat-chat sprint to the next braking zone of Turn 1 ruined.

Norris backed out of his lap and before long and so did teammate Ricciardo, but they were spared elimination (progressing in P13 and P14) when Fernando Alonso ran off.

The Alpine driver took to the escape road of Turn 15 to bring out a yellow flag, which the chasing Albon considered to be foul play, accusing Alonso of braking early and still missing the corner.

That left Kevin Magnussen, both Williams drivers and Schumacher at the back of the grid.

The Haas cars are also under investigation for the pitlane incident, thought to be butting their way into the queue out the team garage at the end of the pitlane at the start of Q1.

The session start had been delayed by 15 minutes to allow for repairs to the Tecpro barriers following a spate of crashes in the supporting Formula 2 sprint race.

So congratulations to Charles Leclerc with pole position at Azerbaijan Grand Prix. That was an epic lap around Baku and to be half a second clear ahead of his Ferrari teammate is supreme. And yet the straight-line speed of the Red Bull is going to make an exciting race. Game on.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.359
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:41.641
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:41.706
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:41.814
5 George Russell Mercedes 1:42.712
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:42.845
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:42.924
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:43.056
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:43.091
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:43.173
11 Lando Norris McLaren 1:43.398
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:43.574
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:43.585
14 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:43.790
15 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:44.444
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:44.643
17 Alex Albon Williams 1:44.719
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:45.367
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:45.371
20 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:45.775