Qualy: Leclerc’s blistering last lap snatches Baku pole

Jon Wilde
Charles Leclerc's Ferrari passes the castle in Azerbaijan. Baku June 2022.

Charles Leclerc's Ferrari passes the castle on qualifying day for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku June 2022.

Charles Leclerc became the first driver to claim pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix more than once with a brilliant final flying lap in Baku.

The Ferrari man has been F1’s recent king of qualifying without being able to go on and win the race, but he has another ideal opportunity to gain a first victory since round three of the season in Australia.

Sergio Perez will line up alongside Leclerc on the front row, ahead of his team-mate Max Verstappen and the other Ferrari driven by Carlos Sainz.

Qualifying began 15 minutes later than originally planned as a knock-on effect of a Formula 2 incident, with barrier repairs needed at Turn 1 which delayed FP3 by a quarter of an hour. With the sun starting to set in Baku, it meant any red flags would be something of a concern in terms of daylight – although track temperatures were dropping to improve grip.

Lewis Hamilton reported on team radio early in Q1 he had a soft brake pedal, while his Mercedes team-mate George Russell accused Verstappen of “driving erratically” as they jockeyed for track position.

Only 12th in FP2 and FP3, Hamilton was down in 14th approaching the final runs of Q1, but moved up to eighth just before yellow flags came out as Lance Stroll rolled his Aston Martin into the barrier and feared he had sustained front-wing damage.

There was worse to come for the Canadian, however, as a heavier impact at Turn 2 on his next lap – he had not entered the pits – brought out red flags with two-and-a-half minutes left on the clock and confirmed him as the session’s first casualty.

One last dash on one of the season’s longest circuits was possible for those in the danger zone, but a pit-lane traffic jam built up and compromised the hopes of those at the tail end of setting a faster time.

Everyone made it round before the chequered flag though, and that gave Valtteri Bottas the opportunity to avoid a first Q1 exit for seven years by knocking out Kevin Magnussen – whose Haas team-mate Mick Schumacher was slowest of the 20. Williams duo Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi were the others to exit, with Fernando Alonso’s trip up an escape road to spark yellow flags not helping some.

Albon was fuming with Alonso over team radio, accusing the Alpine driver of some dubious tactics and “driving slowly on purpose”.

But the Spaniard went forward to Q2 and was right in the mix to reach the top-10 shootout, as was another multiple former World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, despite an apparent braking issue that saw him nudge the barrier.

Drivers were getting increasingly close to the edge with scrapes on the wall even from several of the front-runners, but when everything had shaken out it was Alfa Romeo duo Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren pair Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo who bowed out.

Norris’ chances were dented by an excursion into an escape road as McLaren failed to build on their encouraging FP3 performance.

As of late, it looked like a four-driver fight for pole position between the Ferraris and Red Bulls with Leclerc and Perez respectively having been the pick of each team during the weekend so far.

On the first run, however, it was Sainz who claimed provisional P1 ahead of his team-mate, with Perez and Verstappen also within a fifth of a second.

Red Bull’s chances of utilising a useful slipstream were thwarted when Perez was late out of the garage due to “an issue”, while Sainz, first on the road of the contenders, kissed a barrier and lost his chance of improving his time.

Leclerc, however, was producing a storming lap and after two fastest sectors, he beat Sainz’s time comfortably. Verstappen then got himself onto the front row – but only until Perez took the chequered flag, snatching P2 from the Dutchman.

The Ferrari man screamed his now trademark “let’s go” on having his pole position confirmed, setting up what should be another fascinating tussle on the streets of Baku.

Times

1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.359
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.282s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.347s
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.455s
5 George Russell Mercedes 1.353s
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1.486s
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1.565s
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.697s
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1.732s
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.814s
11 Lando Norris McLaren 1.443s behind fastest Q2 time
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.630s
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.668s
14 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Racing 1.835s
15 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Racing 2.489s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1.921s behind fastest Q1 time
17 Alex Albon Williams 1.997s
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.645s
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 2.649s
20 Mick Schumacher Haas 3.053s