Ricciardo crashes as Leclerc takes pole

Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc has taken an unexpected pole position for the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a perfectly timed lap in qualifying.

The Ferrari driver found himself tucked into Lewis Hamilton’s slipstream at the start of Qualifying 3 to record an untouchable 1:41.218s.

It left him well clear of Hamilton, who used a tow from Valtteri Bottas to take second while Max Verstappen will line up third.

The qualifying hour was punctuated by four red flags, including one for Daniel Ricciardo in the final moments of Qualifying 2.

The session began with something of a traffic jam at pit exit as the green lights went on.

While most headed out on soft tyres, Mercedes bolted medium tyres to both Hamilton’s and Bottas’ cars.

Leclerc was the only driver to set a time, a 1:42.532s, before the red flag was shown after Lance Stroll plucked the front-right wheel off his Aston Martin when he skated wide at Turn 15.

With the clock stopped, it was a boost for George Russell who was stuck in the pits, mechanics feverishly working on his Williams.

A water pump failure had ended his Free Practice 3 and triggered a race against time for the team to get the FW43B ready in time for practice.

Qualifying restarted with 14 minutes left in the first phase of the three-part session with the entire field on soft tyres.

Verstappen went fastest with a 1:41.760s, one of a handful of drivers to record a time before Antonio Giovinazzi crashed to draw a second red flag.

Only 10 cars had set times, the likes of Hamilton, Bottas, Lando Norris, and Ricciardo having yet to complete a timed lap.

Giovinazzi had replicated Stroll’s mistake, pinching the brake at Turn 15 before careering into the wall exiting the corner to tear the front-right wheel away from the Alfa Romeo.

The red flag was shown with just over nine minutes remaining, prompting another traffic jam ahead of the restart.

Of the 18 remaining runners, 17 immediately headed out.

Esteban Ocon was the odd man out, the Alpine driver remaining in the pit lane with the fifth fastest time, a 1:42.426s.

Shortly after the restart, officials announced Norris would be investigated post-session for a breach of red flag procedures.

Approaching the pit entry as the red flag was shown, the Brit carried on after electing he wouldn’t be able to slow sufficiently to enter the lane.

With five-and-a-half minutes left in the session, the remaining field had all finally set a time with Russell, Nikita Mazepin, and Mick Schumacher in the danger zone.

Ricciardo’s first timed lap saw him climb to sixth on a 1:42.304s while Mercedes saw Hamilton go fourth best and Bottas ninth.

Hamilton then went fastest with a late effort, his 1:41.545s coming when both Red Bulls and both Ferraris sat in the pits.

At the end of Qualifying 1, joining Giovinazzi and Stroll on the sidelines, were Mazepin, Schumacher, and Latifi.

Sainz started proceedings in the Qualifying 2 with a 1:41.740s to go fastest.

Perez promptly beat it with a 1:41.630s, with Leclerc moving into second with a 1:41.659s.

Hamilton aborted his first timed lap before staying on track for another effort which saw him rise to second.

A second timed lap for Verstappen saw the Dutchman record a 1:41.625s, 0.005s clear of Perez at the top of the timesheet.

Ahead of the final Q2 runs, Ricciardo found himself just 13th, 0.7s off Norris’ pace with a 1:42.558s.

With three minutes remaining, Yuki Tsunoda climbed to fourth fastest with a time identical to that of Hamilton.

Then, with 90 seconds remaining, the red flag was shown for the third time in the session when Ricciardo crashed out.

The Australian buried the front of his McLaren in the wall at Turn 3 after locking the front-left brake.

With so little time remaining, the session was not restarted, eliminating Sebastian Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Kimi Raikkonen, and Russell.

Only the two AlphaTauris remained in the pits as Qualifying 3 began, Bottas heading the train from Hamilton.

The pair opted for two warmup laps, leaving Leclerc’s 1:41.218s the first representative lap of the phase.

Sainz went 0.3s slower soon after, while Verstappen’s first Q3 flier netted a 1:41.563s to move into second.

Hamilton banked a 1:41.450s on his push lap to go second fastest, Bottas eighth with a 1:42.659s having not enjoyed the benefit of a slipstream.

Running off-sequence, Gasly banked the fourth best time, just 0.002s slower than Verstappen had managed.

As the AlphaTauri pair finished their flying laps, the field poured back out with Bottas heading the field, much to his frustration.

The Finn duly slowed and allowed Leclerc through in an effort to gain a slipstream.

It didn’t matter, the session was red flagged for a final time when Tsunoda and Sainz crashed.

Tsuonda ended the day in the barrier, while the Ferrari driver’s front wing was torn off when he went off in sympathy.

The AlphaTauri driver nosed into the wall at Turn 3 in much the same way Ricciardo had.

Sainz, following the Japanese driver, promptly lost control as he reacted to the cloud of smoke thrown up ahead, spinning into the escape road and damaging the front wing.

With the session not restarted, it confirmed Leclerc on pole from Hamilton and Verstappen.

Gasly will line up fourth with Sainz in fifth, ahead of Norris, Perez, Tsunoda, Fernando Alonso, and Bottas.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix begins at 22:00 AEST on Sunday.

Results: Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Qualifying

Pos Num Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:42.241 1:41.659 1:41.218
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.545 1:41.634 1:41.450
3 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:41.760 1:41.625 1:41.563
4 10 Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:42.288 1:41.932 1:41.565
5 55 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:42.121 1:41.740 1:41.576
6 4 Lando Norris McLaren 1:42.167 1:41.813 1:41.747
7 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:41.968 1:41.630 1:41.917
8 22 Yuki Tsunoda Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:42.521 1:41.654 1:42.211
9 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:42.934 1:42.195 1:42.327
10 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:42.701 1:42.106 1:42.659
11 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:42.460 1:42.224
12 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:42.426 1:42.273
13 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:42.304 1:42.558
14 7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:42.923 1:42.587
15 63 George Russell Williams 1:42.728 1:42.758
16 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:43.128
17 47 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:44.158
18 9 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:44.238
19 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin
20 99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo

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