Charles Leclerc pipped Max Verstappen to pole position for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in a lengthy qualifying session, the result of red flags for Nyck de Vries and Pierre Gasly.
Having triumphed in a race against time after Pierre Gasly’s fiery exit from FP1, Alpine replacing his A523’s gearbox and power unit, the Frenchman was one of the first men out on track.
It was a busy start to Q1 with the drivers keen to get in a banker lap before a potential red flag with Nico Hulkenberg getting the timesheet rolling with a 1:44.3. By that time 19 of the drivers had made their mark, only Carlos Sainz hadn’t set a time, the P1 time was down to a 1:41.8 set by Max Verstappen.
And out came the expected red flag with Nyck de Vries going nose first into the Turn 3 barrier having carried too much speed into the corner. That gave Haas the opportunity to work on Kevin Magnussen’s car with the driver again complaining about an electrical issue.
After a delay to free De Vries’ AT04 and repair the barrier, the session resumed… and was almost immediately red flagged. This time it was Gasly who hit the wall, taking out a chunk of the barrier that prompted yet another long stoppage.
That was the end of the Q1 drama, the final few minutes taking place without any interruptions with Verstappen finishing the session fastest of all. Out went Zhou Guanyu, Nico Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Gasly and De Vries.
Q2 was a much smoother event with the Red Bulls tussling over P1 while behind them Charles Leclerc went third. However his team-mate Sainz was struggling with the Spaniard off the pace and aborting his first flying lap. He went fifth on his second attempt, slotting in behind the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.
While the Red Bulls pitted, Leclerc continued lapping and hit the front with Sainz once again having to take to an escape road. Verstappen and Perez returned to the action, the Dutchman going quickest with a 1:40.8, Perez third behind Leclerc.
Lewis Hamilton had a lucky escape in 10th place, beating his team-mate George Russell by 0.004s with the latter out of qualifying along with Esteban Ocon, Alex Albon, Valtteri Bottas and Logan Sargeant.
Verstappen went into Q3 as the favourite to take pole position, the Red Bull driver trading purple sector times with Perez and Leclerc. Verstappen clocked a 1:40.4 with Leclerc crossing the line seconds later and matching his time to slot into second place. Perez was a tenth off the pace with Sainz a further four-tenths down.
Verstappen and Leclerc were at it again on their second timed laps, swapping purples, but this time Leclerc crossed the line first with a 1:40.2. Verstappen fell short, 0.188s down, with Leclerc taking a hat-trick of Baku poles.
Perez will line up third for Sunday’s Grand Prix, ahead of Sainz, Hamilton and Alonso. Lando Norris, Yuki Tsunoda, Lance Stroll and Oscar Piastri completed the top ten.
1 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:40.203
2 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.188
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.292
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.813
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.974
6 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.050
7 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.078
8 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.378
9 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.408
10 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.408
11 George RUSSELL Mercedes 1:41.654
12 Esteban OCON Alpine 1:41.798
13 Alexander ALBON Williams 1:41.818
14 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo 1:42.259
15 Logan SARGEANT Williams 1:42.395
16 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo 1:42.642
17 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team 1:42.755
18 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team 1:43.417
19 Pierre GASLY Alpine 1:44.835
20 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri 1:55.282