Charles Leclerc made it two from two in Baku qualifying despite his sprint shootout ending with his Ferrari nose first in the barrier.
Formula 1’s first-ever sprint shootout was held on the streets of Baku, no pressure with its castle walls, hot track temperature, shortened qualifying sessions and mandatory tyres.
All the drivers ventured out for SQ1’s 12-minute session on brand new medium tyres and with cars loaded with fuel with Nyck de Vries and Pierre Gasly looking to make amends after Friday’s qualifying crashes while Red Bull wanted their P1 back.
Logan Sargeant clocked the first time of the morning, a 1:44.9, Oscar Piastri took a trip down an escape road, and Gasly clipped the wall.
Charles Leclerc, as he did successfully on Friday evening, engaged in a battle with the Red Bulls for P1 with his 1:43.7 putting him two-tenths up on Verstappen with Carlos Sainz, P3, a full second down.
As the drivers continued lapping, fuel loads going down, Leclerc upped his pace to a 1:42.8, Verstappen also improved by not enough, while Lewis Hamilton went third. Gasly returned to the pits, his sprint shootout over with what was later reported to be a leak in his exhaust system.
With 29s remaining the red flags were out, SQ1 over, as Sargeant had a heavy hit with his Williams totalled. “I’m in the wall. Man the Ferraris were in the middle of the road!” That meant no-one could improve in the final seconds, and out went Zhou Guanyu, Valtteri Bottas, Yuki Tsunoda, Gasly and De Vries.
After a delay to recover Sargeant’s Williams, SQ2 began with the drivers once again all on the medium tyres and again fuelled to run through to the end of the 10-minute session.
Nico Hulkenberg brought out the yellows as he went up the escape road at Turn 7, Verstappen set the early pace ahead of Leclerc, and Fernando Alonso hoped Aston Martin had resolved his DRS issues in the break between the sessions. They had, the Spaniard up to P4. Sainz was the next to bring out the yellows in the Turn 15 escape road.
SQ2 ended with Verstappen P1 by 0.083s ahead of Leclerc, and out went the Piastri, Nico Hulkenberg, the bouncing Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen, and of course Sargeant who didn’t set a time. Unfortunately for Norris, even though he made it into SQ3, he wasn’t allowed to take to the track because he didn’t have the mandatory new set of soft tyres.
As such SQ3 saw just nine drivers on the track for the final eight minutes of running with Red Bull waiting at the end of the pit lane to give their tyres chance to drop a degree or three. Sergio Perez went quickest in the opening gambit, a 1:41.8, as a slide cost Verstappen before Leclerc pipped them both with a 1:41.6.
With three minutes still on the clock there was time for a second flying lap, one that ended with Leclerc nose first in the barrier. The Ferrari driver could only sit there and wait to see what the Red Bulls could do, neither Perez nor Verstappen able to up their pace enough to take pole position from him.
Leclerc will start the sprint race P1 ahead of Perez and Verstappen with George Russell fourth ahead of Sainz and Hamilton.
1 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:41.697
2 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.147
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.290
4 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.555
5 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.590
6 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.805
7 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.149
8 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.313
9 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.367
10 Lando Norris McLaren no time
11 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren 1:43.427
12 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team 1:43.806
13 Esteban OCON Alpine 1:44.088
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team 1:44.332
15 Logan Sargeant Williams no time
16 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo 1:45.1177
17 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo 1:45.352
18 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri 1:45.436
19 Pierre GASLY Alpine 1:46.951
20 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri 1:48.180